Exit SunTrust, Enter NIHFCU
By Rich McManus
After 52 years of hosting a commercial bank, the NIH campus will lose its lone banking company, SunTrust, when the branch on the B1 level of Bldg. 10 closes permanently on Nov. 27.
The space occupied by the bank, just outside the B1-level cafeteria, will reopen early next year as a branch of the NIH Federal Credit Union, which is expanding its range of services to meet the needs of the private bank's clients, chiefly patients, visitors and employees.
SunTrust has been on campus for 4 years, according to K. Mark Steigerwalt, assistant vice president/NIH branch, but before that was called Crestar Bank, and before that, the Bank of Bethesda. The bank's customers were primarily patients and visitors, many of whom took advantage of its services over the years, said Steigerwalt, who has been at the NIH branch for the past 5 years. "I have loved working here," he said. "I've gotten to know many patients, and many international visitors. It's been a real treat."
He notified NIH customers in a letter dated Aug. 27 that the bank is set to close at 3 p.m. on Nov. 27. Staffing at the bank, once at seven employees, had dropped to four by mid-September. All of the SunTrust employees have been told they will be relocated within the company.
According to Lindsay Alexander, chief executive officer of the NIH Federal Credit Union, her organization will remodel the SunTrust space and reopen sometime in January 2003. Because credit unions have not traditionally been able to offer the same range of services as private banks, the NIHFCU is "devising some means and methods of serving (nonmember) patients" in the coming months, Alexander said. "There have been some changes in the rules...the credit union is in the midst of creating a service organization that can serve nonmembers. We'll be able to handle foreign currencies, patient accounts and NIH cashier accounts," she said. "We'll offer basically all of the services that SunTrust offers."
For the moment, the credit union cannot handle business accounts, including commercial checking and business loans, Alexander explained, "but we will be able to do those things in the near future."
Alexander predicted that customers of her new branch "won't see much difference" between the credit union and what SunTrust offered. "Most of the people who bank there are probably eligible to be credit union members anyway," she said.
Customers who had safe deposit boxes with SunTrust won't be able to carry that service over, Alexander cautioned, but once customers close those accounts with SunTrust they will be able to reopen them under credit union auspices.
SunTrust's decision to leave NIH was the result of several factors, according to bank spokesman Hugh Suhr. "We're constantly evaluating our branch system, including transaction patterns, market growth and potential," he said. With two other SunTrust branches close by (at Wildwood and in Bethesda), and a big increase in phone and Internet banking, the bank decided to close the NIH branch.
The Bank of Bethesda's original campus branch opened Apr. 10, 1950, on the third floor of Bldg. 1. Its first depositor was Mrs. Luke I. Wilson, who with her husband donated, in five segments, their 92-acre Bethesda estate to NIH. Hours back then were 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., hence the term "banker's hours."
According to the Apr. 24, 1950, NIH Record, the bank was allowed to open on campus by special permission: "The Treasury Department authorized the permanent banking facility because of the growing importance of NIH and as a service to the large number of NIH employees..."
It isn't clear just when the Bank of Bethesda migrated from Bldg. 1 to the Clinical Center basement, but by March 1955, according to the Record, its safe deposit boxes had been relocated there. Because the bank has a dedicated vault, it is thought that the branch opened when the Clinical Center did in 1953. The credit union, by contrast, had been established in 1939 and for years had a branch in Bldg. 10, although there hasn't been a credit union presence, other than two ATM machines, there in recent years. "The credit union has not had a presence in Bldg. 10 because we were not permitted once the bank moved in there," Alexander noted.
She concluded, "The credit union is absolutely delighted to be able to assume the bank branch space and provide in-person service to our members, potential members and patients of NIH in the Clinical Center. This move further solidifies our commitment to the NIH community, where we have been considered to be an employee benefit for over 60 years."
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