A small local financial institution born decades ago out of a box factory has been absorbed by a larger peer.
Virginia Boxer Federal Credit Union, which had been based out of a house-turned-office in Lakeside, recently merged with Connects Federal Credit Union.
The deal was finalized Dec. 1 and sent Virginia Boxer’s 350 members and $2.6 million in assets to Connects, which now has 9,800 members and $76 million in total assets.
Connects spokeswoman Danielle McLaughlin said Virginia Boxer had been a one-woman shop for years, run by longtime manager Grace Siple. It offered mostly savings accounts and loans, but no checking accounts or debit cards.
Siple approached Connects earlier this year about a possible merger.
“She just really wanted to give her members more products and services and thought this was the best way to go about it,” McLaughlin said of Siple. “We’re able to provide them with expanded services, more locations, online banking and a lot of e-commerce products they didn’t have.”
McLaughlin said Connects decided on the deal after seeing the two credit unions had a lot in common.
Virginia Boxer was chartered in 1969 to cater to employees of the former box plant that once operated at Third and Hull streets in Manchester, run by various predecessors of WestRock.
Connects was founded in 1950 by phone company employees of what is now Verizon. It was known then as Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Employees Federal Credit Union.
Over time it added employee groups and today has a community charter to offer membership to anyone in the city of Richmond and Chesterfield, Henrico and Hanover counties.
“We felt we had a similar background and the manager of Virginia was similar to our CEO here,” McLaughlin said. “They were both raised in credit unions and have worked so hard for so long.”
Siple took over management of Virginia Boxer in 1986. It had $288,000 in assets at the time and reached its peak of around $4 million and around 500 members by 1994.
“One of my members told me way back when that we were just a plain vanilla credit union – and he loved it,” Siple said.
She said she started thinking about a possible merger in 2015, as it became difficult to juggle the necessary tasks of running a small credit union, which includes keeping up with ever-changing regulations.
While membership at Virginia Boxer had dwindled since the Manchester box plant closed in 2003, Siple said, the credit union stayed healthy. She said the merger was driven by her members needing more services that she likely wouldn’t be able to handle on her own.
“I’m just really proud that we hung on,” she said. “Our asset size dwindled but we were still a very viable credit union.”
In searching for a credit union to merge with, she wanted somewhere larger than Virginia Boxer, but not too big.
“They weren’t so big that my members would lose their identity,” Siple said of Connects. “They would still have that personal touch.”
Siple, for now, will stay on to work with Connects. She’ll initially wind down the Lakeside office and then is expected to work on back-office tasks for Connects at its Shrader Road location.
“I don’t know what the future holds for me but I’m going to do whatever they need me to do,” she said.
Well aware of the relationship Siple has with her members, McLaughlin said Connects wants her around to greet the former Virginia Boxer customers in their new credit union.
“She’ll be visible in our Henrico location,” McLaughlin said.