ESL/MCC scholars named 

ESL Federal Credit Union and Monroe Community College have announced their fifth class of ESL/MCC scholars, an earn-and-learn program to prepare students for a career in banking and finance.  

Students were recently welcomed to the ESL team at a scholars’ ceremony at ESL headquarters in downtown Rochester. 

The five students selected for this program are: Ranses Beltre-Romero, Andrew Friden, Emily Goossen, My Phan and Benazir Reza. 

Students are offered a part-time, paid position at one of ESL’s 23 local branches and a $1,000 scholarship for each semester they participate, up to $2,000. Students will have the opportunity to meet with and work in other departments at the company to further their professional experience. 

Benefits to ESL/MCC Scholars also include professional skill development opportunities, mentoring and exposure to a variety of career paths within the banking and finance industry. Through this collaboration, MCC students also have the option to obtain academic credit for their work experience. 

The long-term goal of the program is to retain the students upon graduation from MCC through either full-time employment at ESL, or as they work part-time while pursuing their bachelor’s degrees at a local college or university (with assistance from ESL’s tuition reimbursement program). The program also supports an ESL initiative to recognize and value diversity and inclusion within the workforce. 

“Investing in education is one of the best investments we can make in a lifetime,” said Maureen Wolfe, executive vice president, human resources and community impact, ESL Federal Credit Union and a board member for the MCC Foundation. 

[email protected] / (585) 653-4021 

United Way receives $4 million grant from ESL for emergency services

ESL Federal Credit Union has provided a $4 million grant to the United Way of Greater Rochester to support 20 local health and human services agencies that provide crucial basic needs programs.

The grant is in response to significantly increased needs in the community as a result of COVID-19 and will fund emergency services, legal assistance, community partnerships and housing and shelter.

Jaime Saunders (Jeff Witherow)
Jaime Saunders (Jeff Witherow)

“Our basic needs providers meet high demand every year, but have been pushed to the breaking point given the impacts of COVID-19,” said United Way President and CEO Jaime Saunders. “Our community has worked together to bend the COVID-19 curve, and we need to work together now to bend the basic needs curve for so many individuals and families in Greater Rochester.”

The COVID-19 health crisis has increased the demand for services, pushing additional individuals and families to seek help. Officials noted that in June 2020, the unemployment rate in Greater Rochester surged to 11.3 percent, compared with less than 4 percent during the same time last year.

Calls for help to 211 LIFE LINE, the community’s information and referral hotline, have tripled since March. More than 60 percent of those calls were for food, housing and shelter, when in 2019, fewer than 28 percent of requests were for basic needs, and calls for food are up 20 fold.

ESL's Faheem Masood
ESL’s Faheem Masood

“This community that we love has given us so much and ESL has a duty to step up and help Greater Rochester,” said ESL President and CEO Faheem Masood. “We say that our purpose is ‘To help our community thrive and prosper’ and that cannot and will not be possible if we are not doing our part to contribute to uplifting the health and resiliency of critical agencies that provide essential services to thousands of individuals and families.”

As the community continues to deal with the impacts of the pandemic, experts expect a surge of additional need as governmental assistance ends.

Tuesday’s announcement comes just weeks after United Way announced a significant gap in fundraising for its annual campaign, which had just begun as COVID-19 shut down workplace operations statewide. The campaign is focused on funding health, education and economic mobility services, all of which also are severely affected by the pandemic.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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ESL distributes $20 million in early dividends

ESL Federal Credit Union has distributed $20 million to members in an early owners’ dividend payout for 2020.

ESL's Faheem Masood
ESL’s Faheem Masood

“The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has created a great deal of financial stress for many in our community,” said Faheem Masood, president and CEO of ESL. “This $20 million is much more helpful to our members now instead of waiting until our traditional timeframe of January 2021. We believe this is a tangible way in which we can support our membership through these challenging times, as the combined impact of $20 million into our community can help make a difference.”

ESL now has shared more than $170 million with its members over the program’s 25 payouts.

The individual owners’ dividend payout amounts ESL members receive are based on an established owners’ dividend criteria.

ESL Federal Credit Union serves as a full-service financial institution to more than 370,000 members. The credit union was founded in 1920 by George Eastman and provides personal banking, business banking, mortgage services and wealth management services through its locally-based 22 branch network, telephone, mobile, online and live chat center.

The Rochester-based financial institution employs some 850 people in the Greater Rochester area and holds more than $6.9 billion in assets.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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Digital banking blooms, but in-person interaction still important

Interest in in-person banking had already been declining in recent years and those in the industry expect the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 to shift more people to online banking services even after things go back to normal.

They stress, however, the need to continue to have branches to provide in-person interactions and say plans are underway to strike a balance between the two ways people can bank.


Martin Birmingham, president and CEO of Five Star Bank, says digital access — in areas that range from banking to shopping — has increased during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Digital access and accessibility have been of great importance for our customers and associates during this time,” Birmingham says.

Five Star operates more than 50 branches, and most are now open for drive-up service or by appointment, but there has been a marked increase in the number of customers using online banking options.

The increase in use of online banking services has been seen during the COVID-19 outbreak, but it had also been steadily increasing before it, Birmingham notes.

The bank had already been responding to that increased usage and had been working on a strategy to transition to a new digital banking platform. The COVID-19 pandemic expedited that transition, he says.

Five Star first conducted a survey to gauge customer support for rolling out the new platform at this time, which includes a new digital application, a new look for desktop users and additional online services for personal and business banking.

The customer response has been positive, and Birmingham is pleased with the progress.

Under the new digital platform, Five Star customers are able to access their account information, conduct transactions and be provided more on-the-go access to Five Star Bank digital banking from their computer, tablet or mobile device.

Those new online offerings include a dashboard that allows customers to establish a direct connection to their monthly bills and make payments in one place, as well as CardSwap, a tool to update the payment method on many subscription services.

There are also online financial tools to help with budgeting. Upcoming options will also be available including SendMoney, which allows customers to send money to others.

The digital platform also offers interactive tutorials and an online user guide to help customers with the transition.

Five Star is also looking at ways it does business post COVID-19 with an emphasis on social distancing and safety measures for both customers and employees, he says.

“It is more critical than ever for a local community bank to fulfill its role and take care of its customers, the community and our associates,” Birmingham says.

He notes that Five Star will continue to transition to the new normal. And while there will continue to be an emphasis on, and increased popularity of, online banking, there will still be a need for personal interaction at bank branches.

“We will work on ways to embrace that balance between the personal interaction at branches and the increased digital capabilities we offer,” he says.


Mary Kate Loftus, director of digital banking for M&T Bank Corp., also notes online banking is up during the COVID-19 outbreak.

M&T breaks digital banking down into three categories.

The first is enrollment, which includes those who sign up for digital banking services. The second is digital activity, which is when customers log into their accounts for things such as checking their balances or transferring money. The third is digital engagement, which is when people use digital banking as their primary source of banking.

Enrollment is up some 40 percent from the 60 days prior to the pandemic, Loftus says, and she adds that number continues to increase.

Digital engagement is also up, as is digital activity, she says, noting the bank’s Money Smart tool — which allows users to plan their budgets and track spending — has seen a 33 percent increase in usage.

M&T employees are also helping with online learning for customers, Loftus says.

Employees at the bank branches will distribute information on online options to customers who use the drive-through services and are also available to speak over the phone with customers who need further assistance. M&T also has a customer call center.

There are also online demos that allow users to complete a trial run of an online service before they complete an actual transaction.

The bank has also added some online and mobile features recently that can help with things such as recurring transactions and providing information on topics that directly relate to a customer’s needs, whether it be saving for retirement or paying down debt.

“Our goal is to make it easier for customers to manage their money and access products when and where they need them,” Loftus says.


Caytie Bowser, vice president/director, product development and management at ESL Federal Credit Union, says the credit union has seen its biggest increase in online and mobile usage among its customers during the pandemic.

She notes daily average logins increased 26 percent in April compared to March for personal online and mobile banking.

Also, when the first round of government stimulus check deposits went out in mid-April, ESL’s daily website traffic increased between 114 percent and 140 percent over the daily averages from January through early March of this year.

ESL recently added to its online and mobile offerings, as well. In April, the credit union launched online and mobile capabilities for opening personal checking and savings accounts.

The efforts are having a big impact, Bowser says, noting that over 500 accounts have been opened digitally in the past month since the service was launched.

ESL will continue to offer new digital offerings to customers, and Bowser says there are online demos and employees at the call center who can help customers with any questions they may have on using such tools.

“We will continue to provide services that enhance what customers can do online and make it easier for them,” Bowser says.

The credit union has also begun to look at what steps it will take when stay-at-home restrictions begin to lift, and Bowser believes the process of returning to a new normal will be gradual.

Moving forward, Bowser agrees there has to be a balance between in-person transactions and the growing use of digital applications.

“We will do the best we can to make sure the two complement each other,” she says.

Andrea Deckert is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

Organizations collaborate to fill homelessness funding gap

Three area organizations will collaborate this winter to solve a $370,700 shelter funding crisis caused by the redirection of federal and state funding.

ESL Federal Credit Union, the United Way of Greater Rochester Inc. and Rochester Area Community Foundation said Thursday they will support short-term funding gaps anticipated by the Salvation Army of Greater Rochester, Spiritus Christi Mental Health Center, Volunteers of America of Western New York Inc. and the YWCA of Rochester & Monroe County.

“This is collaboration in its truest form,” United Way President and CEO Jaime Saunders said in a statement Thursday. “We are proud to work with ESL and the Community Foundation to invest in supporting those who are struggling this winter season. The work being done by the four shelter providers to address a more sustainable solution for the future speaks to the strength of the network and the drive to overcome challenges in our community.”

The four providers are working with Partners Ending Homelessness to develop a comprehensive evaluation and strategy for continued services, including advocacy and community investments necessary to replace the lost funding.

“This investment will assure those who need housing have access to it,” said Ajamu Kitwana, vice president/director of community impact at ESL. “We at ESL are inspired by the work being done by the four shelters, United Way of Greater Rochester and the Community Foundation to rally support for our community’s most vulnerable citizens. The collaboration taking place—from funding critical needs to working on long-term planning—is the type of action our community needs in order to address our most critical issues.”

Together the four agencies serve some 2,000 homeless adults and children. The Solutions to End Homelessness Program (STEHP), which uses federal funds allocated from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, combined with the New York State homeless assistance funds to help people obtain permanent housing and improve the quality of emergency shelters and drop-in centers, chopped funding for the four local agencies by $550,000 in October.

The Community Foundation reached out to donors who previously supported the shelter providers and asked for their help.

“When there is a crisis in our community, our donors respond quickly and generously—and they did that once again,” said Jennifer Leonard, the foundation’s president and CEO. “We are so fortunate that the needs of those who have little is of great concern to many.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

ESL to fund two United Way programs with $5 million grant

For many of us, a flat tire may be an inconvenience; it may make us late to work or a doctor’s appointment, but likely it will have no long-term repercussions. For individuals living in poverty, that flat tire may mean job loss or food insecurity.

Jaime Saunders (Jeff Witherow)
Jaime Saunders

The ESL Charitable Foundation is teaming with United Way of Greater Rochester Inc. to help address those emergency issues through a $5 million grant.

“ESL and United Way are deeply committed to long-term solutions. That’s why we support collective impact like RMAPI, ROC the Future and other long-term efforts. We are on that journey,” said Jaime Saunders, president and CEO of United Way. “But we also know there are immediate needs of today. So this innovative grant opportunity and this partnership is really to help address immediate needs. It is to infuse resources into the community in a short period of time through two projects.”

The two projects include a $1 million Housing Stability Initiative and a $4 million Project Uplift program. The Housing Stability Initiative was piloted successfully this last year, Saunders said. The program is designed to help support individuals who are seeking a security deposit, moving costs or other things that might create barriers to stable housing and prevent foreclosure.

The program is available to individuals in the six-county Rochester metropolitan area.

The larger of the two programs, Project Uplift, will be piloted in 2020.

“What’s unique about this is the goal is to give individuals living in poverty the ability to prioritize their own needs,” Saunders explained. “So the dollars will be discretionary dollars that will be deployed through the United Way network.”

United Way has some 75 programs in its funding network; each will be able to apply for a portion of the $4 million grant, although some may not be applicable to the grant’s purpose, Saunders said.

“Those who say they want to participate will work with United Way in the next two months so that we can co-create a program that is effective and efficient and meets their needs,” she said. “By January the funds will be able to be disbursed.”

The funds can be used to help individuals and families take care of emergency expenses that might not otherwise be covered through existing programs and services. For example, a woman seeking help through Willow Domestic Violence Center who wants to change her locks so that she can safely stay at home. That’s funding that could be immediately available to her through Project Uplift.

“What we know at United Way, listening to our nonprofit partners, is that they will sit with a family or individual and wish that they could help them but they do not have the discretionary dollars to do that one thing that will help them get over a barrier,” Saunders explained. “That could be paying off a small bill. It could be moving costs. It could be helping purchase a school uniform or school supplies or a whole host of challenges that are just that one thing.”

ESL Federal Credit Union President and CEO Faheem Masood said that part of the organization’s purpose is to help the community thrive and prosper, a feat that is accomplished both through the credit union’s financial services and its philanthropy.

“As we defined the available amount we have, we looked in the community at who could be helpful to us in that regard. And that’s why we partnered with United Way, due to their engagement level with community partners, using community resources to identify the needs in our community and having a good, sound process in place by which to grant and track funding to our network of service providers in the community,” Masood said. “We really have relied on United Way to determine where the needs are in the community.”

The $4 million funding for Project Uplift is at this point a one-time grant until the money runs out.

“We anticipate based on what we hear from our partners that the needs will far outweigh” the grant, Saunders said. “But our goal is to not only address these immediate needs but to listen and learn.”

That can be challenging, she acknowledged, because it requires a suspension of judgment.

“By and large you can see that people will pick what’s best for them and will have the greatest return,” she said, and while one individual may choose to receive help with moving expenses, given the same circumstances, another person will choose something completely different.

Although there is no dollar cap on how much an individual or family can receive through Project Uplift, Saunders said it is estimated the average will be $500 to $600, depending on the circumstance.

“What’s new and innovative about these dollars is that they are designed purposely to be discretionary based on the needs that are prioritized by the individual, in partnership with a care manager,” Sauders said.

While ESL has made no promise of future funding for the pilot project, Masood said the hope is that all funders in the community will see the program’s success and that will give impetus to future funding.

Faheem Masood
Faheem Masood

“So it’s not only us, it’s others as well,” Masood said. “We try new things and if something is effective, that draws support. We are extremely proud to be in the position to be able to do that and I think we’re also very deliberate about how we’re going about it so that we enhance the ability of our tremendous network of community service providers without distracting them from their core mission.”

Project Uplift explores a different way in which to help those in poverty, Saunders said. It employs a philosophy seen primarily in developing nations, where the best way to help people in poverty is to give them money via universal income or through discretionary dollars that are prioritized by the individual.

“In the States, because we have a very robust public sector of services and a very robust nonprofit sector, these dollars fill in the cracks. These dollars will fill in those expenses outside of that, which is why it’s a little different from some of the other programs that have existed across the country,” she explained. “I look at it as reducing pain and stress for a period of time for individuals and families and helping them on their journey.

“It’s not the end solution. We’re not ending poverty. We are not ending some of the deeply entrenched challenges, but we are making a difference,” Saunders said.

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Habitat for Humanity renovates two zombie homes

Flower City Habitat for Humanity has completed two zombie house renovations as part of its Vacant and Abandoned Homes pilot program with the city of Rochester.

FCHH renovated a Fernwood Avenue home for Shanna Campbell and her three children, shown here. (Photo provided)
FCHH renovated a Fernwood Avenue home for Shanna Campbell and her three children, shown here. (Photo provided)

The goal of the initiative is to eliminate the growing abandoned home issue, which accounts for more than $11 million in property value losses in Rochester and Monroe County. The partnership has allowed FCHH to acquired seven vacant homes, primarily through the Rochester Land Bank Corp., with funding provided by Enterprise Community Partners.

Each homeowner accomplished more than 300 sweat equity hours doing construction, participating in financial education and home-maintenance classes and other community volunteer activities to earn their homes.

“In addition to sweat equity hours, all Habitat homebuyers participate in financial literacy and home maintenance courses, intending to create sustainable long-term homeowner success,” FCHH CEO Matt Flanigan said in a statement. “We strongly believe that educating homebuyers before they purchase a home is critical, if not the most important part of our process, and will contribute to the eventual elimination of vacant and abandoned properties.”

Completed properties to date include 221 Akron St. and 112 Parsells Ave., as well as this week’s dedications at 46 Del Monte St. and 129 Fernwood Ave. The fifth property in this phase is at 136 Barberry Terrace, which is under construction.

“Today serves as an ideal example of what can be accomplished in our community by working together,” said Faheem Masood, president and CEO of ESL Federal Credit Union. “The hard work and dedication of these families and the steadfast commitment from Flower City Habitat for Humanity, its volunteers and the city of Rochester have helped make homeownership a reality today. We at ESL are honored to contribute to this initiative and congratulate all involved for making today possible.”

A Del Monte Street home was renovated for Herminio Delgado and Leticia Lasanta Rivera and their children, seen here. (Photo provided)
A Del Monte Street home was renovated for Herminio Delgado and Leticia Lasanta Rivera and their children, seen here. (Photo provided)

The latest remodels in the pilot program were made possible by the Rochester Land Bank, with $50,000 per house in funding provided by Enterprise Community Partners and $100,000 from the ESL Charitable Foundation.

“With the completed renovation of these new homes, Flower City Habitat for Humanity has once again proven itself to be a tremendous partner in our efforts to convert zombie properties into high-quality homes for our citizens,” said Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren. “Bringing affordable home-ownership opportunities to our neighborhoods helps us create more jobs, safer and more vibrant neighborhoods and better educational opportunities for our citizens. This partnership benefits all of the residents of Rochester, in addition to the families who will live in these beautiful new homes.”

FCHH was founded in 1984 and is a non-denominational Christian housing ministry committed to eliminating substandard and poverty housing in Rochester. FCHH has built or renovated more than 240 homes since its inception here.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

CEOs’ thoughts on the economy

As part of RBJ’s survey of chief executive officers this year, we added four questions about the economy. We opted to use one question-and-answer from each of the responses, choosing what we thought were the best and most informative answers from each of the seven CEOs who responded.

Bruce Van Saunt, Citizens Financial

Q: There are mixed economic signs at the Rochester regional level, with a generally stable commercial real estate sector, but ongoing challenges at the brick-and-mortar retail level, to name one area of concern.  What is your outlook for the Rochester region’s economy and why?

A: Overall, the majority of our clients in the Rochester region are doing well. From what we hear, their biggest problem at the moment is finding qualified employees, which is something we’re hearing in other markets. Within construction in particular, companies are seeing a shortage of qualified workers. Homes are selling quickly but demand seems to be rising faster than supply. Industries such as healthcare and education have made up for some of the manufacturing losses.  And emerging growth companies continue to leverage the highly-skilled knowledge segment of the labor market.  Retail is going through a period of tremendous change—it is not dead by any means. We’ll continue to see new approaches and the integration of digital and retail channels, much like what Amazon is doing with its stores and Whole Foods.

The business climate in New York is not as friendly as you see in other states such as Texas and North Carolina.  In addition, I think you’ll see some pressure to smaller businesses in regards to the minimum wage plan passed in 2016. I think the key to competing effectively going forward, despite these challenges, is to continue to leverage the highly educated workforce, to innovate and promote new business formation, and to emphasize the great quality of life in the region.

Faheem Masood, CEO of ESL Federal Credit UnionFaheem Masood, ESL Federal Credit Union

Q: Recent economic forecasts have been generally pessimistic about the outlook for the next couple of years, predicting a slowdown, if not a downturn, in the US and global economic cycle. Do you agree with these forecasts or do you think the current rate of growth will continue, and why?

A: Our economy has always worked in cycles and we are experiencing the longest sustained period of growth in our nation’s history. I agree that a slowdown will have to happen at some point, but the Rochester region is unique in that it is a steady economy. We don’t see the high highs or the low lows like other regions in the county, and from a standpoint of a looming correction or downturn, that’s an encouraging and positive characteristic for us. From a growth standpoint, unemployment remains at record lows, wages are growing, interest rates are still at historical lows, and there are still sectors showing signs of expansions—health care, education, multifamily commercial real estate, local technology startups. As long as the smart, motivated, and innovative people of Rochester stay inspired, our future remains bright.

Marco Altieri is CEO of All-American Home Care. (Jeff Witherow)
Marco Altieri is CEO of All-American Home Care. (Jeff Witherow)

Marco Altieri, All-American Health Care

Q: Recent economic forecasts have been generally pessimistic about the outlook for the next couple of years, predicting a slowdown, if not a downturn, in the US and global economic cycle. Do you agree with these forecasts or do you think the current rate of growth will continue, and why?

A: In the Upstate market, I believe there is going to be a bit of a slowdown.  I think we are in the midst of a slowdown right now.   The labor force in our industry is has been a pretty good barometer of the economic status within our community.  When the economy is strengthening, the labor market becomes significantly tighter.  When the economy is slowing, the pool of candidates for positions is quite large.   We have seen applicants steadily increase the last quarter versus the previous 3 quarters.

Marisa Geitner, Heritage Christian Services

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities for your industry over the next five years?

A: The two greatest challenges in our industry are keeping pace with the need for services and hiring enough skilled staff when we are growing at such a significant pace. In the United States the “care gap” which is defined as the number of people in need of support services versus the number of people that are prepared to provide them is growing.  Industry data predicts the need for 7.8 million additional direct support workers in the U.S. by the year 2026*.  Locally, Heritage Christian has grown by 38% over the last 5 years.  We work diligently to attract, educate and retain the best support professionals.  Despite the workforce challenge we have an amazing opportunity to serve people more broadly and to work for equal access to supports for all people. We know this culminates in a community that’s stronger for everyone.


Paychex CEO Martin Mucci
Paychex CEO Martin Mucci

Martin Mucci, Paychex

Q: There are mixed economic signs at the Rochester regional level, with a generally stable commercial real estate sector, but ongoing challenges at the brick-and-mortar retail level, to name one area of concern.  What is your outlook for the Rochester region’s economy and why?

A: Rochester has proven time and time again that it’s resilient. While no one knows for certain the impact the rise of e-commerce will have on Rochester’s brick and mortar retail businesses, we do know Rochester’s track record for responding to shifting business dynamics. We adapt. With a talented workforce and committed business community, we will continue to grow our local economy, innovating and driving advancements that make Rochester an exceptional place to work, live, and raise a family.

Mary Boatfield, CEO of Ability Partners
Mary Boatfield, CEO of Ability Partners

Mary Walsh Boatfield, Ability Partners

Q: How do you think your industry is positioned to weather whatever is next on the economic horizon?

A: Working to support some of the most vulnerable populations, as human service organizations (CP Rochester, Happiness House, and Rochester Rehabilitation), we have weathered flat funding (no increases), leading to the necessity of increasing our fundraising activities including securing private and governmental grants in order to enhance the sustainability of much-needed programs and services. Our organizations have endured retroactive rate adjustments (decreases in funding previously awarded), unfunded mandates that add to operational costs without commensurate income and much more. Where possible, CP Rochester, Happiness House, and Rochester Rehabilitation have become more efficient in how we do business through affiliations, electronic recordkeeping, modified administrative structures, and collaboration among providers to reduce redundancy in service delivery. I think the industry continues to be committed to meeting the needs of our constituencies without compromising our quality of services.

Sankar Sewnauth, CEO of CDS Life Transitions
Sankar Sewnauth, CEO of CDS Life Transitions

Sankar Sewnauth, CDS Life Transitions

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities for your industry over the next five years?

A: There are two main challenges for our industry.

One is the obvious, which is the shortage of unskilled and skilled labor. It would be hard pressed for any service sector organization to expand when you continue to see a need in the labor force. We have to solve that problem.

The second challenge we face is the transition for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities going from fee-for-service to capitated managed care. The current system is about 45 years old. In New York State, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been assured of a level of services. With the funding changing to a capitated system the challenge will be for people to live within their means in a very decentralized system.

On the converse side, there will be opportunities for organizations to deliver services in a managed care environment in the most efficient and cost-effective ways. There will be no more services attached to “bricks-and-mortar.” People will receive services in natural environments, in their communities and the providers that see success will be those that can adapt to the new environment.

$500,000 challenge grant from ESL to mark United Way anniversary

United Way of Greater Rochester will mark its 100th birthday next year with a yearlong campaign and a challenge match by ESL Federal Credit Union.

The $500,000 ESL Give Back Challenge for the 2018 United Way campaign will match all new and increased donations to United Way’s Community Fund, up to $500,000. It is one of the largest challenge grants and corporate donations in United Way’s history.

George Eastman in 1918 launched the Rochester Patriotic and Community Fund—the precursor to the United Way—to raise money for local agencies serving war efforts. His first donation was for $500,000.

“We believe, as our founder George Eastman believed, that a community’s prosperity depends on the prosperity of all of its members,” ESL President and CEO Faheem Masood said. “At ESL, we are genuinely vested—and invested—in the success of local businesses, which in turn breeds success for families, employees and the community as a whole.”

The ESL Give Back Challenge will honor Eastman’s legacy and inspire community members to give in support of United Way, Masood added.

“ESL Federal Credit Union is one of our greatest partners and community champions,” United Way President and CEO Fran Weisberg said. “This donation will propel our organization into the next century of identifying the greatest needs and investing in community solutions. We are so grateful for ESL’s support in our centennial anniversary.”

ESL’s challenge and all donations to the United Way’s Community Fund will support thousands of children, elders and families striving to meet their basic needs. Community Fund donations are invested in 76 partner programs that are measured for the greatest results and impact for local people in need.

Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

(c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-363-7269 or email [email protected]

ESL launches trust unit

ESL Federal Credit Union is filling an investment gap locally with the launch of ESL Trust Services LLC. It is the first credit union in New York to create a trust company subsidiary, officials said.

As part of ESL’s Wealth Management group, the trust subsidiary will offer new services, including trust administration services, investment management, estate planning and administration and wealth transfer planning. ESL has tapped industry veteran Gina DiMonda as president of the venture.

“ESL has great brand recognition. We’ve been in the wealth management business for about 20 years,” DiMonda said. “We were really trying to (grow) the amount of people that we could assist. So we’re really doing the whole continuum of investing.”

DiMonda has been with ESL since 2015 and brings nearly 25 years’ experience in investment and trust services to the role. Prior to joining ESL, DiMonda served as vice president and wealth manager at First Niagara Bank N.A.

Joining DiMonda in the trust subsidiary are Allan Ford as senior portfolio manager and Jacqueline Riorden as fiduciary officer. Some 35 people work in ESL’s wealth management division.

“We’ve been able to attract top talent in our community,” DiMonda said, noting that within ESL Trust Services the combined experience is 75 years.

ESL began seriously to consider trust services roughly 10 years ago, when the organization began receiving requests from clients.

“In terms of how ESL does things, we don’t just jump into any business venture,” said Leo Iacobelli, senior vice president and director of ESL’s wealth management group. “We really do research, we do a thorough investigation. And then ultimately, if it makes sense, then we put together an implementation plan.”

“We thought that there was really a gap that existed within our overall offering, and it was something that was necessary for our market here because a lot of companies had moved their operations out of town, so it was very difficult for our members to be able to get trust service advice,” Iacobelli said.

Wealth management comprises three areas: accumulation, preservation and distribution, he said. ESL found a gap in its services when it came to distribution.

“We’re all going to reach a point where we’re going to start to talk about how best I want to distribute my wealth that I’ve accumulated and have been successful in preserving,” he said. “And that’s really where trusts come in.”

ESL also found a gap in services for smaller accounts, those less than $2 million.

“A lot of the organizations locally changed their model so that if you had less than $2 million, your option was a call-center type relationship versus that actual face-to-face encounter,” Iacobelli said.

ESL has more than 330,000 members, but the new offerings are available to both members and nonmembers, DiMonda said.

ESL Trust Services ran a successful pilot program in May, DiMonda said, and began bringing on new trust clients this month.

“When members request things, we listen,” she said, noting it is a business philosophy that began with ESL Federal Credit Union’s founder, George Eastman, in 1920.

The locally owned financial institution employs 735 people in Rochester and has $6.2 billion in assets. The company has appeared on the Great Place to Work Best Small & Medium Workplaces list for six years.

“I think there is a need for people here in general to be able to do their investments, their wealth management, their banking with an institution that they know is going to be around for a very long time, that has a history and that can attract and retain talent,” Iacobelli said.

While ESL’s product offerings may not differ from its competitors, its service does, he added.

“We do design our service levels to not only accommodate what everyone else is doing but also to incorporate stability,” Iacobelli said. “We’re going to be here, we’re not going to go away, we’re going to continue to interact face-to-face. That’s our preferred way of interacting.”

Through its additional services and long, local history, ESL will counteract the negativity associated with other investment and wealth management firms merging or disappearing from the Rochester region, Iacobelli and DiMonda said.

“We’re not owned by stockholders so there is that sense of stability that we offer that we feel no one else can offer in the marketplace,” Iacobelli said.

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