Allegacy FCU: `Head in the Future, Heart in the Past, Feet on the Ground'
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - W.K. "Ike" Keener Jr. believes positioning a credit union for success means having your head in the future, your heart in the past, and your feet on the ground following a business-oriented path. As president of Allegacy Federal Credit Union, he wants to look ahead. At the same time, his heart is in the credit union heritage gained over the years. He also figures a practical look at what's happening today is essential. Sometimes insights come from surprising places. Keener recently took his 16-year-old daughter to Orlando. They visited both DisneyWorld and Universal Studios. As far as Keener was concerned Universal had better rides and more up-to-date facilities. But when he asked his daughter which she liked better, she voted for Disney's Magic Kingdom. When Keener asked why, she quickly responded, "There is magic there." Just as Disney faces serious competition, Keener notes, so do credit unions. The secret to success is the way credit unions treat members and the magic credit unions can create so members feel part of the organization. "As we get larger, the philosophy of banks is divide and conquer. But our cooperative nature is what makes us strong. We benefit each other. It's extremely important to stay close and collaborate with other credit unions," Keener declares. Talk with Keener and you'll hear a lot about helping people. He wasn't always in that position. After graduating from East Carolina University with a degree in psychology, he accepted a job with a finance company. He was concerned about using what was then called the Rule 78 refund to call people in after they had paid $400 on their loan. He would give them $100, which would be rolled up to $400 with interest. One day he gave $100 to a janitor with six children, who thanked him. Keener decided he couldn't work through another day. He then joined a bank. He wasn't comfortable in a situation where if you actually needed a loan, the bank wasn't interested in you. If you didn't need a loan, the bank wanted your business. Then in 1975 he came to AFCU as a loan officer. He worked his way up, and seven years ago became CEO. "The philosophy of what a credit union is all about really captivated me. I'm very much an old school credit union philosophy person. I wanted to be part of an organization that affected the lives of thousands of people in a positive manner," Keener says. One example of Keener's overall philosophy could be AFCU's new branch in Clemmons, a project called Allegacy Village. The project grew out of an effort that started three years ago to find perhaps two acres for a new branch. Land in the area was tight, so when eight acres became available AFCU bought the whole parcel. "We started thinking about creating a village concept. We would buy the land, subdevelop it, and sell the outparcels. That would help defray the cost of the branch," Keener explains. "The second point was we would control who are neighbors were through covenants, restrictions and who we sold the land to us so we wouldn't necessarily end up with a car wash next door." The town council loved the idea. It fit nicely into their efforts to position the town as the Village of Clemmons. Although the branch is now open and no lots have been sold, Keener says there have been "numerous offers." The area is surrounded by a wall and includes walkways, a gazebo and a town clock. "It's very patient money for us," Keener says. "We think of the long term. We're looking for a restaurant, maybe a drugstore. We want something that will complement the demographics of our branch. Many of the members there are retirees and professional people. We've named the road Allegacy Way, and we felt the idea has strong branding appeal." All this, he continues, reflects AFCU's focus on developing branches according to an area's specific demographics. While the Allegacy Village branch features a concierge approach, another branch serving a large number of Hispanics offers Allegacy Espaol, a branch within a branch providing bi-lingual staff and strong Southwestern colors. Still another branch is volume-driven with very busy drivethrough lanes. Members working at two large hospitals served by AFCU can access automated branches 24/7. "At the billion dollar mark we've doing a lot more strategic planning than ever to figure out where we go from here," Keener says. "Although what we've done has served us well to this point, we're doing a lot of self-reflecting. One of the things we want to make sure we keep is a highly-motivated, exceptional staff." Off the job, Keener enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter. His daughter, he declares, keeps him young. He proudly recites her accomplishments in dance, theater, music, and as a budding journalist who has already been published in the Winston-Salem Journal as teen reporter. Perhaps that love of words is hereditary. Kenner describes himself as an avid reader who will read the back of a cereal box if it's put in front of him. When he boards an airplane, he'll grab 10 magazines. He knows well the roads to book superstores such as Borders, where he often browses the military history shelves. He's also likes to work out at a local gym and is a devoted hiker. He has followed trails in the western U.S., Alaska and Hawaii as well as the southeast. Asked what he is proudest of in his credit union career, Keener pauses, then cites the opportunity to work for 25 years and more with many of the credit union staff. "I'm proudest of the people I'd had the opportunity of working with, and have been able to help in their growth," he declares. -