Helping Members a Story 'Repeated Over and Over Again'
LIVE OAK, Texas -- As far as president/CEO Randy Smith is concerned, one of the positive things about coming to work at Randolph Brooks Federal Credit Union is the ability to make a difference in the lives of members.
He quickly cites an example.
"The other day a single mother came in who had purchased a car and financed it elsewhere. They were charging her something like 19% interest. We were able to refinance it at about 6%. That's repeated over and over again."
Another example. The credit union, which got its start serving servicemen and women and civilian employees at Randolph and Brooks Air Force Bases, still counts about half its membership as service members or people otherwise involved with the military.
So the credit union stepped forward when the Fisher House Foundation needed money. Fisher House, similar to the Ronald McDonald houses at many hospitals around the country, offers housing to families of military personnel undergoing treatment.
Many of the 20,000 service members wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan receive care in San Antonio at Brooke Army Medical Center or Wilford Hall. Kevlar vests and helmets, plus advanced battlefield medical care, mean many who would have died in earlier wars survive. But they have often lost limbs and face lengthy rehabilitation.
"Their families may live in a different state, so they have to find housing here," Smith explains. "There were about 50 families on the waiting list for Fisher House. The Fisher House Foundation decided to build two very large complexes. They need about $6.5 million. We agreed we would try to raise about $500,000 of that."
RBFCU donated $100,000 and pledged to match up to $200,000 from members and the community.
"I just got a report this morning and we've gone over that goal. From Memorial Day through July 4 we raised about $510,000," Smith says.
Perhaps it's Smith's own military background that makes him sensitive to this need. Not long after graduating from high school he joined the Air Force. While stationed in California he earned a degree in accounting from what is now California State University at Sacramento. Later, while assigned to the Chicago area, he received a master's degree from Southern Illinois University.
His last duty station was Randolph Air Force Base. After leaving the military he went to work for a public accounting firm that included RBCU among its clients. After a couple years the credit union hired him as vice president of finance. That was in 1982. In 1987 he became CEO.
The credit union has so consistently been named the top financial institution in one of its primary service areas, Comal County, that award now has a new title. Originally the local newspaper called it the "best bank" honor. The credit union pointed out it wasn't a bank. So the name has been changed to "best financial institution"--much, of course, to the delight of Smith and the board.
Naturally Texas bankers have been keeping an eye on RBFCU. As far as bankers are concerned, the credit union is a poster child for what bankers consider wrong with credit unions--their success.
"They would like us all to stay in the basement of the church and serve only poor people," Smith observes. "They evidently expect us to expel members once they make over $40,000 a year."
With RBFCU headquarters just off a major interstate highway, bankers cringe when they have to drive by on their way to work every day. They are also undoubtedly irritated by the fact the street in front of the credit union is called Randolph-Brooks Parkway, and the highway commission installed three signs on the freeway directing traffic onto the parkway. What has brought RBFCU to Billionaires Club status? For one thing, Smith cites strong backing from the Air Force. The population boom in Texas over the past several years has also helped as new households spring up. A lot of companies have relocated there, attracted by the low cost of housing and the absence of any state income tax.
"Another thing is the fact we've been blessed with a very supportive board of directors," Smith states. "They set policy, then they get out of the way. They absolutely don't micromanage. They don't set artificial targets and expect us to meet them. They pretty much let the staff run with the ball."
Still another factor, he continues, is a senior staff that "is really senior." The average tenure is more than 16 years. Some employees have been with the credit union as long as 30 years.
All that experience sounds like a definite plus. But it also suggests the credit union will soon see a wave of retirements. As a matter of fact, Smith says, during the next five years the credit union will lose the majority of its top management.
"One of the tasks we have to work on, of course, is making sure we have folks developed internally who can step into those positions. We would rather hire from within if we can," Smith says.
Attracting the right staff and dealing with growth are indeed challenges, he acknowledges.
"The other issue we have that is really challenging is managing all the different projects we have," Smith adds. "A few years ago it really was a 40-hour workweek. Now it's probably a 60-hour workweek. At any one time we probably have about 30 major projects underway.
"The larger you are the more people want. Members always want more, they want it faster, and they don't want to pay for it."
For example, a local bank is advertising a credit card that will alert you every time it's used. So if junior is down at an expensive store buying a $200 pair of athletic shoes, dad will immediately know. Smith figures he'll soon hear from members who want a similar card.
Smith is married, and he and his wife have two grown children and five grandchildren. Two of the grandkids are in the San Antonio area and three are in Florida, so grandmother and grandfather like to spend time with them.
They also keep busy on a 330-acre ranch they own about two and a half hours from San Antonio. It's now a weekend retreat, and on their list of possible retirement sites--although his wife isn't thrilled with the rattlesnakes they sometimes see there. During the week they live at a 20-acre place they own closer to San Antonio.
"It's a privilege to work here. You can come to work and actually make a positive difference in people's lives," Smith says. "I compare that to some of my friends who work in other businesses and hate their job."