Low Operating Costs, Solid Product Decisions Keep APCO Employees CU on the Rise
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Although the credit union has grown and added some 60 SEGs, the name APCO Employees Credit Union still works just fine, thank you.
Yes, says APCO ECU President/CEO Larry Morgan, the idea of a fresh name has been talked about more than once as the credit union has expanded its field of membership beyond Alabama Power Company.
"If we ever went to a community charter or made some other major change, we would probably then change our name. But so many credit unions have new names I don't know who they are any more," Morgan laughs.
That doesn't mean APCO ECU hasn't been evolving, introducing new technology, and enhancing the products and services menu. For example, all members with the credit union's Visa card have been upgraded to Visa Platinum. Members have been offered long-term care insurance, and the Web site at the financial planning firm involved has seen a "fair number of hits" Morgan indicates.
APCO ECU has also benefited from a pretty strong local economy, he continues.
"In Birmingham, and Alabama generally, the economy has been very good," Morgan says. "Statewide unemployment is about 1% less than the national average, and in Birmingham it's even lower than that. So it's a tough market to hire employees.
"Our state has seen a lot of car manufacturers relocate here. We've got Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota. Those are fairly high-paying jobs and there are a lot of independent companies that supply them."
What about Alabama Power? Morgan explains eight or ten years ago the utility went through a major reduction in employees when jobs such as tree-trimming were outsourced to outside vendors. But the credit union wasn't impacted in any major way, instead experiencing growth in eligible family members who joined, but didn't necessarily work for Alabama Power.
The result has been a diverse membership with men and women, whites and African-Americans, young and old all represented.
Morgan figures at least part of the lure has been attractive rates, which he says are higher than offered by the typical credit union and made possible by low operating costs.
"We probably have lower operating costs than all but one or two of the $1 billion credit unions in the country. We're a little bit tight, I guess. We evaluate things, and when we can do it best we do it. What somebody else can do better for us and cheaper, we farm out," he indicates.
"We try to use our money wisely and do everything we can to keep our costs down. We've been very successful at that over many years."
That doesn't mean the credit union faces no challenges. There's always concern about taxation, including taxes on unrelated business income. It takes constant work to stay competitive. There's the possibility of retail giants such as Wal-Mart getting into banking. Building a new main office has required forming a building committee, developing a plan, and working with the City of Birmingham to find a site near the current headquarters. A location has been identified, but there's still one piece of property to secure. Morgan came to the credit union 34 years ago and is only the second manager, now president/CEO, in the credit union's history. After graduating from Auburn University with majors in accounting and management, he worked at a Goodyear tire plant for about a year as a management trainee. He decided the job, and the fact the facility operated six days a week, wasn't for him. Next step on the career ladder was with the Alabama Credit Union League conducting supervisory examinations. Four years later in 1972, when the manager of APCO ECU was about to retire, Morgan applied for the job.
At that time the credit union had $3 million in assets and it was a far cry from today's high-tech environment. There was a Burroughs posting machine and ledger cards. Dividends were paid twice a year. The menu was pretty much restricted to share accounts, signature loans and car loans. No CDs, no checking, no IRAs, no mortgages, no credit cards, no ATMs and no home banking system.
For one thing, it meant Morgan did a little bit of everything. Today, of course, he has to delegate, but he believes his hands-on days make it more difficult for him to turn a job over to somebody else than it is for someone who grew up in today's larger, more complex credit union environment.
"I can do it [delegate]," he says, "but I kept the books when I started, I made loans, I collected loans. The staff consisted of me and four women."
Despite his can't-teach-an-old-dog-new-tricks protests, Morgan actually appears to have kept up with the times. He was the 12th credit union executive in the country to earn CCUE designation. He's also a Certified Financial Planner.
CFP could also stand for Committed Football Patron since Morgan holds season tickets to Auburn University football and besides attending home games tries to get to several away contests. In the winter, when the Tigers aren't defending their national ranking, Morgan enjoys hunting and in the spring he likes fishing. Summer means golf.
"I've got interests, if I only had enough time," he observes. "Things are always changing, there's always something new, something to learn about. Right now we're working to implement Check 21.
"I'm proud that our credit union has been as successful as it has been. We get good ratings from our members, and our goal is to benefit our members. The purpose of the credit union is not to build an empire or benefit millions. It is to benefit the members." --firstname.lastname@example.org