BALTIMORE -- If you live in Baltimore, chances are you've heard of Bert Hash.
The MECU of Baltimore CEO has used his hard-earned high profile in the community and penchant for developing fruitful partnerships to keep this $800 million CU firmly on the growth track.
Growth, community involvement and reaching out to all member groups have been the hallmarks of Hash's 10-year run at MECU. And it's earned him the honor of being named Chief Executive of the Year in the Trailblazer Awards program from Credit Union Times.
Under his leadership, the CU has expanded its member base from 57,000 to 83,000, increased assets from $435 million to $800 million, developed its branch network from one to eight, and increased the staff from 70 to over 200.
But it's how Hash has done it that is eye catching. Hash has become a fixture in the community of Baltimore, and while he does community work because he believes in it and has a passion for it, he understands the benefits to the business.
"It's marketing 101. People want to be affiliated with someone who cares," said Hash.
That commitment started during his 27-year career in banking. "I had to run business units and make my contribution to the bottomline, but also be the good guy helping in the community."
His dedication to the community can be seen throughout the credit union. In fact, community involvement is part of MECU employees' job description. Employees are required to take part in at least one community event a year. "It brings teamwork, but it also allows us to feel good about reaching out and giving back."
A decade into his credit union career, Hash looks fondly on his banking career. "I always enjoyed my banking days. There wasn't much of a transition. I walked in the first day to our only branch and was picking up papers on the floor like I used to when I ran bank branches," said Hash.
What was different was the family-like feel of the credit union. "Here we are much closer to members. People here know members 25 and 30 years. The board and staff here is much more of a family."
Even as a banker, Hash never could figure out why bankers were so committed to getting credit unions taxed. "Credit unions were not our problem. Looking at the bigger picture back then it was places like Merrill Lynch that were taking market share. Today it's Wal-Mart."
Hash's banker background, operational knowledge and ability to forge partnerships have helped him build up the credit union. Case in point: member access to cash. When Hash joined MECU it had only one branch, a branch that didn't dispense cash. "What we did was took your cash and the next day you came back to get it and we gave you a check," said Hash.
Of course many members would go to a bank to get that check cashed. Today is a very different story. MECU is opening its eighth branch this year, complete with cash, and it has added an extensive ATM network to give members access to their money throughout Baltimore and outlying counties.
When he arrived at MECU, Hash knew he needed ATMs, but also knew he couldn't build an ATM network fast enough or big enough. He did what he does so well, he forged a partnership, this one with Allfirst Bank, later acquired by M&T Bank "For one dollar a month per member, members got unlimited transactions at their (M&T) machines with no fees. Right away we went from no ATMs to having a network that members could really benefit from."
MECU later partnered with Allpoint Network to offer members access to over 33,000 surcharge-free ATMs. Hash continues to keep strong ties with bankers because it's good for business and the community. "There may be times when the banker/credit union rhetoric is there, but we work in the community together for the good of the community." He noted that he was one of the founding members of the Maryland Community Bankers Reinvestment Group while a banker, and later brought MECU into the fold of the banker-dominated group because it brings the CU into the loop on things like nonprofit housing initiatives.
Hash has used his mortgage banking background to develop a strong mortgage business at MECU. He worked with the city of Baltimore to create the Buy in Baltimore Mortgage, which reduced the rate by 25 basis points for members buying homes in Baltimore. MECU was also the first credit union in the area to work with the Federal Home Loan Bank to offer their First Time Homebuyers grants to low-income members. Today, the CU's mortgage portfolio has grown to over $300 million.
Hash is a big believer in partnering with not only local government and other financials, but vendors that can help it act bigger than it is. He touts the vendor relationships on the lending and call center side. "We needed to catch up in a short period of time. We even outsourced mortgage lending. To the members it's transparent. As long as we are adding value to the members, it works. Our name is on everything and we're adding value."
MECU serves a high percentage of underserved members just by virtue of its location. "When you look at the average median income of Baltimore, a number of members are below the median. We've always served the undeserved," he said. The CU combats payday loans with low-cost, unsecured loans, and believes in co-signed loans to help those who may not qualify on their own. It also pays .75% on regular checking.
MECU also gives back through its patronage dividend, something it's done for 25 years. This year the $4.25 million will be split into mid-year and year-end payments to help the many teachers in its membership who could use the additional cash in the summer months.
Hash admitted that his staff pulled one over on him with his nomination into the Credit Union Times' CEO of the Year category. "I always thought I knew what was going on, but I guess I don't know everything. I am truly humbled by their intent. This truly is a team effort. The board has the vision and the employees are the ones that help me implement that vision." --email@example.com