Rise from Teller Ranks Helps Yokum's Continued Quest to Keep Members First by Helping Establish Early, Smart Financial Habits
HAMPTON, Va. -- Evolution, some say, is the key to survival, but putting that theory into practice is not as easy as it seems.
As president/CEO of Langley Federal Credit Union, Jean Yokum is in a unique position having seen the changes the credit union has undergone during her 54-year tenure--the last 28 years at the helm--and being among the masterminds to effect those changes.
Yokum literally rose up the ranks starting out as a teller at what was then the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory Federal Credit Union in 1953 to become the president/CEO in 1979. During her tenure, she was instrumental in taking the CU, originally charted in 1936 to serve the military, from three branches and $76 million in assets to 14 branches and more than $1.1 billion in assets. Langley now serves more than 143,000 members.
Because of her more than five decades of vision and innovation and her unyielding philosophy of offering "world class" service to Langley's members, Yokum has been nominated as a finalist for the 2007 CEO of the Year award from Credit Union Times.
Above all the products, services and financial assistance programs Langley has rolled out under her watch, Yokum said she prides herself on ensuring that the CU always puts the members first.
"That hasn't changed," Yokum said. "We try to never tell them no. We find a way to make it happen."
Yokum personally meets with nearly 100% of potential hires to ensure their fit with the CU and to clearly communicate the organization's member-first philosophy. So important is the interaction with Langley's 390 employees that Yokum hosts monthly birthday lunches and dinners to express her appreciation for their hard work and to keep the lines of communication open.
It's that balance between making member service a priority and keeping staffers happy that has helped Langley place itself on the cutting edge of going beyond merely offering a new product to really helping build financial independence and longevity.
For instance, Langley rolled out its payday loan alternative program, QuickCash, which has saved members more than $1 million since its debut in July 2004. The loan has a fixed rate of 18% annual percentage rate. If a member, for example, gets $500 through a QuickCash loan for two weeks, at 18% APR, he or she would pay a $3.48 fee instead of $75 for a loan that a payday lender might typically charge 15% of the amount borrowed. The program has proven to be widely popular for military personnel, who are often targeted by payday lenders, Yokum said. The urgent emphasis on getting more Americans to save more is one mission that Yokum feels strongly about. Langley is hoping to set the foundation early on through a number of ways. The CU conducts hundreds of financial presentations from sessions for young airmen at Langley Air Force Base to elementary school students. In 2006, more than 2,500 people attended LFCU's financial presentations. Langley has also set up a comprehensive, online financial education resource called the Financial Answer Center where members can get answers to hundreds of financial questions.
A seven-month old program geared toward 18 to 25-year olds aims to help this group in nearly all facets of their financial lives. Called FLIP, short for Financial Learning in Progress, the free program offers members advice about buying their first car or house, building a credit score, and saving for the future. For their participation, members get free checks, overdraft protection and more.
"So many young people get into financial trouble before they even get started in life," Yokum said. "Everything depends on their credit score. We want to train members to have a good lifestyle but to also be financially sound because everyone is moving towards risk-based credit." To help low-income members purchase homes, Langley was one of several CUs that started offering the Home Loan Payment Relief loan last spring. First-time home borrowers with household incomes at or below the median in their market are eligible for the low-rate loans. Yokum said there's so much more that can be done to reach out to the underserved, but she acknowledges that it can be a risky move.
"A lot of them have taken out bankruptcy, some of them have really bad credit," she said.
To that end, Langley has a full-time credit counselor and another is in the process of getting certification for mortgage counseling. In 2006, the CU launched its CreditBuilder program, which focuses on helping members rebuild their credit score. The proceeds of a loan are placed into a savings account that earns the standard savings rate and is held as collateral. When the loan is paid off, the money is released and a history of regular, on-time payments helps the member establish solid credit.
From year to year, Langley has nearly hit or surpassed its strategic performance objectives. For 2006, it set a target of 0.80% on return on assets and actually ended up at 1.14% for the year. Langley's net worth ratio target was 13.93% for 2006 and its actual came in at 14.29%.
Mother of one son and grandmother of two, Yokum said despite the challenges the CU has faced over the years, as long as the mission of putting members first remains the same, Langley will continue to be successful. And, her staff and board will quickly change the subject or walk out of the room when talk of retirement comes up, she said.
"I really love the people," Yokum said. "My husband passed away 13 years ago and I thought I would retire then but I do love the people and the members. I've been blessed." --firstname.lastname@example.org