LAKE JACKSON, Texas -- The name is still officially Texas Dow Employees Credit Union, but check the Web site and other information and you'll find that it's consistently condensed to TDECU.
Like other credit unions that have grown well beyond their original boundaries, TDECU now serves eight counties. So the contracted name, attached to the slogan "Your Credit Union," is aimed at helping potential members understand they don't have to work at Dow Chemical to join.
President/CEO Edward Speed says TDECU enjoys a very loyal membership base.
"In our primary area of concentration, which is an area south of Houston called Brazosport, we have 90% penetration of all households in our market. We believe we are the primary financial institution for over 65% of our members," he says.
"We have a real depth of loyalty from our members, and therefore we have a larger share of wallet. We don't need to rely on one single product. Our members understand we not only have good rates, we also have exceptional service."
In addition, it doesn't hurt that the Brazosport economy is growing. Houston continues to expand in that direction, bringing population and jobs.
Speed figures the 90% market penetration is much higher than peer credit unions have generally achieved. Otherwise, he adds, TDECU is probably pretty typical of the Billionaire's Club ranks.
Speed came to the credit union in 2003 as president/CEO. He arrived from San Antonio Federal Credit Union, where he was senior vice president of strategic planning. He had started there as part of a team brought in back in the mid-1980s to turn around what was then troubled Government Employees Credit Union.
At SAFCU he worked for Jeff Farber.
"Jeff is kind of a CEO-maker," Speed observes. "Six people who worked for him have become chief executives of large credit unions."
Earlier, after graduating from St. Mary's University in San Antonio with a B.A. in finance, Speed served as an officer in the U.S. Army armor branch in both the United States and Europe. He then worked in commercial real estate and construction.
Since Speed arrived at TDECU, indirect and risk-based lending have been introduced, business lending and services have been added to the menu, and new managers have been recruited from outside the credit union industry. Financial education has become a major focus.
"That comes out of our board of directors' commitment to financial education of youth and adults, both to understand the world of financial services and to assist those who may be having trouble with their finances," Speed says.
Three years ago the credit union hired a full-time financial educator.
Kathy Crim has educated thousands of students in the National Endowment for Financial Education curriculum and won an award from the Texas Credit Union Foundation for commitment to financial education.
TDECU has also attracted attention for providing member benefits. CUNA figured that in 2006 those benefits totaled between $455 and $2,324 for each member household. One example--a member taking out a 60-month loan to finance a $25,000 new car will save $164 each year in interest compared to a loan through a bank.
With today's tight margins, isn't it tough to sustain advantages like that?
"We're not immune to the market pressures credit unions face," Speed replies. "We face the same margin squeeze. However, we don't rely strictly on auto lending. We have a very robust real estate lending operation as well as credit cards, unsecured loans and other miscellaneous secured loans such as boats and recreational vehicles--all in appropriate proportional risk. "We are also very effective in controlling our costs, which assists us in being able to provide these loans at better rates to our members." All that is good news, but there are some challenges ahead. One is transforming the credit union's e-commerce capabilities into a truly robust operation. Speed believes it's important to have that in place for future generations of members who don't want to come into brick and mortar branches. "We have not made the necessary investment in that [e-commerce] in the past and we're trying to catch up. We're trying to get back on track," Speed says.
The idea is to offer such a full range of online services a member won't have to visit a branch or phone the call center for anything, whether the member wants a loan, including a mortgage, or simply needs to make a deposit.
However, at the same time, TDECU is actually expanding its branch network. The credit union figures there will always be a demand for a place where members can receive face-to-face service. Although it may become a smaller portion of the membership, the most recent survey revealed 70 percent of members had been in a branch during the past year.
"Even if that got cut in half," Speed observes, "that's 35,000 people who want to come into a physical branch. That is still very much going to be part of our future."
TDECU is in the process of expanding operations in seven rural regions the credit union picked up a couple years ago through a merger with Texas Crossroads Federal Credit Union. Those counties were designated as underserved areas, and TDECU simply figures it has a responsibility to serve them.
Weekends, when he isn't concentrating on margins or e-commerce, you're likely to find Speed at the airport. Just look for tail number N96928 on a recently restored Cessna 182 Skylane. He's an instrument-rated pilot who provides Angel Flights transporting seriously ill patients from rural areas to major hospitals. His plane also whisks him and his wife of 37 years to see their three grandchildren.
From a business perspective, since the credit union covers 10,000 square miles, the Cessna proves handy for visiting branches in small towns. It even allowed Speed to fly $600,000 to Baton Rouge after Hurricane Katrina when Dow Louisiana Federal Credit Union urgently needed money to help members deal with what had become a cash-only economy.
Evenings are pretty much spent quietly at home.
"Linda and I lead a pretty quiet life," he says. "I may be studying something to do with aviation or airplanes. I am involved with a few community activities, such as serving on the board of our local hospital."
Asked what he is proudest of in his credit union career, Speed actually cites a couple things. At SAFCU it was a still-existing program to provide affordable housing. At TDECU he is pleased about changing the credit union to a service-focused culture.
Have members responded?
"Very much so," he answers. --firstname.lastname@example.org