Experiences Shape Financial Services Veteran Judy Sandberg's Message of Collaboration as True Equalizer
GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. -- Having the ability to see the financial marketplace over a 25-year span from credit union, banking, cooperative, investment, commercial lending, information technology and research perspectives has shaped Judy Sandberg's zeal in bringing the message of collaboration as the true means to compete.
Sandberg is senior vice president of strategic direction of Gateway Services Group, LLC, a CUSO providing investment and insurance program management and consulting to credit unions. From May 2005 to May of this year, she also served as interim COO of NACUSO and currently holds a seat on the NASCUS Board. Sandberg began her career in commercial lending and credit administration with Norwest. Her experience also includes an investment manager at ITT Finance, president of NCB Retail Finance, a subsidiary formed to securitize small business loans and later founded and headed the company's NCB Investment Advisors, a registered advisory firm.
"One of the funny things on how my career has progressed tended to be driven by people I've met that have a strong commitment to providing value to clients," Sandberg said. "I've always tried to bring laser focus on clients--for my career, it's been credit unions."
Sandberg's initial exposure to credit unions came through the 13 years she spent at National Cooperative Bank where she led the bank's largest commercial lending division. While there, she worked with a newly-formed client, CUNA Mortgage, securing financing deals. At NCB Retail Finance from 1994 to 1998, Sandberg helped to design small business loans created by cooperatives, including credit unions and CUSOs, to be the first securitization vehicles for credit unions at the time. Wall Street had never been familiar with asset classes of small business loans back then, she pointed out. NCB also helped to create an "exit strategy" for those loans, a move that opened the gate for strides the industry is seeing now.
When Sandberg started to see that many of NCB's borrowers had reached a saturation point and were in need of an investment alternative, she and a colleague pitched a proposal to form NCB Investment Advisors. In 1993, the firm launched to provide institutional advisory services to banks. Over a two-year period, assets went from zero to $100 million.
"We had to figure out things as we went. It was a wonderful learning experience," Sandberg recalled.
It was her time at Callahan & Associates where she served as president of the Trust for Credit Unions, a family of mutual funds and oversaw the CUSO, owned by 40 credit unions, that exposed her to just how innovative the core group was in bringing new products to market. She describes Callahan CEO Chip Filson as the "most intelligent man I ever worked with."
"All the raw data that came in every quarter from NCUA, Chip would go through and analyze it," Sandberg said. "His ability to see trends and connections--he's been committed to credit unions his entire career."
When Sandberg came to Gateway, one of the challenges she saw was aging members and the lack of financial services available for them. Investment and retirement planning became an absolute and immediate service the CUSO set forth on providing.
"Not a lot of credit unions knew how to do it," Sandberg said. "It represents a huge opportunity for credit unions. It was an opportunity for me to take this message [forward] because [the lack of investment and retirement planning] is a problem."
At NACUSO, Sandberg said it's important to spread the message that CUSOs have the ability to pull resources, create scale while still giving credit unions the room to maintain their community presence. Now a staunch advocate, she said the cooperative model is what she will "believe [in] forever." Publicizing how credit unions are collaborating with CUSOs continues to be an "awareness issue," adding the industry has made "tremendous strides."
On paper, it appears collaboration can help credit unions bring services and products to members and match up with bigger competitors, but how effective is it in countering so-called "hostile takeover" attempts? Sandberg believes it can go far, but "you have to be in the game first."
"I wasn't particularly enthused by the methods," Sandberg said on how Wings Financial Federal Credit Union pursued a merger with Continental Federal Credit Union. "If the net result is it causes credit unions to revive local competitiveness in the marketplace, that's a good thing."
With 25 years of experience to back it up, Sandberg said, "one thing I've learned about working with credit unions, they need to be providing what everyone else is providing."
"Just being a credit union or a cooperative is not going to cause someone to choose you if you're not priced appropriately," Sandberg said.
Sandberg is a voracious fan of car racing. Her family has been fans "forever and forever" and for a brief time, Sandberg was an amateur racer of Formula One cars. Born in North Dakota and raised all over the Midwest, she currently lives in Washington with her husband and son.