This year about 2,500 members arrived at CommunityAmerica Ballpark in June for a family-focused event that included arcade games, prizes, fireworks and photos with Sizzle, mascot of the Kansas City T-Bones minor league baseball team.
Of course, if you want to find fault, you might note that attendance was down from 4,000 the previous year, when the annual meeting featured a western theme that included a mechanical bull riding contest. CEO Dennis Pierce managed to stay on long enough to win a pledge from CommunityAmerica employees of more than $38,000 for Junior Achievement.
Pierce explained that for the past six years CommunityAmerica has held naming rights to the stadium.
"It has a great family feel to it, and we pushed back the timing of annual meeting to June, when the weather is better. We had hot dogs for everybody and lots of activities for kids. This year there were seminars for adults on topics such as financial planning."
Another credit union program attracting a lot of attention is a year-long financial makeover involving four families. The household recording the most progress in key personal finance areas--reducing debt, boosting savings and improving net worth--will receive $10,000. The others will each get $2,500.
The promotional competition still has three more months to run, but Pierce indicated there's a strong possibility CommunityAmerica will stage a repeat. In addition to the financial progress the families are making, the credit union is getting valuable exposure. The contestants are featured on a local television program each month, they appear on a weekly radio show, and there's a blog on the credit union's Web site.
"They've been great," Pierce declared as he talked about the families. "They've been very open about what they've been working on. We talk an awful lot about the process they've been going through and the strategies they've been employing to try and improve their own financial well-being. It's been a great experience, and the families have just been awesome."
"With the issues going on in the economy, it's been a great time to share some of that information. Of course, we offer that type of relationship to all our members if they would like to take advantage of the financial planning the organization has available."
He also agrees with the idea often talked about in credit union circles that today's tough economy presents an excellent opportunity for credit unions to position themselves as alternative financial institutions. While some members have been nervous as they read about banks closing, CommunityAmerica points out to members they are covered by insurance including excess deposit insurance.
CommunityAmerica traces its origins to 1940 when a TWA pilot spearheaded the formation of TWA Club Credit Union. In 1992 the name was changed to CommunityAmerica, and in 1998 the credit union merged with Yellow Financial Credit Union. In 2007 another noteworthy merger took place when CommunityAmerica and Midwest United Credit Union joined forces.
Today CommunityAmerica has a community charter and offices in both Kansas and Missouri. Pierce said it really hasn't been too difficult operating in two states.
"We're a Missouri-chartered credit union. At times we have been impacted by laws enacted in Kansas. So we do have to be aware of what's going on in both states, and we certainly have significant operations in Missouri and in Kansas. What happens from a legislative perspective in both those states does have an impact on us," he said.
CommunityAmerica belongs to the Missouri Credit Union League and, although not eligible for full membership in the Kansas Credit Union League, it does contribute.
As far as Pierce is concerned, a community charter has made CommunityAmerica's 29 branches in two states especially significant. A physical presence seems to reinforce the fact the credit union operates in a particular market.
Given mortgage problems and major economic slumps in states such as California and Florida, Pierce considers the credit union fortunate to be based in the Midwest. He indicated the local area is not experiencing as much of a downturn as many other regions. Although Kansas and Missouri did not enjoy the rapid growth cycles seen earlier in places like Los Angeles and Miami, the collapse of the real estate bubble has not hit as hard.
"Our economy here is pretty diverse, and not heavily weighted toward one particular segment," Pierce said. "We are typically able to weather these kinds of things quite well. Real estate values have stayed pretty good here. There's been a slight decline, but our real estate portfolio is very solid. The only thing I've seen on the real estate side is some impact on home equity."
Pierce marked his 15th anniversary with CommunityAmerica in January. Prior to that, he worked for United Consumers Credit Union for 12 years, and before that was employed at a bank.
On the personal front, Pierce and his wife just celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary. They have two grown daughters, and less than a year ago welcomed their first grandson into the family. Pierce is happy the grandson lives nearby, and he can see him two or three times a week.
Both he and his wife enjoy golf, although he quips he has to deal with the fact she is a better golfer than he is. He enjoys sports, reading and travel, and now that they are empty nesters the Pierces hope to do more traveling.
Even so, "I enjoy getting up and coming to work every day. I consider myself to be almost a lifetime credit union person," he stated.
In fact, Pierce becomes frustrated when he encounters people who are simply slogging through what is obviously an inappropriate career path.
"I think people sometimes pick their occupation based on economic decisions," he said. "I've always found that will take care of itself. You know what it's like to go into a restaurant and have people waiting on you who really don't want to be there and don't care if you're there. Life is very short, and we should enjoy what we do."