PHOENIX -- Officially it's the innovation suite, but David Doss agrees it could have been called the outside-the-box room.
It's a brightly colored, comfortably equipped retreat at $1.2 billion Arizona State Credit Union's new corporate headquarters where employees are encouraged to share new ideas. It's the kind of thinking Doss, president/CEO, advocates.
"The purpose of the room is for innovation and to create dialogue. It's not for solving problems. We have conference rooms and other facilities in the building for solving problems," he said.
"I suppose one pet peeve of mine is people who resist out-of-the-box thinking and try to force you to conform. I think flexibility and innovation require sitting back and looking at things in different lights. When I encounter people or organizations who feel this is the way we've always done it, that irritates me."
In addition to a library, the building boasts a game room, kitchen and cafeteria that also has a bank of computers not connected to the credit union network that employees can use for personal activities.
As for the new headquarters overall, "It's been better than expected," Doss said. "We were kind of scattered before. We've been able to locate departments together for synergy."
Like other credit unions in the Phoenix-area, ASCU has felt the jolt from the nation's economic crash even in a city formerly noted for robust growth and home sales.
"The significant devaluation of real estate in certain markets around the metro-area here has impacted members," Doss said. "Construction is down, and unemployment in the construction arena is up. Delinquencies in our auto portfolio have risen, and we've also seen a little bit of loss in our real estate portfolio.
"But overall, our core earnings are very strong. We believe we should move through this economic downturn to a great degree this year. We'll cycle out of this as we have in years past."
Doss indicated the credit union has been working to assist members who may be facing a budget crunch and encourages employees to ask if the credit union can help when there are signs a member is experiencing financial problems. ASCU has also introduced Balance, a program aimed at helping members consolidate bills and set up a budget.
The credit union recently came to the rescue of about 10,000 state employees who were facing payless paydays when the legislature failed to pass a budget. ASCU offered members a no-cost cash advance. With only hours to spare, lawmakers did come through and the crisis was averted. But Doss believes members appreciated the fact the credit union was poised to ease the situation. ASCU has also contacted employers who have announced plant closings and volunteered to provide financial counseling and other help to workers.
The credit union is winding up a year-long process of revising its bylaws, something that has not been done for some time.
"The board appointed a governance committee, and we began a process of drafting changes in terms of what would be considered best-in-class governance," Doss said.
"We looked at issues such as board size, facilitating flexibility so that if we had an opportunity for a merger the board could increase the board size to accommodate an expanded board if necessary. We drafted a member rights section of our bylaws, and under that added expectations for member behavior."
ASCU has been an ethics award finalist, has been rated the No. 1 credit union in Arizona, and has been honored for marketing and branding. Does Doss think such recognition matters to employees?
Yes, he answered.
"It validates that they are doing things right and hopefully adding value to the members. We have a very simple equation for success--we are associate focused, member centered. That means we realize that if we create an environment where we are an employer of choice, our members feel that. When you have highly satisfied associates and a highly satisfied membership, your financial success is that much stronger."
As a 28-year veteran of the credit union movement, Doss recalled the days when management would think, "If only we could just reach $50 million." Success is a moving target, he said, and the Phoenix-area is a highly competitive market for financial institutions. Banks have locked up some of the best corners, so ASCU may not enjoy access to the best branch locations.
That means looking at other options to reach members. The credit union recently rolled out a soft launch of mobile banking, and within a few days--even without marketing--about 400 members discovered it was available. Remote deposit and full-service ATMs are also on the list, with an eye toward capturing Generation Y members.
"They really prefer technology," Doss declared. "It's hard to raise capital, especially right now when losses are a little higher. It's harder for us to put as many physical branches up."
While attending Eastern Illinois University, Doss worked for a community bank. He also completed a one-year internship with the FDIC, examining banks in central Illinois, a job he felt gave him an opportunity to apply what he was learning as a finance major with a strong accounting background.
He began his credit union career in 1980 when he moved to Phoenix as an internal auditor for what was then Phoenix City Employees Federal Credit Union, now Arizona Federal Credit Union. He has also worked at Nevada Federal Credit Union in Las Vegas, North Island Federal Credit Union in San Diego, and Columbia Credit Union in Vancouver, Wash. He joined ASCU as CEO three and a half years ago.
Married with four children, one still at home, Doss noted his youngest daughter is learning to drive.
"That's another experience," he sighed.
His interests range from indoor to outdoor activities. He enjoys reading and happily spends time browsing bookstores. He also loves fly fishing and bird hunting. While many people think of Arizona in terms of desert, Doss noted it's actually a diverse state that provides him opportunities to fish on the Colorado River or in a number of mountain lakes.
As for his career, he takes a modest approach.
"The thing I have learned is I am much better at what I do because of the people I work with. The one thing in life that makes me better is relationships," Doss stated.