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From the October-01, 2008 issue of Credit Union Times Magazine • Subscribe!
Frank Berrish, Visions Federal CEO, Sees Overregulation as Key Challenge
ENDICOTT, N.Y. -- Frank Berrish, president of Visions Federal Credit Union, is impatient with regulatory chores that eat up time and money--but instead of just grumbling, he's willing to work with groups such as the Federal Reserve.<p>"I think we're going back to being overly regulated," he declared. "I have an exam coming up, and we have to fill out a 90-item worksheet, which is costing this credit union thousands of dollars in man-hours. We're here to serve members, but we're being so regulated it's affecting service--and members don't understand that. I have people on the front line who say to me, 'Why are we doing this? Why are we making people so unhappy?'"</p><p>In 2006 and 2007, Berrish served as a member of the Federal Reserve's Thrift Institution Advisory Council. The group, with one representative from each of the Fed's 12 districts, meets every four months with the Fed governors and chairman to advise them on the economic environment in their areas.</p><p>Council members also serve as a sounding board on questions such as the reaction to recent Fed decisions, subprime lending, Sarbanes-Oxley and the status of the National Flood Insurance Program.</p><p>"It was a challenging experience," Berrish said.</p><p>Visions was chartered in 1966 as IBM Owego Employees Federal Credit Union. In 1981 it merged with IBM Endicott Employees Federal Credit Union, continuing to focus on IBM employees until 1993, when IBM launched a major restructuring that included cutting some 10,000 employees and selling off a major division in Owego.</p><p>"That was when we adopted a generic name, Visions Federal Credit Union," Berrish said. "We moved from a single sponsor to SEGs, and for about six years tried to develop the SEG market, which was somewhat picked over. In 2000 we changed to a community charter."</p><p>Do challenges remain? Certainly, Berrish indicated. He described New York State as a high-tax state with declining population. The good aspect of that is Visions has not been challenged by the bursting of the housing bubble that hit many credit unions in areas such as California, Arizona, Florida and Nevada.</p><p>"I was at a meeting with CUNA where we heard 40 of the largest credit unions are losing money, as much as $10 million to $40 million. We're making about $20 million this year. My challenges are achieving more growth," Berrish said.</p><p>So a lot of effort is going into attracting the generations coming after the baby boomers and identifying the lifestyles and financial needs of specific demographic groups.</p><p>Committees are looking at approaches such as in-school programs to get the credit union name out. A number of Visions managers are offering financial counseling at prisons and other locations. As part of the 2009 strategic plan, Visions is examining whether it needs to design a new channel using Spacebook or MySpace to reach the millennium generation.</p><p>To keep members loyal after they join, Visions has introduced a PSP (personal service plus) quality assurance program. It's a pledge to members covering 12 items, ranging from smiling and greeting members and answering all phone calls before the fourth ring to offering additional products and services the member may need.</p><p>The credit union also offers time-and-a-half pay for employees who work Saturdays.</p><p>"It really is effective," Berrish said. "We have eight offices open on Saturdays, and many do more loan business on Saturday than they do all the rest of the week."</p><p>Visions is using videoconferencing extensively to pull together employees from all 23 branches. The main office conference room is equipped with eight large plasma television screens. Board members and managers can participate in meetings without traveling to headquarters</p><p>"We've got the ability to do what's called Hollywood squares, putting a number of people on the screen. We can see them and they can see us," Berrish explained.</p><p>"We originally went to videoconferencing because of a robbery. It was so traumatic; I worried about how we would help a branch that is two hours away. Videoconferencing was the way to do it while key staff members drove to the branch and calmed people down. We then expanded it to include staff meetings and saved maybe $20,000 a year in mileage expense."</p><p>"Another thing we're using it for right now is called share the experts. If someone comes into a branch a couple hours away and wants to see a trust officer, the branch staff can take the information and have the trust officer call the member and set up an appointment between the member and the trust officer. The member can sit down in the conference room at the branch and teleconference with the trust officer, business lending officer or some other expert."</p><p>What drew Berrish to a job in the credit union movement?</p><p>"I think it's a desire to help people, and see people improve their financial well being. There aren't many people who survive 30-some years in the credit union movement," he said.</p><p>"I have the ability to see people who had children for whom we provided a crib loan, then a college loan, and now we're providing them with their first home. It's gratifying to see how Visions has helped thousands of people improve their financial status. I'm very proud of what we've done for our members." </p><p>A New York State native, Berrish graduated from an accounting college in Washington, D.C., and lived there for a while. He worked with Bankers Trust as a regional controller, joined Visions in 1975 and two years later became CEO.</p><p>Berrish is married and has two children, a daughter 20 years old and a son who is nine.</p><p>"My biggest hobby is spending time with my son," he indicated. "When I'm not doing that, I'm enjoying wine. We have a cabin up in the Finger Lakes wine region. Visions has expanded into that area, making loans to wineries, and I'm learning about winemaking and different ways to make money in the wine industry.</p><p>"I'm pretty good at tasting red wines. I've taken courses on tasting wines and just won a contest where I had to pick the year, vintage and whether the wine was a merlot, pinot, a meritage, cabernet franc or cabernet sauvignon. I was one of three people who picked them all successfully."</p><p>As for his credit union career, Berrish would like to be remembered as "a simple man who helped create a large financial institution that went from $25 million to $2 billion."</p><p>--firstname.lastname@example.org</p><p> </p><p> </p>
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