It may not be fodder for the National Enquirer, but it reflects an approach Stipa said boosted TruMark into the Billionaires' Club, with $1.1 billion in assets at the end of 2008, giving extra impact to the credit union's 70th anniversary.
The credit union was originally formed by Bell Telephone employees, and the first office was in the Philadelphia apartment of one of the founders. In 2003, the name was changed from Philadelphia Telco Credit Union to TruMark Financial Credit Union. A community charter was formally approved in 2005.
At the end of 2008, TruMark recorded 16% growth in assets from year-end 2007. So far this year that 16% pace has continued. Return on assets was 76 basis points, stronger than the peer average. All this occurred even as the nation struggled with the worst recession in decades.
Headquartered in Trevose, Penn., TruMark serves a five-county area in southeastern Pennsylvania. Stipa noted that Pennsylvania is experiencing an unemployment rate of 7.8%, somewhat below the national level. The Philadelphia area is pretty much in line with the state figure.
"TruMark has remained committed to its core values-integrity, extraordinary member service and financial soundness. This past year was business as usual for us. We continue to adhere to a conservative business model. We will not compromise our core values by placing members in products only to increase the bottom line," Stipa said.
That, he indicated, differs from what has happened at other financial institutions and has resulted in some dire consequences for both customers and the institutions. Stipa considers TruMark's approach a pragmatic one that has been rewarded by strong member confidence in the credit union.
"We live and work here," he declared.
TruMark offers business loans and has also taken a conservative approach to those loans. Business loans account for $17 million of the $794 million loan portfolio and have grown in what Stipa considers a controlled manner.
"This is an area we would like to expand, but we have been conscious of the decline in the commercial real estate market and the increase in vacancies during the current downturn," he said.
Like many credit unions, TruMark has discovered that while members embrace new technology, including online access to their accounts, they also want a convenient conventional branch.
"Branches are essential," Stipa emphasized. "We are very much into branch expansion. We see a substantial increase in transactions through remote delivery, but our members still tell us they want more branches."
He added that high transaction volume and rapid deposit growth at branches indicate members are indeed using them. He noted membership is expanding beyond Philadelphia and its original suburbs. In 2008, TruMark opened three free-standing branches. Two more are scheduled to begin operating by the end of 2009.
"In February 2009, we opened a free-standing branch in an under-banked location in North Philadelphia. It now serves a community that was without a financial institution for more than 60 years," Stipa said.
In addition to offering an alternative to paying high fees for check cashing, TruMark offers financial literacy workshops to residents on such topics as budgeting, maintaining good credit, money management and identity theft.
That effort won TruMark a blue ribbon award for excellence in community development from the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations.
If all this sounds as though the CEO and board can sleep soundly with no issues to worry about, Stipa indicated there are some hurdles.
"One of the biggest challenges is to grow sensibly, meaning to grow robustly while preserving profitability and net worth," he said.
Stipa noted that TruMark's delinquencies are less than one-half of one percent, about one-third the rate of peer credit unions. Loan losses have been only 25% of those posted by the average credit union.
"Our growth in deposits was exceptional," he said. "In a historically bad year for the financial services industry, we were able to grow our loan portfolio by 20%. It helps that the Philadelphia area economy is more diverse than some other parts of the country. In 2009, we're already in the midst of a mortgage refinance boom. In the first four months of this year, we originated more than $82 million in mortgage loans."
Stipa earned a bachelor's degree in business from Ursinus College and an M.B.A. from Drexel University. He's been working in financial services for 26 years and joined TruMark as CEO in March 2001.Off the job, he enjoys spending time with his wife and four children.
Stipa is pleased that the credit union has been able to post positive results despite the economic downturn.
"As the financial crisis subsides, we would like to see the credit union movement become more of a dominant player. While many financial services companies strayed from responsible lending and investment practices, credit unions such as TruMark stayed the course," he declared.