Dave Serlo, longtime CEO of PSCU Financial Services and the CUSO's first employee, passed away from the complications of cancer on June 25. He was 63.
Serlo leaves a legacy of noble standards of conduct and leadership, according to those around him, with a particular emphasis on the idea that credit unions should be served by organizations devoted to their unique principles and values.
He began with the organization in 1983 and led the group through its controversial move to the First Data card platform from then Telecredit (which eventually became FIS) and through a later expansion in which the payments CUSO broke out from card payments to online banking, telephone service centers and mobile banking. At last count, PSCU said it has 1,700 employees and over 1,500 credit union clients representing over 14 million credit and debit card accounts.
Serlo served on the board of directors of NACUSO, Credit Union Miracle Day Inc. and numerous advisory councils of the industry. He was a member of Visa's card operations risk executive council and funded important industry research through his commitment to Filene Research Institute.
He led PSCU to take a central role in the sponsorship of the annual Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run, a Washington-based event that brings national attention to the nation's credit unions.
He was recently awarded the Ernst & Young Florida Entrepreneur of the Year Award for the accomplishments he fostered at PSCU Financial Services and, as a graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Serlo was recently honored with their prestigious Distinguished Alumni Award.
But Serlo's chief legacy may rest in the CUSO he served and led for most of 27 years.
"Dave's DNA is all over that organization," said Sarah Canepa Bang, CEO of Financial Service Centers Cooperative, one of two nationwide shared branching networks. Bang first met Serlo eight years ago, when both FSCC and PSCU were starting to work with call centers. Later, PSCU went on to buy Digital Dialog, FSCC's partner on call centers. Bang recalled their first meeting after PSCU had made that purchase.
"He took my hand and said, 'I am so looking forward to working with your company,'" Bang said. "I have been a CEO for a while now, and you are always meeting people who take your hand and say something like 'I am so looking forward to working with your company,' but with David you sort of knew he meant it. That was just the sort of CEO and leader he was. His legacy is going to be in PSCU and how it does business and the impact it has even after he's gone."
Peter Kight, founder of CheckFree and now managing partner at Comvest Group, recalled working with Serlo.
"At our first meeting almost 10 years ago, Dave said to me: 'I will tell you what I think our credit union clients need from you and at what price. I want to understand from your insight what you think...and then let's see how we can best help my clients serve their members,'" Kight said.
"From that first meeting," he added, "Dave and I became friends because that's how he was: honest, straightforward, sincere and always focused on his members. He didn't ever just say 'no' or 'yes;' he would simply explain again what he thought his members wanted or needed and challenged me to either change his view or meet his need. What a marvelous way to do business. He was a great man and a great leader, and he was my friend. I will miss him."
Bill Cheney, the new CEO of CUNA, agreed with Kight. He knew Serlo from his days as CEO of Xceed Financial Credit Union (then Xerox Credit Union). Xerox had been one of the credit union clients and owners of PSCU.
Cheney recalled Serlo as both a business partner and a friend and as someone with whom he could always express his opinions freely whether or not Serlo agreed with them. "Dave was always direct and honest about what he thought and why and also willing to listen to other leaders' opinions," Cheney said. "We didn't talk as often after I left Xerox and went on to do other things, but we still spoke from time to time and I was saddened to hear of his passing."
Dennis Dollar, former chairman of the NCUA Board and currently principal of Dollar Associates, likened Serlo to an iconic figure of financial service marketing.
"Dave Serlo was one of the great gentlemen of the credit union movement, highly respected and a voice people listened to when he spoke," Dollar said. "I know folks who didn't always agree with Dave, but I know no one who didn't like him and respect him. He will be greatly missed and long remembered for his contributions to our industry."
Bill Sheedy, longtime card executive with Visa Inc. who has worked for many years with credit unions, called Serlo "a passionate and vital leader in the growth of digital currency."
"For decades, through his tireless and collaborative efforts, he helped bring fraud, product and marketing solutions to thousands of credit unions and their members across the country. Visa is honored and committed to build upon Dave's extraordinary legacy by working hand-CEOin-hand with credit unions to expand the valuable financial services to an ever-growing community of Americans," Sheedy said.
Serlo was also a longtime supporter of charitable and educational efforts and foundations, including the Children's Miracle Network, the American Red Cross and others. He also made a point of supporting organizations that reinforced patriotism and education about the fundamentals of American history and government, including Virginia's Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and held the CUSO's annual meeting at that historic site.