Collins Has a Passion for CUs That Is Contagious
- Collins has served as a board member for 26 years and as a credit committee member for 17 years, including eight years as committee chairman.
- ‘He assumes his volunteer responsibilities to the letter of the law with a smile and a total sense of commitment and cooperation.’
- He conducts formal training for local credit union volunteers in the CUNA Volunteer Achievement Program, where he has attained eight levels of certification.
When it comes to credit unions, there isn’t anything JSC Federal Credit Union Board Vice Chairman Curtis Collins won’t do.
According to Texas Credit Union League President/CEO Richard Ensweiler, Collins is "Mr. Credit Union Volunteer."
"No one is more passionate about credit unions than Curtis. In turn credit unions energize Curtis," said Ensweiler. "He assumes his volunteer responsibilities to the letter of the law with a smile and a total sense of commitment and cooperation. He always said ‘yes’ when asked to meet with or teach officials from other credit unions."
What initially began as a request from his boss in 1965 to serve on the Houston-based credit union’s credit committee, quickly turned into 46 years of dedicated service to not only JSC FCU but the credit union industry as a whole.
"What I enjoy most about serving on the board is what it allows me to do, which is be part of a credit union growth and living that philosophy of people helping people," said Collins.
He’s served as a board member for 26 years and 17 years as a credit committee member. including eight years as committee chairman. In addition to serving as vice chairman and board membership officer for over 24 years, Collins has also spent some 10 years as a member of the political liaison committee.
If that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, Collins was elected in 2008 to serve as a National Credit Union Foundation board member and had previously served seven years as a Texas Credit Union League Foundation trustee, including three years as chairman and one year as vice chairman. At the Texas Credit Union League he served as chairman of the volunteer council and member of the financial literacy council and steering committee for the Volunteers Summit. He also originated the Houston Chapter of Credit Unions and has served as chairman of the credit union volunteers association, which offers monthly programs for volunteers on current credit union issues and provides developmental opportunities.
"To tell you the truth I’m 70 years old, and I just enjoy working," said Collins.
He also values education. Collins conducts formal training for local credit union volunteers in the CUNA Volunteer Achievement Program, where he has attained eight levels of certification. In 2000, he received his certification as a Credit Union Development Educator. He’s on faculty for Southwest CUNA Management School and regularly presents breakouts for league conferences.
"He’s always been willing to share what he has learned over the years and is well respected for his knowledge and commitment to the purpose of credit unions. The more Curtis became involved, the more he appreciates what this movement represents and what it does for members," said Ensweiler. "He has for many years taught classes on what it means to serve as a volunteer on a credit union board, and his passion for service rubs off on anyone he comes in contact with. It’s why he is asked repeatedly to conduct more training classes for volunteers."
As far as Collins is concerned one can never have too much knowledge.
"Board members in particular can’t be educated enough," said Collins. "The biggest challenge is staying current with regulations and changes overall in the financial industry. Back in 1965, it was easy as you pretty much only had to worry about your credit union’s financials but now you can’t afford to have tunnel vision. You’ve got to be aware of how what happens not just in the United States but globally impacts rates in the national and local economy."
He added that a board that doesn’t have a real understanding of their fiduciary duty and big picture role often makes the mistake of relegating their responsibilities to the CEO, allowing CEOs to make decisions they would be challenging if they were better educated.
The unfortunate fallout can ultimately lead to disastrous results for everyone, especially the members.
"Our role is overall direction and providing guidance, not worrying about employee hours, setting policy or managing," said Collins. "A great board will set the strategic direction and then get out of the CEO’s way and hold them accountable for producing–not worry about whether or not to buy new shirts for the tellers."
At JSC FCU, the board environment is one that fosters and supports continuing education. For example, in addition to establishing an education requirement as board policy, to be eligible to run for re-election each of the nine board members must have also attended at least one state and one national convention.
"That’s something that we’ve had for years," said Collins. "We’re lucky that everyone on our board knows the value of education so we make sure that besides video modules we provide access to more interactive educational opportunities like a roundtable session with a moderator. Everyone stays engaged that way and rather than sitting and listening to one person lecture, it’s a forum where ideas can be bounced off one another and we learn through the process."
He said education lays the foundation on which the strategic direction for the credit union rests.
"It is critical to sit down every year to review the successes and know where the credit union is headed," said Collins. "You need to look out into the future and at this point now you can’t really look more than two to three years down the line because there is so much going on in technology and the marketplace. With all the changes, any 10-year plan made three years ago would’ve been tossed or had to be revised by now."
While much in the world has changed, the one thing that he doesn’t want to ever completely disappear are small credit unions.
"My concept of what credit unions are is a member-owned organization and part of that is knowing our members. Now a billion dollar credit union can’t realistically know all its members individually but these small credit unions do," said Collins. "There are these small local credit unions serving the underserved in one of the poorest neighborhoods and they’ve got a zero delinquency rate. That’s because they know their members, they all worship, play and work together so they know who needs assistance and support one another. In the rush to be more competitive and become larger we can’t afford to lose that cooperative spirit or compassion for small credit unions that are doing great things for their members."
It’s not just a philosophy for Collins–he walks the talk and spends lots of time with many local small credit unions providing assistance, guidance and training support. If he identifies a need he can help fulfill, then he galvanizes into action.
"I work with a lot of small credit unions and just helped with the board training of a credit union with less than $1 million in assets. Our board agreed to pay for CUNA VAP modules and for the past six months I covered a module a month," said Collins. "For me, it’s a privilege to be able to give back. As with most volunteers, the personal satisfaction gained from my volunteer experiences is immeasurable and helping smaller credit unions grow to support their members’ needs is a big part of that."
He added that he is blessed to have such a supportive spouse who has made it possible for him to continue to live his dream and is generously understanding of his coming home late three to four nights a week.