Going into her new role as president and CEO of the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues in October 2010, Diana Dykstra had nearly three decades of experience working for California credit unions, which allowed her to build many relationships. So it made sense that becoming head of a league that oversees two struggling sand states was a natural transition for her.
Dykstra began her credit union career as a part-time loan clerk and later became the senior vice president of the $3.6 billion, Pleasanton, Calif.-based Patelco Credit Union, president and CEO of the $619 million, Lompoc, Calif.-based CoastHills Federal Credit Union, and most recently, CEO of the $670 million San Francisco Fire Credit Union. She said the main differentiator between her and former leagues president and CEO Bill Cheney, who was named president and CEO of CUNA last year, is their backgrounds.
“Bill and I have the same philosophy as far as the needs of California credit unions,” she said. “But having spent 28 years inside California credit unions, I have a different vantage point.”
In her first seven months on the job, Dykstra said politics have played a key role in her day-to-day activities. She noted that 132 bills recently entered the state legislature, more than 40 of which are related to mortgages and foreclosures, and standing up for credit unions during the decision-making process has been a priority.
“There have been so many legislative and regulatory things going on,” she said. “So I’ve spent a lot of time on the political advocacy front.”
Hearing from California and Nevada credit unions on how the leagues can better serve them has also been a priority for Dykstra. Credit unions recently completed a member survey, which revealed several key themes–their need for cost effective and broad education, desire to produce new revenue streams and interest in receiving useful information from the leagues.
“We’ve been thinking about how to streamline the information we’re getting out, and how to get information out that’s not redundant,” Dykstra said.
One question California and Nevada CUs are undoubtedly asking their new leagues president is, how will she help us pull through in these rough times? Dykstra said she’ll be helping CUs that have been hit hard on an individual basis by providing answers to their questions and the tools they need to succeed.
“It’s more of a one-on-one effort,” she said. “We don’t have an overarching program for all of them.”
While Dykstra noted that a great majority of California and Nevada CUs are struggling, she also said she saw light at the end of the tunnel. For example, she said net worth ratios at California CUs are higher than national averages. She’s also seen an improvement in charge-offs and delinquencies and positive return on investment numbers in the state.
California is also home to Western Bridge Corporate Credit Union, a former member of the league that was placed under conservatorship in 2009. Now that a newly elected board of directors is leading WesCorp’s transition into a new corporate credit union, Dykstra said it’s hard to say where the institution is headed. However, she said the league is behind the corporate credit union system 100%, and is working from the outside to help credit unions gain universal access to the corporate credit union system.
She foresees credit union collaboration–teaming up to reduce expenses and find solutions–as a significant trend in the near future.
Dykstra said she thinks California and Nevada will continue to see consolidations, not because of financial issues, but because finding new, strong leaders is a tough job for credit unions.
“If a credit union has been around for 30 years, who will replace them?” she asked. “They’re having a problem finding the next level of leadership.”
When asked about her specific goals for her next six months on the job, Dykstra said it’s impossible to map out her agenda this far in advance. Instead, she plans to continue taking one day at a time. However, her overall direction and philosophy is crystal clear.
“As we’re coming out of this financial crisis, I’m focused on helping credit unions move forward and thrive,” she said. “I want to create an environment that’s legislation and regulatory friendly and provide the tools and services to assist them. In this job, it’s about adaptability.”