Replacing a 40-year veteran who, after all, just had the headquarters building named after him, could seem daunting, but Carla Altepeter knows something about staying power.
The lifelong credit union veteran takes over as president/CEO of the $1.1 billion Numerica Credit Union in Spokane, Valley, Wash., on Sept. 1, succeeding Dennis Cutter.
Altepeter has held the top job at CitizensFirst CU in Oshkosh, Wis., for 19 years, overseeing a name change as the credit union expanded its community reach, added six branches and grew from $91 million in 1992 to today’s $351 million in assets and 28,600 members.
“CitizensFirst went from a relatively unknown financial institution to being top-of-mind, with a 35% market share in our primary market. I’m looking forward to building Numerica in similar directions,” Altepeter said.
The work is well under way. “Numerica is an outstanding credit union with many similarities to Citizens First,” Altepeter said. “It has strong board governance, a community charter and a full line of financial products and services, including member business loans.”
“Numerica also has benefitted from the stability provided by an excellent, long-standing CEO, and an equally strong leadership team. He’s prepared the organization well for his retirement.”
Leading a “really big credit union” has been a career goal for Altepeter for a long time, she said, “and an analogy that comes to mind is that of a relay race. Dennis has run the last, 40-year leg of the race hard and well and has left the Numerica team in very good shape.”
As she takes the baton, Cutter has set the mark for his successor in other ways, too, for instance, spending one of his last days on the job driving around to area nonprofits and distributing $5,000 donation checks. Altepeter said she, too, is committed to community and industry service.
“Numerica is a community credit union and, in my opinion, has the duty and privilege to give back to the communities that we serve,” she said. “It has been my experience while at CitizensFirst that being involved in community service activities helped build positive relationships. As I begin at Numerica, we will be developing plans for active involvement in our communities on the part of my team and me.”
The new Numerica CEO said she also plans to continue her active involvement in the industry at regional and state levels, including continuing to serve on the national CUES board through the completion of her final term in 2012. (She was active in foundation work in Wisconsin and is a CUES Hall of Fame member.)
“It’s also been my experience that involvement in various industry roles–locally, regionally and nationally–has helped keep CitizensFirst’s leadership team at the forefront of industry trends,” Altepeter said. “This has allowed the credit union to be more aware of emerging risks and challenges the industry faces.”
Indeed, a big part of her new job will be taking on those risks and challenges. “For Numerica, as with most credit unions, the greatest challenges at this time are the ever-changing regulatory environment and the competitive landscape,” Altepeter said. “We’ll work hard to ensure that Numerica has a strong risk and compliance function that responds promptly and prudently to regulatory changes as they emerge.”
She added, “Regarding the ever-changing competitive landscape, it’ll be necessary to get a detailed understanding of the particular factors in this market, as well as stay abreast of relevant macro factors. Within a reasonable timeframe, we’ll be working to put together a plan that will enable Numerica to continue to compete effectively.”
Altepeter said strategies might include changes in branch placement, product and service focus, brand differentiation and targeted marketing. “Probably most importantly, we’ll work to build a strong, engaged and agile team,” she said.
Her new job marks a return to the West Coast. Altepeter began her career in credit unions at the age of 17 as a part-time teller and joined CitizensFirst (then Wisconsin Axle Credit Union) after serving as vice president of credit of Rockwell FCU (now Financial Partners CU) in Downey, Calif., where she directed the lending and ATM operations. Her first management work was earlier at Lockheed FCU in Burbank.
And along with joining a new team in Washington state, she has a home team of her own. “My husband, Tom, has worked as a pastor and a psychologist and is very supportive of this move,” she said. “We’re excited about the possibilities that are in store for us.”
They also have four adult children living in four different states. “We don’t get to see them as much as we would prefer and they all have mixed emotions about our move,” Altepeter said. “On the one hand they’re proud of me and excited for us, but on the other, we all know that getting everyone together may be a bit more challenging now.”
She said they’re all looking forward to visiting their parents’ new home, “and staying in touch in other ways, such as Skype. Who knows, after they experience the beautiful Pacific Northwest, perhaps they’ll decide to relocate to be closer to us!”
And back at the office, she said, “My goals are to get to know the Numerica team and the board, understand the inner workings of the organization, and together, figure out what needs to be done to move Numerica to the next level.”
"It’s a great organization now, and we’ll become even greater.”