First there were 25 candidates for the CEO job at Plano, Texas-based Catalyst Corporate. That got whittled down to around eight people who were asked to assemble a strategic plan. Three or four then did in-person interviews with a committee of the board. And finally the winner was announced in late February.
Kathy Garner, who had served as executive vice president of member relations and business development for Catalyst Corporate, is the new CEO.
In a wide-ranging interview with Credit Union Times, conducted shortly after assuming her new position, Garner set out her vision for where she saw Catalyst going. She stressed that Catalyst will differentiate itself by maintaining a strong focus on efficiencies while also paying close attention to member needs.
“We want to operate like a Walmart but deliver like a Nordstrom,” said Garner, who elaborated that she believed Catalyst members crave both highly competitive pricing and high-touch service.
“The most important thing today for a corporate CEO is being very engaged with the members. That’s what you will see from me,” she added.
Garner's prior jobs have always been in the corporate credit union network. She served as CEO of Northwest Corporate, which merged into Southwest, and earlier in her career she had posts at U.S. Central and Corporate Central Credit Union of Utah. But she acknowledged that the corporate world has changed substantially in the last few years.
“That is why a focus on the member now is so critical,” she added.
Job No. 1 for Garner now is moving along the integration of Western Bridge, members as well as services, into Catalyst, which won that right from the NCUA in December. According to Garner, Catalyst has gotten capital from 125 former Western Bridge members and that is ahead of plan, she said.
Garner’s goal is to sign up “250 to 300 members out of Western Bridge. That is our plan. Of course we would love to have 600.”
She stressed that “we are getting commitments from large credit unions in California and the west and we know more are coming to decisions in March.”
Western Bridge, at the time NCUA announced its decision to sell operations to Catalyst, had around 900 members. The drive to capitalize it as United Resources had failed resoundingly, when about 300 credit unions committed less than half of the $200 million in capital needed. With Catalyst, incoming members face a smaller capital call that is capped at $750,000, compared to $2.5 million for a $1 billion credit union that had planned to join United Resources.
“We are getting more interest from large credit unions than we had forecast,” Garner added.
Garner indicated that she did not envision significant staff changes at Catalyst, “although we will be bringing on people as we add more Western Bridge members.” Many of those new positions will be offered to present Western Bridge employees, suggested Garner.
Garner also said that a Catalyst business plan will include developing internal expertise in emerging technologies with mobile banking as a case in point and then “by achieving scale we hope to offer our members the services they tell us they need at highly competitive prices.” She said that the Catalyst hope is to be able to price such services at rates far below what individual members would be able to get by going out on their own. “We plan to offer better prices and better service because we will have brought the volume together,” said Garner.
She elaborated that it will be different needs that bring different credit unions into Catalyst membership. “Some will join because they want a line of credit, which we can give them. Others will want ACH processing. Others will want new technologies. We want to be able to meet all those needs and to keep anticipating what credit unions need and be able to offer it,” said Garner. She said that that is her roadmap for keeping Catalyst relevant in an era of continuing change for corporate credit unions.
“We have so many opportunities on our plate at Catalyst. We really do,” said Garner.