Brett Jorgenson Awakes Lending Giant at Gesa Credit Union
As financial institutions, many people would suppose that credit unions make lending money a key focus of their business. But sometimes, over time, they lose some of that focus and fail to adapt their lending programs to members' changing economic needs. That is a little of what Brett Jorgenson found in 2007 when Christina Lethlean, the new CEO at the then-$550 million Gesa Credit Union, brought him to the CU to be the new chief lending officer.
“It wasn't that they were necessarily doing too many wrong things,” Jorgenson explained, “it was that they weren’t doing a lot of lending overall.”
In response, Jorgenson centralized the lending process and standardized loan underwriting so that loan decisions could be made uniformly across the credit union. Once Gesa had taken those steps, Jorgenson began the process of making the credit union a lending powerhouse. Gesa began to offer and advertise competitive auto loan rates, and build and strengthen relationships with auto dealers. He began to implement a service and empowerment culture, an attitude where the CU hired and trained staff with strong loan skills and provided services that were aimed at improving the bottom lines of both members and auto dealers.
This approach helped Jorgenson spread the indirect lending program well beyond the tri-cities area to include auto dealers in the Tacoma and Seattle area, where the CU has no branches. Jorgenson reported that the CU was able to establish relationships with the new auto dealers that let it add new members and, later, expand their experience of Gesa with other products and services, particularly credit cards.
Real estate loans now drive the CUs overall loan portfolio, Jorgenson reported, as the CU saw its monthly originations move from $500,000 per month, or about three mortgage loans, to over $10 million. On a yearly basis, the CU booked $110 million in housing finance loans in 2010 and $122 million in 2011, a figure the CU is on track to repeat this year, Jorgenson reported.
The CU's home finance program has also benefited somewhat from the tri-cities area not experiencing as much of the housing bust as other areas experienced. Unemployment has remained relatively low and the average mortgage loan amount has remained a healthy $160,000 with a 2% rise in home prices last year. This stable environment helped the CU roll out a popular mortgage product that allows borrowers to pay off their loans in 10 years and to streamline its mortgage loan process. The streamlined process means that Gesa funds its mortgage loans in an average of 30 days whereas its competitors average about 60, the CU reported.