Terry Richardson Sets the Member-Centric Tone
It’s all about the member for Board Chairman Terry Richardson, but for over 34 years, to the team at Pioneer West Virginia Federal Credit Union, he has simply been the personification of an extraordinary coach.
“What I’ve enjoyed the most about serving on the board is being able to help the members and that in many ways we can be their voice,” said Richardson, who has been proud of his time spent at the Charleston, W.Va.-based credit union. “My advice for anyone considering joining a board is first, absolutely do it. There is nothing more rewarding than being in service to something greater than yourself. Second, once they are in they must always remember who they are representing and that is the members." Richardson got his start on the credit committee at the prompting of some colleagues in the school system where he was working 30 years ago. He would serve on other committees for four years before being elected to the board.
“I believe the role of the board is to try to set the general direction and tone for the credit union,” said Richardson. “We aren’t supposed to micromanage or be involved in the day-to-day functions. That’s where you run into trouble. Our job is to hold the CEO accountable and let him run the organization.”
That hands-off mentality doesn’t apply to being active in the community or at the credit union. He has made it a point to be at every event the $136 million credit union hosts. He also never passes an opportunity to chat with employees or greet members. For Richardson, it’s a way to stay connected and attuned to members and employees.
“How can we make decisions without listening to our owners’ concerns no matter how big or small we need to see to it that the members’ needs and wants are met,” said Richardson. “So I take every opportunity to be involved and available to hear from our members.”
In fact, spurred on by what he was hearing from members and witnessing at the credit union in late 2009, the board spearheaded an effort to discover the root of the problem. The research effort resulted in Richardson and the board having to make an extremely difficult but necessary decision to relieve the CEO at the time of his duties.
“Employee morale was at an all time low, turnover was at an extreme high and our public image and reputation were hit hard,” said Richardson. “So heading into 2010, it took a real team effort with every board member and employee to work together to start on the road to recovery. And we are lucky to have such a great team of people who just rolled up their sleeves and got to work to rebuild this credit union.”
Richardson stepped up as interim CEO and immediately began tackling the employee morale and member service issues. At the time about 50% of inbound calls never got answered, compensation was not in sync with the local market, and the employee training and development offered was minimal. Not only were annual reviews and compensation brought up to date and the basic employee pay was restructured to be competitive, but an organization-wide performance bonus program was developed. The program consisted of a mix of individual performance-based incentives and ones driven by overall credit union goals. In addition, a full-time training position was created and employees for the first time were provided off-site training. As for member service, during 2011 more than 94% of inbound calls were answered promptly and has been steadily improving.
It took about six months of working alongside employees and sifting through resumes and conducting interviews, but a new CEO was found in Dana Rawlings. Since then financial services were brought in house, a new branch was built, more ATM locations were created and its image underwent a successful rebrand with a new tagline of "Your Financial Compass For Life."
“We started the rebrand after we found our new CEO, and while our marketing efforts in the past had been very limited the rebranding effort has been very successful and well received by the community,” said Richardson. “It’s been quite a busy year and a half. Not long ago I got a call from a boat broker who deals with financial institutions throughout the world, and he shared how impressed he was with our service that the experience was one of a kind. It was quite a compliment and said a lot about how far we’ve come in so short a time.”
According to Richardson, Pioneer WV FCU wrapped up 2011 with a $1.1 million positive net income and has experienced 14 consecutive months of loan growth resulting in a $30 million increase in gross loans outstanding, representing a 48.7% jump. Prior to the changes, $24 million of sub-optimized cash represented almost 20% of the entire balance sheet. Now, it has been redeployed to investments and loans, improving yields on those funds resulting in an overall 75-basis-point improvement in the investment portfolio. In addition, 2011 brought in 3,000 new members and 800 new share drafts were opened. And those employees who left years ago, have been sending in their resumes.
Richardson credits the success to the entire team, who has been focused on making decisions based on ensuring everything that is done should be fast, easy and convenient for the members’ benefit.
“It has completely been a group effort and is proof of what can be accomplished when there is a belief and trust that management and power, if handled properly, can earn respect and truly work in its rarest form,” said Richardson. “We’ve had a lot of good and we’re so pleased with the management team in place, the turnarounds that have been made across the organization as a whole and are looking forward to the progress we will continue to make.”