The $85 million Point West Credit Union of Portland, Ore., is more than willing to broadcast and celebrate its tale of coming back from the brink of a 2008 financial collapse.
The message about how a 10,000-member, multi-SEG credit union, down on its luck during metro Portland’s deep recession and falling under NCUA prompt corrective action orders, took a number of painful steps to save the credit union from failure or merger has become the hot topic within the Northwest Credit Union Association.
The Point West financial restoration saga, as it is known, has quirky elements as well as lessons learned, not the least of which is that the credit union managed to overcome its challenges and regain new business under the reins of co-CEOs.
The two Point West heads, Amy Nelson, its chief operations officer, and Nick Hodson, chief financial officer, both 39, formally took over the Point West helm last September and ended 2011 with $1.1 million in profit after the credit union lost $123,000 the year before.
The turnabout also saw a climb in net worth to 6.05%, the first time it was above 6% since December 2008 and two years ahead of schedule. At one of its low points in November 2009, Point West, which serves county and government workers, was operating at 3.68% and was closing a branch, laying off employees and sharply cutting expenses to meet requirements of a five-year financial restoration plan.
“For sure, both Nick and I could not have brought Point West to where we are today without the truly collaborative effort we received from our board and the stakeholders in the credit union community of Oregon,” said Nelson, who identified that group not only as peer CEOs but also vendors, outside consultants and state and federal regulatory teams.
Nelson, who joined Point West as a training/education manager in 2007, and Hodson, coming on board as an assistant controller in 2004, have said they realized once they stepped into senior management jobs, trouble was brewing for their credit union on delinquencies and large loan losses.
“We knew we needed to find our way through special partnerships to help us with our own learning curve,” said Hodson.
“We knew very little about how to write a long-term financial restoration plan and thank goodness Pat Smith and others offered help,” he said.
Smith is the CEO of the $901 million Unitus Community Credit Union of Portland, who in providing guidance to Nelson and Hodson assisted not only with the restoration required under NCUA rules but also on a host of duties, including internal operations and strategic planning.
Smith has maintained the job was made easy because of the attitudes of Nelson and Hodson “and because of their energy, their support for the credit union mission and the way the two of them had obviously grown into their jobs.”
“They both seemed to have a rather quick learning curve,” said Smith, who also helped on board communications and what she called a template set of tools to assist a CEO in learning how to manage.
A consultant hired for the turnaround, Thomas Glatt Jr. who heads up his own Wilmington, N.C., firm, said while a co-CEO partnership is rare, he pushed for the concept after finding “their skills so perfectly suited to this particular set of circumstances.” The duo “could address the most important requirements of net worth recovery: gaining staff buy-in and commitment and delving into the minutiae of the financials to uncover cost savings and new revenue,” he said.
Nelson, said Glatt, had extensive H.R. and staff development experience, while Hodson had deep understanding of the financials.
“What really works for this co-CEO partnership is that, as equals, they can challenge and question the judgment of the other,” said Glatt. “This leads to constructive, dialogue-producing interactions. Most CEOs don't have or, in many cases, allow anyone to challenge them with regard to key decisions.”
The chairman of Point West, John Savory, owner of an office supply business, agrees that the Nelson-Hodson CEO combination is a success even though some board members were skeptical, agreeing to an initial interim trial period.
“These two are superstars, and we’ve seen how capable they are,” declared Savory. recalling problems four years ago when Point West’s loan problems first surfaced from what he called “procedural deficiencies” uncovered among former employees.
“It turned out there was improper paperwork on charge-offs,” said Savory. That resulted in write- downs and eventual closing of a branch and a slashing of the payroll from 57 employees to 29 over a two-year period.
“I’d call the work by the entire staff as heroic,” said Savory who led the May 1 annual meeting, which feted civic leaders and Oregon credit union executives who, according to Nelson, “gave us love and inspiration in addition to sharing resources” during the credit union’s most stressful period.
Smith of Unitus was unable to make it to the annual meeting but praised the CEO duo for their passion and can-do spirit, adding “so much has to be said for the respect and support they have for one another, all part of the keys for their success.”
In reporting on the Point West annual meeting, the NWCUA cited CEO help lent over the years from an array of credit unions, including Unitus, OnPoint, Oregonians, MaPs, Consolidated Community and Advantis. Also mentioned was the top staff of NWCUA, including its president, Troy Stang, the former CEO of the Credit Union Association of Oregon.
The Point West co-CEOs also claim the credit union’s comeback is related to an 88% member loyalty rating and high marks for service.
All in all, said Nelson, “this has been a humbling experience for our team.” Hodson agreed, offering, “The best way we can say ‘thank you’ to our members volunteers staff and partners is to stay focused, continue on our restoration path and pay it forward.”