The board and management at Truliant Federal Credit Union often talk about meeting Truliant’s top priority: improving the financial well-being of 190,000 members.
Cutting across all organizational lines within the $1.5 billion Winston-Salem, N.C.-based leadership ranks, the message conveyed that providing members with needed products and services is the mission. And that also means, in the Truliant view, that the credit union recognizes that not all member relationships are immediately profitable.
“Whenever we recruit potential new members for our board, we make sure they understand serving the member is all important. And we remind them we don’t have a product-push driven culture here,” explained Gregory W. Thrush, the veteran chairman of the Winston-Salem credit union and a director since 1994.
“In our culture,” said Thrush, “employees take the time to listen and thoroughly understand member needs to match the right products and services.”
Sticking to that credo over the years, and with more emphasis during the recession when some members suffered economic hardship, has tradeoffs, said Thrush, “relative to how quickly you can grow your net worth.”
“Once in a while, we’ve come under the sharp eye of the NCUA, which has made suggestions to alternative strategies, such as cutting expenses or driving off member deposits to reach certain financial ratios sooner,” said Thrush.
In charting its own independent course, Truliant has also shied away from following the lead several years ago of several peer credit unions that sold their card portfolios to Bank of America.
“We chose to retain our portfolio since we felt it is our duty to respond directly to our members,” said Marc Schaefer, the president/CEO of Truliant. He said Truliant was not about to sell its portfolio to the highest bidder.
Should Truliant have chosen to spin off its cards, the result would be that members “would be subject to rates and terms that can suddenly change and not for the better,” a condition that did not sit well with the credit union’s commitment to improve its members’ financial lives, Schaefer added.
“On another front, Truliant, over the years, has been a leader in trying to help our members get the best deal when purchasing a new or used auto through its indirect program and its credit union auto buying service,” said Schaefer.
Truliant started the auto buying service in 1995 to work more closely with members to help them locate certain makes or model cars and get a better value on their purchases, Schaefer added.
The penchant by the board and Schaefer for the credit union to stick closely to the people mission earned some high profile national praise last June from Forbes magazine, which singled out Truliant.
In an article written by August Turak, a Charlotte business consultant and author, Truliant was given a glowing review of what Turak called the credit union’s “mission that has allowed it to avoid the risky excesses of the financial bubble that crippled so many of its peers and drove so many others into bankruptcy.”
A few weeks after the Forbes article was published, it proved to be an inspirational tool to further support the mission-driven focus, said Schaefer. “We decided to devote one of our off-site, three-day strategic planning sessions for directors and senior management to communicate our commitment to our mission to newer board members,” said Schaefer.
In describing his association with Truliant and his service on the board, one director, Troy M. Brim Jr., president of a Greensboro Pella Window and Door dealership, said he personally became attracted to Truliant as a result of the auto buying services his employees were using.
“They seemed to like it a lot, particularly the idea that a car being financed could be delivered at work,” said Brim. “That seemed way beyond the norm to me for a credit union or bank.”
On his own, Brim soon began talking up Truliant services to other small businessmen. At one of Truliant’s grand openings in Greensboro, in which the mayor and Schaefer were present, “Marc, after hearing me speak, asked if I’d like to serve on the board and I said yes.”
That was two years ago and Brim recalls the careful scrutiny given to his potential appointment as an associate board member, a kind of internship.
“I was first made an associate director, and if I did my job well, I could express my interest to become a candidate for the next board member election,” said Brim, who said he thought the timetable idea a good one.
Thrush said similar associate structures are in place at many credit unions across the U.S., but that Truliant has been successful as a training vehicle. Associates are elected to the board a year or two after they start service.
The associate position also provides an opportunity for the individual to observe and experience the role to determine if they would like to continue to volunteer, said Thrush.
Overall, said Schaefer, having the entire board and senior management focus on the basic service mission has led Truliant to develop unconventional business metrics to measure successful execution.
As part of the informal member counseling program, Truliant, he noted, completed more than “137,000 Trufinancial checkups and financial reviews to help members reach their financial goals faster.”