For Rebecca Reynolds Lytle, senior vice president of lending at San Francisco Federal Credit Union, truly effective leadership boils down to doing the right thing and treating others as you would like to be treated.
“I get a thrill being able to make a positive difference in the lives of others and to be in a position to help someone whether a member or co-worker is very satisfying,” said Reynolds Lytle. “As I talk to folks here as we work on solutions, I always ask what’s the right thing to do and tell them there’s our answer.”
As she dreamed of going into business with her CPA father, the latest Women to Watch recipient got her start in financial services in high school working part time on “the dark side” at a bank.
“It’s funny. My mother, a longtime member at Pasadena Federal Credit Union takes credit for my current career,” she said. “She talked about credit unions a lot from when I was younger, but I didn’t really understand the difference until I started working at a credit union in 1994. That first year was quite a culture change, but once I got that shift in focus on people rather than shareholders, it was like stepping into the light and I’d never go back to a bank.”
Always excited to learn and up for a challenge, Reynolds Lytle volunteered to take on duties no one else wanted, which helped her gain practical experience in understanding the big picture of how different functions impact other areas and the credit union overall.
“I think I’ve done every job you can in a financial institution with the exception of the CFO, CEO and internal auditor,” said Reynolds Lytle. “By no stretch of the imagination am I a micro manager. All my people own their area, run their shop. My role is to get people what they need to get their job done, ensuring they have the additional resources and support to make the work happen.”
She added that the trust, sense of ownership has gone a long way in fostering an environment where everyone feels valued, which can pave the way for greater innovation.
“Innovation is simply bringing to life a new idea. The key is making it happen. You can think of innovative ways to solve problems, but if you can’t bring it to life then it’s just a bunch of ideas. It goes back to if it’s the right thing for the credit union and the member then we need to make that happen in a way that is efficient and easy. If it isn’t easy for the member and staff, then it simply won’t work. So we are constantly challenging ourselves to create and bring to life functional ideas that can be acted on.”
Since joining the $767 million credit union in 2010, she has lead the charge to rethink everything in lending from targets and goals to system enhancement to help make obtaining a loan less cumbersome. Reynolds Lytle has also been credited with spearheading a new taxi medallion loan program with the City of San Francisco. The pilot program was created to allow taxi drivers over 65 to retire from driving and sell their medallion to a driver on the waiting list.
By exploring the possibilities. she helped get agreements in place and forged a unique partnership with San Francisco Fire Credit Union and San Francisco Police Credit Union to participate in the purchase of medallions. Through 2012, the new program has resulted in over $50 million. Other initiatives she has been particularly proud of include outsourcing real estate servicing, implementing an online real estate loan application system, implementing an online consumer loan application system, creating a paperless lending environment, implementing a credit risk monitoring system, creating a work-out loan program, and improving monthly reporting on all lending channels.
The focus on simplifying the loan process and making it more convenient for members has resulted in loan production and loan growth more than doubling in the past three years. The loan-to-share ratio has swelled from 34% in 2009 to 48% in 2012, with loan growth in excess of 19% (net of participations sold) and delinquency below 0.30%.
“It has to be easy for our members to do business with us or they won’t,” said Reynolds Lytle. “The taxi medallion program represented a new small business opportunity for the city and a $50 million line of business for the credit union in just a year and half. I challenge my team to be very critical of our process and make sure that the back office side takes on the complexities while the front member-facing side is easy. We want them to be excited and enthusiastic when talking to members so we keep the process simple, automate when and where we can.”
To that end, the team has been working toward going paperless and 2013 plans include making changes to re-engineer its credit card program and business services and think of new ways to meet the credit needs of its members.
“We’ve tackled some huge challenges on how to make things easier for members and for our staff but I believe what we do here as a credit union can make such a difference for people that not trying to improve cannot be an option,” said Reynolds Lytle. “I’m passionate about what I do and that we can make whatever it is happen. So it’s a matter of seeing it, taking all the ideas from the collective brain trust we have here and the result is far better than anything I could’ve imagined on my own. I might plant seeds but everyone contributes to cultivating what it grows into. I just sort of give advice, direct traffic to help it along because it is very much a team effort and that works.”
Never one to be content with the status quo, she added there is a need to constantly reevaluate, revamp and rethink everything, even those programs that have been working well. She added that sort of value-add thinking goes a long way to helping credit unions edge out the competition.
“When I think of competition I think in terms of delivery,” said Reynolds Lytle. “Consumers want instant gratification and we as credit unions have got to be there ready to deliver across whatever channel the member prefers.”
“I learn something new each day,” she said. “Sometimes what happens in a lot of credit unions is that ‘new processes’ are simply procedures layered on processes that have been there for years, rather than building a process where none existed before. We have to continue to question whether the whys behind our policies, procedures are still relevant today and management has to have the willingness to hear and act on those questions. There is a wealth of information in our staff on how we can do business better and you may be surprised by what you hear but it’s important to take it to heart and make changes to get the results you want. Maybe take another look at ideas that didn’t work a few years ago, they may work today because we have the technology or resources available now.” n