New Horizons for Delta Community CU as Halter Takes Helm
In 2005, Delta Community Credit Union thought about changing its name and with it, a shift away from a then 65-year tie with its longtime sponsor, Delta Airlines.
The $4.3 billion financial institution in Atlanta took the idea to focus groups consisting of members and the general public. The reaction was overwhelmingly against removing Delta from its moniker. In the end, Delta Employees Credit Union transitioned to Delta Community Credit Union and went on to become Georgia’s largest credit union serving more than 275,000 members and the entire metropolitan Atlanta area, including 11 surrounding counties.
“It’s critical that we listen to our members to continuously find out what they want and where we can improve,” said Hank Halter, the newly appointed president/CEO of Delta Community.
After serving as interim president/CEO of the credit union since Jan. 1, Halter was named the permanent president/CEO in early April. Halter succeeds Rick Foley, who retired in December 2012 after eight years at the helm and 26 years of service at the credit union.
With Halter now in the top post, Delta Community is poised for additional transitions as it continues to build brand awareness. Indeed, it’s only been eight years since Delta Community has been able sign up members not affiliated with Delta Airlines. Today, roughly 50% of the credit union’s members are not employees of the carrier.
Jim Diffley, chairman of Delta Community’s board of directors, said the board took the time it needed to do an extensive search for a leader who could build the credit union’s success and unique culture.
“We interviewed some very experienced candidates but ultimately came back to Hank as our first choice for the job,” Diffley said. “During his interim appointment, Hank demonstrated strong leadership skills and established an excellent working relationship with the credit union’s management team and employees.”
Mike Mercer, president/CEO of the Georgia Credit Union Affiliates, said Halter is the right man for the job. “The credit union would be unlikely to find a better leader,” Mercer said. “Hank is well-connected with the major sponsor, knows finance and risk management, has great people skills and, perhaps most important, emphasizes value creation for the members above all else.”
Halter is no stranger to the credit union or the carrier. A certified public accountant, Halter worked at Delta Air Lines from 1998 to 2012. He served in a number of finance positions there before being promoted to chief financial officer in 2008. Prior to Delta Air Lines, Halter worked at American Airlines and Ernst & Young.
He will do double duty as the credit union’s president/CEO and serve on Delta Community’s board of directors, the latter position he’s had since 2006. Halter said the dual roles will provide a broader eagle’s eye view.
“The focus will be on the CEO role of providing governance and supervision. From my chair now, it makes my role easier on the board because I’m more close to the day-to-day operations,” Halter said.
It’s been a busy start to 2013 but what helped was a robust 2012, Halter noted. Last year, Delta Community had $42 million in earning and 13% member growth, a record, and ahead of single-digit industry averages, he added.
One of the credit union’s ongoing goals is building long-term relationships by marketing to all ages and demographics, Halter said. Delta Community views casting a wide net as a way to start business with young individuals and expanding their connections with the credit unions as they grow and have families.
“The greatest challenge for us is the greatest opportunity, which is targeting those who are not yet members and helping them to understand what we have to offer,” Halter said.
Delta Community has well over 100 products and services and by getting the message across that one doesn’t have to be an employee of Delta Airlines to take advantage of them is another of the credit union’s ongoing missions, Halter explained. Serving top Atlanta-based companies such as Chick-fil-A, UPS and Racetrac has helped to woo the uninformed.
The area that Halter said he is most proud of is Delta Community’s approximately 725 employees.
“When you look at our financial institution across the board and how they deliver service–from the frontline people to member service agents to those who process mortgages, car loans or MBLs–they really understand that the members’ success is our financial success,” Halter said.
He acknowledged the one area that the credit union can improve is in technology. Those upgrades range from what members are asking for to what can help drive efficiency behind the scenes.
“Not that we’re lacking but we need to continue to lead the pace of change,” Halter offered. “It’s critical for us to prioritize where our greatest return will occur.”
Despite a strong 2012, Delta Community was embroiled in a major legal snafu last year. In July, the credit union confirmed reaching an agreement in a $75 million alleged breach of contract suit with a David R. Pearson, a real estate developer. Pearson claimed Delta Community backed out of a $30 million deal that would have allowed him to purchase several properties along Florida’s Gulf Coast from lenders who wanted to sell them. Both sides were prohibited from sharing any details about the agreement, only saying the matter had been settled to the satisfaction of both parties.
Halter said he couldn’t discuss the case but did reiterate that both sides were satisfied with the outcome.
“We never compromised the experience of the members,” he pointed out.
The agreement has not stopped Delta Community from offering commercial real estate and member business loans although they are not a significant slice of the credit union’s loan portfolio, Halter said. Residential and consumer loans, including auto loans, generate more volume, he added. According to its March 2013 NCUA Call Report, the cooperative had roughly $2 million in unfunded commitments for CRE loans and $6 million in construction and land development loans.
Some have speculated whether Foley’s announcement to retire, which came a week after the agreement with the real estate development was announced last July, was connected. At the time, Delta Community’s general counsel said it would not comment on whether any management changes would occur as result of the agreement with Pearson.
In February, Delta Community made several key promotions on its management team. Matthew Shepherd was named executive vice president and chief operating officer, replacing Todd Marksberry, who served in the role from February 1997 to February 2013, according to his LinkedIn profile. Shepherd joined the credit union more than five years ago and most recently served as senior vice president, marketing and member service.
William Buchanan was appointed senior vice president, corporate audit having previously served as vice president, internal audit and Robert Manning was promoted to senior vice president and general counsel after joining Delta Community more than two years ago as vice president and general counsel.
Shepherd and Manning report to Halter and Buchanan reports to the credit union’s board of directors. Halter said the three individuals had all exemplified tremendous service and the promotions were a result of that.
“Organizational design is always subject to review. Just as we’re changing, the organization needs to evolve and change,” Halter said.
As for the rest of 2013, Delta Community is continuing to focus on superior member experience, Halter said. A major part of that is following a roadmap put in place under Foley’s tenure. “We were originally founded to serve Delta Airlines. In 2005, we embarked on a community strategy because we recognized an opportunity to expand in the marketplace. We’re encouraged by what we’re seeing.”