When you trace your roots to a time when Alphonse Desjardins was traveling around New England preaching the gospel of member-owned financial cooperatives, you’ve been around a while.
In the case of Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union in Lowell, Mass., that means more than 100 years. The credit union, which just surpassed $1 billion in assets, was founded in 1911 by French-Americans in an area of Lowell known as Little Canada.
In June that year, Desjardins was invited to speak at a church-sponsored gathering. The Lowell Courier Citizen reported that after his talk people raced to sign the petitions that would result in founding the credit union. The organizers were seeking 100 signatures and obtained 200.
Mark Cochran, the current president/CEO, thinks Desjardins would be pleasantly surprised to see what has happened to the credit union, and credit unions in general, since then.
“I think he’d be shocked,” Cochran said.
For one thing, the issues facing the first board were quite different from those confronting boards today.
“There were no compliance issues,” Cochran said. “I would guess their issues were more about access to capital and funding so they in turn could lend out money to people who needed it.”
There is no comparison to the complexities facing credit union boards today, Cochran continued. That’s true even looking back 10 years, much less 100.
“The caliber of board members is just so different than it was then, and even in the near past,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate because we’re really ingrained in the community. We still have a lot of interest from community leaders in being a board member of the credit union—and all the local financial institutions pay their boards and we don’t.”
|About Jeanne D'Arc|
|Branches:||Six branches plus two high school branches|
|Loan portfolio:||$581 million|
Cochran indicated that strong community link was evident when JDACU marked its hundredth anniversary. People grasped the historic significance.
He also said he thinks the timing was right. As the nation recovered from a severe recession, people realized there was a financial institution that had thrived through tough times.
Skim through a printed outline of the credit union’s early history and you’ll discover the credit union accepting mortgage applications in 1912, well before most credit unions added mortgages to their services menu.
Did that early involvement give the credit union an edge, or did JDACU have to learn as the years rolled by and mortgage lending changed?
It’s a little bit of both, Cochran said. Mortgages were large loans that allowed the credit union to earn money that could be reinvested back into the credit union, setting up a positive cycle.
He added that the credit union has also offered commercial loans for some time. Such loans became part of the credit union’s fabric when it provided a few hundred dollars to help some entrepreneur launch a business. Today, of course, a long list of regulatory requirements accompanies commercial loans.
Next Page: Emerging Financially
JDACU, Cochran said, has always been a credit union for someone emerging financially, whether it’s an immigrant establishing roots in a new country in the early 1900s or a young person today just entering the financial sphere.
“Average age for our membership is 41,” Cochran said. “In the industry it’s older than that, about 47. The average age of new members joining the credit union is 32. I think there’s a consistency in the profile of a member then and today. It’s someone who is learning how to manage money and needs some guidance.”
For example, JDACU’s MoneyStrong initiative is aimed at students, immigrants with no credit and people with bad credit. Members qualifying for the program can receive low-interest credit cards with a $500 limit, free checking and a 7% APY savings account offering what is today an attractive reward for thrift.
The challenge, he continued, is staying relevant and meeting members’ needs the way they want them met. Looking ahead, he said he expects less change in the product menu and more transition in how products and services are delivered.
“That’s no secret,” Cochran said. “Everybody’s looking at the use of social media, mobile devices and other interactive ways we can reach members. Checking accounts, savings accounts and loans have been around a long time. But the way they’re presented and delivered is going to be different.”
As a manager, he believes his role is to cultivate the growth of employees, especially the four executives who report directly to him.
“I can’t develop 200 people, which is our employee base, but I can work hard to help those four. They, in turn, are charged with developing their people,” Cochran said.
That approach is reflected in the fact eight employees have completed training from the National Financial Educators Council to become Certified Financial Education Instructors. Another group of 16 employees earned certificates or diplomas through the Center for Financial Training. The credit union has encouraged employees to broaden their knowledge of financial services through college classes as well as the Center for Financial Training.
“My skills tend to be about listening,” Cochran said. “I think whether it’s at the credit union or outside the credit union, people define me as a good listener.”
Cochran majored in economics at Rutgers University, and has an MBA in finance from Farleigh Dickinson University and a graduate degree from the School of Banking at the University of Delaware.
He began his career in commercial banking, and then in 1993 became chief financial officer of Synergy Credit Union. He moved on to Affinity Credit Union in 1996 as chief operations officer, and after 12 years there was recruited as CEO of JDACU.