Hans Iverson, senior vice president/director of lending at Plymouth, Minn.-based TruStone Financial Federal Credit Union, has never been one to shy away from a challenge.
Growing up on a farm in town of 250 people, he said he never imagined he'd be in banking, let alone wearing a suit and tie every day.
“I thought I'd be a farmer like my dad or doing something outdoors,” said CU Times' latest Trailblazer 40 Below, who got into banking right after graduating from the University of Minnesota-Duluth with a Bachelor of Science in Finance. “I believe it's important to get out of your comfort zone and take on a big challenge. Show that you are willing to try. It's how you get noticed and have an opportunity to make a big impact.”
He added each experience offers a chance to grow and learn. He also advises young professionals to reach out and find mentors.
“I've been very fortunate to have several mentors in my life who encouraged me to keep trying or take on a challenge,” Iverson said. “I think just having that sounding board has been so helpful.”
Ironically, one of his mentors and the person responsible for giving him his start in banking all those years ago, TruStone Financial CEO Tim Bosiacki, recruited him away from TCF Bank and into credit unions. Once he was introduced to the credit union culture and philosophy, that was it for Iverson, he said. He was sold.
“What I enjoy most are the challenges that constant change brings,” he said. “I get to be part of a great organization that helps improve members’ lives every single day.”
A self-described optimist who believes there's a solution to every challenge, Iverson's take on leadership is to communicate, listen, coach, support and have trust in employees.
“I don’t believe in micromanaging. It starts with hiring self-motivated people, so it's more about steering the ship than standing on a podium to motivate people,” he said. “I trust in people to do their jobs and make good decisions because we all are working together to help make members’ lives better and the organization stronger.”
To that end, he said sales play an integral role. Since joining the more than $910 million credit union in 2010, he has helped the organization as a whole rethink its approach to sales.
“People have to understand that sales is better member service,” said Iverson. “Offering a cup of coffee is nice, saying thank you is great, but if a member walks out having saved $1,000 or $100 a month from consolidation, or we helped simplify their life, that is great service. We needed our employees to understand they knew more about financial products than the majority of our membership and it is our fiscal responsibility to educate members and offer them products that will better their financial lives. I joke that it's not like that vacuum salesman. We listen and based on their individual situation, offer guidance.”
He added that the shift from an order-taking environment to embracing a sales culture has been the best kind of challenge and resulted in simplifying processes. For example, at the branch level, that meant implementing steps such as monthly goals, an employee incentive program and listening for feedback has helped reinforce coaching and sales training. In addition, the role of lending manager was created to not only coach and train staffers but also to help employees look for opportunities and find creative ways outside the normal walk-in traffic with the goal of building a solid loan pipeline.
While there has been a learning curve, he said what helped ease the transformation was that it was endorsed and supported by the CEO.
“Our CEO was so passionate about it, and his setting the tone that we all need to embrace this as it is not going away made my job easier,” Iverson said. “We also helped put our employees at ease by simplifying our offerings to make it easier to understand and talk to members.”
It took a lot of coaching, but as time passed, the more comfortable employees became with the products and services, and the more they began to equate sales with providing better service.
The focus on shifting the mindset has paid off. The credit union has gone from opening five to seven home equity loans a month to now some 120 to 150 a month. Total overall monthly loans closed range from 500 to 600. In just three years, TruStone Financial's loan portfolio increased by 113% to $511 million.
While pleased with the results, Iverson said he is always looking for the credit union's next opportunity.
“I think we can do a better job of following up on what members can do with that extra money we've saved them,” Iverson said. “In general, no one says, what are you going to do with that extra $500 a month? What if, instead of just leaving it in their hands, we offer suggestions, like ‘we notice you have a car loan that savings could help pay off’ or ‘we see you have a two year old, why not open a 529 plan?’ I think we, and credit unions overall, could do a better job with that finishing piece of helping members make those decisions.”
For him, discovering and delivering unique solutions to ease everyday consumer problems is true innovation. He said too often people think if it isn’t something huge or the next big thing, it's not innovative.
“If we pay attention to the little things the big things take care of themselves,” Iverson said. “In terms of the big picture, we have to make sure we get the basics right and find new ways to deliver and make a positive impact in the lives of our members and employees. If we do the right things everyday the rest will fall into place.”
He added with an ever-evolving market and the competition coming from everywhere, there's still great opportunity for credit unions.
“There's nothing typical about today's environment at all,” Iverson said. “Consumers as they get older do more online and I think my three year old will never write a check in her life but within those challenges is opportunity.”