Credit union collaboration has taken a new turn as two Washington, D.C.-area credit unions began sharing a single chief financial officer. The move, done to conserve resources and attract a more-qualified candidate, may herald a new trend for small institutions seeking to become more competitive.
New CFO Karen Gouldmann splits her time between the $68 million Department of Labor Federal Credit Union in D.C. and the $58 million Destinations Credit Union in Baltimore.
Gouldmann's former roles as a financial institution auditor, compliance officer and CEO for state and federally chartered banks and credit unions give her the unique skill set that the two credit unions were seeking, said Joan Moran, CEO of DOLFCU.
“Both Destinations and DOLFCU were looking for a highly qualified CFO candidate in the D.C./Baltimore area,” said Moran. “As similarly sized institutions, it made sense for us to collaborate in order to attract and retain top talent.”
Moran and Destinations Credit Union President/CEO Brian Vittek decided to share when both institutions lost their own CFOs this past June. The two credit unions already were part of Rekindle Go Big, a consortium of six smaller credit unions formed last year by Mid-Atlantic Corporate Federal Credit Union in Middletown, Pa., to maximize credit union resources and reduce operating expenditures through collaboration. Sharing a CFO seemed like a logical step.
“We’re all trying to collaborate on back-office functions to stay viable as small credit unions,” Moran said. “Brian and I lost CFOs on same day and I said, ‘Can we share one?’ That’s how it happened.”
What may seem implausible for many is turning out to be the right solution for Moran and Vittek, whose credit unions are similarly sized but differ in their approaches to member service. And although the credit unions themselves are an hour or more apart as the traffic crawls, Moran and Vittek have managed to find an operating solution that works well for both credit unions without putting undue stress on the new shared CFO.
“Joan is moving to a much more virtual environment,” says Vittek. “I have a very busy lobby that’s open six days a week. It’s a distinctly retail environment.”
Destinations was chartered in 1935 as the Baltimore Transit Employees Credit Union to serve city bus company workers. The credit union has grown through mergers and by adding SEGs and now serves more than 200 of the. DOLFCU serves employees and retirees of the federal Department of Labor.
Gouldmann reports equally to Moran and Vittek, but spends only a few days a month at DOLFCU. Most of the work is done remotely for the D.C. credit union, either from her office at Destinations or her home office in the Baltimore area.
“The position was a great opportunity for growth and allowed me to utilize my skills and experience and be part of a concept that could set a precedent for our peer credit unions,” says Gouldmann. “I love a challenge and was enthralled with the concept.”
Gouldmann’s background contains what her new employers say is just the right mix of skills and experience for the job. The former senior auditor from Provident Bank cut her credit union teeth as vice president of compliance at MECU in Baltimore. She eventually was named CEO of the former U.S. Coast Guard Credit Union, which was absorbed by Baltimore’s Tower Federal Credit Union last July 1. She worked for Tower as senior business development representative until her current appointment.
Gouldmann chose Destinations as her legal employer of record largely due to the credit union’s benefits package. DOLFCU reimburses the Baltimore credit union for 50% of Gouldmann’s salary and benefits.
The two credit unions have enough similarities to make the arrangement manageable, but the differences enable Gouldmann to apply solutions from one institution to challenges faced by the other. All parties are aware of the need for confidentiality, and agreements between the CFO and her employers stipulate what information can and can’t be shared.
As colleagues and professionals, Moran and Vittek can’t imagine a situation in which either credit union would be compromised.
“Karen is a former internal auditor and understands that what happens at Destinations stays at Destinations and what happens at Department of Labor stays at Department of Labor,” said Vittek. ”We’ve always shared our successes in the credit union world, which makes us different from the banking environment.”
Gouldmann’s experience with both state and federally chartered credit unions was important to Vittek and Moran, who run differently chartered institutions. In fact, understanding the difference was central to the shared CFO’s hiring, Vittek said.
“I am one of eight remaining state charters in Maryland and have been through two merger acquisition with federal charters,” said Vittek, who has been at Destinations for 14 years. “I felt that Karen has walked in my shoes and knows the challenges of a small shop.”
DOLFCU’s board immediately embraced the concept, while the board for Destinations understood the deeper need for such a solution based on Vittek’s support of the idea, the CEO said.
“The board was intrigued by the model and that what we’re trying to do also may save us from having to merge,” Vittek said. “Our members are credit-challenged and if they can’t come here, no one else will serve them. That’s sad.”
Credit union regulators also thought it was a good idea, especially since it was a new way to help keep smaller credit unions operational and viable, said Moran.
“The regulators understand that small credit unions are challenged with having the right people and to stay in business,” she said. We received a very positive response from them.”
Moran agrees in the viability of the shared CFO concept, something similar to what she did earlier with shared collections personnel, and believes it helps paint a brighter future for small credit unions.
“It took us about six months to do this search, and we see it as a long-term solution,” she said.
As far as her new position goes, Gouldmann sees many positives in working for two credit union CEOs she described as “dynamic and progressive.” She also was excited about blazing new trails in ways to more effectively serve members.
“Over the next three to six months, we’ll periodically review how effective and efficiently we’re working,” said the shared CFO. “Nothing ever is completely smooth when you’re starting from the ground up, but we have very open communication. And I am very excited about the opportunity to work for two different institutions.”