Nuances Mark CUSO to CU CEO Move
When Mark Curran was hired as president/CEO of Lion's Share Federal Credit Union, he had a pretty good idea of what to expect having worked at another cooperative for 18 years.
What did come as a surprise was just how much compliance had become a pressing and ongoing priority.
“I expected to have a pretty steep learning curve regarding some of the newer compliance issues, but was still surprised at the level of reporting that's required,” said Curran, who took the helm of the $36 million Lion's Share FCU in Salisbury, N.C., in the fall of 2011.
Prior to his current role, Curran was the senior vice president of business development at Palmetto Cooperative Services, an item processing CUSO in Irmo, S.C. His career history also includes more than 15 years of branch operations experience at the $2.2 billion Coastal Federal Credit Union in Raleigh N.C., and time spent as a senior account manager at CUNA Mutual Group.
“At the CUSO, we had just a few products that I needed to know,” Curran recalled. “At a credit union, the myriad of financial products, services and delivery channels can be overwhelming. It helps to have really good people working for you, which, fortunately at Lion's Share FCU, we do.”
Changing of the guards within the credit union industry are just as commonplace as in other sectors but one could argue that making the transition from homegrown entities such as CUSOs and state league affiliates are a unique distinction.
For Michael Gudely, a former president/CEO of a community bank and a CUSO, getting up to speed on the day-to-day issues that directly impact operations was the biggest difference when he became president/CEO of the $189 million Southeastern Federal Credit Union in Valdosta, Ga., in November. Prior to then, he headed Innovative Business Solutions LLC, a business lending CUSO in Fort Mill, S.C., from March 2009 to November 2013.
“In a credit union environment, it's interchange, risk-based capital, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Durbin,” Gudely said. “For me, while I have some familiarity on a cursory basis, I’ve had to do a bit of work on my own to catch up. You don't want to transition and be out of the loop.”
While at IBS, Gudely's main focus was on member business loans and serving the CUSO's credit union clients. He describes the relationships as very delicate because the CUSO has to answer to its owners and subscribers.
“Your owner credit unions can just call you up and say, ‘Why don't you do this?’” Gudely said. “The CEOs of the owner credit unions are very focused on MBLs – it's a very narrow focus. We have MBLs at Southeastern but there are also indirect, mortgage and consumer loans.
That product and service mix was the main reason why Gudely left IBS to take the helm at Southeastern. He said he was looking to align with a more complex organization, even though he enjoyed his time at the CUSO and misses his colleagues there.
Another notable shift for Gudely at Southeastern was the board's desires to have the CEO continue to be more visible in the community. Within the walls of IBS, much of the interaction took place there with the occasional visits to the sites of the CUSO's credit union clients. A self-described extrovert, Gudely said he was excited about getting to know the locals in Valdosta. In fact, Gudely – and his wife – have been received very well within the community, he added.
“But it was a little overwhelming at first. I’ve met more people in 90 days (at Southeastern) than I have in five years,” he noted. “As the CEO, when you go outside of the credit union, you’re warmly welcomed and pulled in 100 different ways. It's been quite a task to keep up with but it's starting to slow down a bit.”
Connecting with others was really put to the test when Gudely was approached with the request to help put together an economic session with only a week or so to pull it off. Rather than pass it off to someone else, he jumped in and the result was Southeastern hosting a breakfast forum Feb. 19 that featured officials from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and several universities who spoke on the national, state and local economic outlook and its impact on credit unions. The session also reminded him that it's OK to delegate tasks to others – a trait he still considers a work in the progress at Southeastern.
“You don't want to micro manage,” Gudely said. “We have a strong team of six vice presidents and 70 employees. I do need to let go and have people run with it. I have to constantly remind myself to do this.”
Curran can relate to meeting with many people but those interactions occurred more while at Palmetto. He said he enjoyed the freedom and travel that was afforded to him at the CUSO and now that he's at Lion's Share, he misses going to many different league annual meetings and national conferences.
“However, there's a certain level of comfort and security in making my own decisions about when and where to travel now. I enjoy sleeping in my own bed most nights,” Curran said.
For both Curran and Gudely, board relations and now, member interactions, have new meanings. Curran said clearly the regulatory burden at the credit union is more of a daily focus than it was at Palmetto. The CUSO only had to report to its board of directors, whereas a credit union has to satisfy NCUA and state regulators. Likewise, most of Palmetto's CUSO's customers understood what a CUSO was and knew the products we offered.
“At a credit union, we are continually having to educate members and potential members about what a credit union is, why we’re different and what products we offer that can help them achieve financial security,” Curran said.
Gudely has discovered that while some members of Southeastern are engaged, most are not. Still, because they own the credit union, a long-term view on where and what to invest in is an advantage not shared by banks.
“When you’re Bank of America, you’re so large, you don't have that flexibility. At community banks, you’re only as good as your last quarter and whether you turned a profit. You never know if the bank will be sold,” Gudely noticed. “Credit unions can really respond to the members’ needs. You can make investments that are better for (them).”
Regardless of whether the board is at a CUSO or credit union, having a strong link can go far. Gudely said a CUSO board consisting of credit union CEOs generally has knowledge in the area of expertise that the CUSO specialized in. At credit unions, volunteers can come from all walks of life and bring great knowledge to the table that helps steer strategic vision.
To illustrate, Southeastern's board is very focused on growth whereas IBS growth plans were more controlled, Gudely said. Indeed, Southeastern, which has been on a 10-year growth track, is open to merging in smaller credit unions and wants to continue upping its visibility.
“Honestly, when I first went to the CUSO, I thought I would go back to banks after the smoke cleared. But as I’ve talked to others over the years and I’ve seen how credit unions are, I ask, ‘Why would I want to go back?’”