Trailblazer Award: Retired Air Force Pilot Now Serves Community
Roger Mark Hall has always been driven by two passions: being of service to others and being a pilot.
The board president of the $12 million Greater Abbeville Federal Credit Union in Abbeville, S.C., has made both dreams a reality.
“As I see it, I’m not here just for myself, but to help everyone along as best I can, and I see service as a way of doing that,” Hall said. “There's a blessing around helping others.”
To him, the essentials of good leadership have a foundation in genuine interest and passion for what you do combined with a need to serve a cause or purpose greater than yourself.
An unwavering ability to always put others first is just one of the reasons why Hall has been selected as Credit Union Times’ Trailblazer Volunteer of the Year for 2014.
Hall, an Air Force pilot, served his country for nearly 30 years and attained the rank of colonel. After retiring from the military, he returned to his hometown to work as director of public utilities for the city of Abbeville in upstate South Carolina.
Aware he could do more, he made use of any free time to give back to the community, whether as part of the Abbeville Presbyterian Church, building homes with Habitat for Humanity or the decision some 20 years ago to join the GAFCU board.
“It was the credit union philosophy,” Hall said of why he wanted to be part of the board. “I do believe in it and that as board members we should do all we can to help other credit union members reach a high level of financial freedom and responsibility.”
For Hall the board role is simple: To advise but not direct. It's been the secret to the great working relationship between the board and CEO at the 2,600-member credit union.
“Look, we’re here to provide high-level policy decisions not get into the daily operations,” he said. “And we should never miss an opportunity to approve and make changes in credit union operations or procedures that benefit the members.”
According to GAFCU CEO Faye Crocker, Hall always has the best interest of the membership and Abbeville County in mind.
“In light of the many drastic changes happening within the credit union industry, we are grateful to have a board chair who encourages experimentation,” said Crocker.
A general Hall had worked with and had a great deal of respect for gave him advice he lives to this day: “Don't assume anything is impossible. You have to get out there and really look at it.” It's also a quiet, humble openness Hall exudes that encourages constructive debate and discussion.
“We have to be able to work together and settle disagreements through discussion rather than being stubborn or forcing others to do something,” he said. “As a small credit union we have to find our niche. We can't survive maintaining the status quo or being a ‘me, too’ organization, so we have to be open to looking for new ways we can be of service to our members.”
Hall added when it comes to relevance and better serving members size doesn't matter. Under his leadership the board approved several changes that increased loan to share by over 10%. When a large local plant announced major layoffs GAFCU was ready to assist with a loan deferral program and special refinancing to help members during their search for new jobs.
The credit union also created a Quick Cash Advance product as an alternative to predatory lenders. Members can not only get the quick cash loan they need at a lower rate but staffers also provide financial counseling and help members put together a savings plan to help break the cycle of needing short term loans to cover expenses.
Hall was also instrumental in helping the credit union obtain its low-income designation, CDFI certification and a CDFI grant of just under $100,000 to hire a new business development professional.
The move was part of the credit union's renewed focus on serving the area unbanked and underbanked and living up to its mission of being the hope of Abbeville County. A NCUA low income designation grant has also provided the community access to Dave Ramsey's financial education classes free of charge.
In addition, Hall led an effort to take board meetings paperless through the use of online board packets, with each board member being issued an iPad.
“It's one of those things you either follow technology or get out on the leading edge and we’ve essentially been doing that,” said Hall. “It goes beyond just online board packages and gives us better communication between the board and CEO. So, for example, we have one credit union-based email address, which allows us all to easily connect with each other and others to connect with us as well.”
It's in keeping with his view of innovation as any changes that shake up complacency to improve and further service.
“Big or small we all face challenge to maintain relevance in changing world and continuing to provide products that serve members. It's worth taking somewhat of a risk of a hit to the bottom line to make improvements you think are necessary,” he said. “For example it's how we approach IT expenses. Yes they may be high considering our size, but necessary for us to meet member expectations and better serve their changing needs.”
Another area worth the risk, particularly for small credit unions, is recruiting, developing and retaining top talent.
“It's hard for small credit unions to compete in hiring a really good CEO or senior staff. Sometimes it's about salary or many are not willing to move to a small town,” said Hall. “We’re lucky to have an excellent CEO but we are always planning for the day we may not by focusing on bringing people into the credit union who can grow and move into that leadership position.
“Develop that talent internally so there's lot's of options rather than going outside. We’re working on that now but it's something all small credit unions in particular can't afford to ignore.”