Business Partners CEO Writing New Chapter
Over the last six months, Pam Easley has likely been on the road as much as in the office talking with CEOs, senior executives and boards to find out what's working and where improvements are needed.
Business Partners LLC, a business lending CUSO, recently forged yet another path when Easley was named president/CEO of the entity founded and once owned by the failed Telesis Community Credit Union. Her official first day on the job was Oct. 23, 2013 but the CUSO made the public announcement in March.
“Our new story is about listening, customer service and being a partner to credit unions,” said Easley. “The first step was to go out to the industry and ask for their feedback. It's about being attentive and aligned to a credit union's portfolio needs.”
In fact, Business Partners conducted a survey with credit unions to pinpoint where their needs were and when CU Times talked with Easley, the results were due to roll in. Meanwhile, through her visits to some of the CUSO's more than 170 credit union partners around the country, Easley said she's hearing feedback on everything from expanding current participation loan programs to how to set up internal guidelines that look at optimizing lending and underwriting.
Easley came to Business Partners nearly a year after the CUSO announced three new principal owners: the $1.3 billion Public Service Employees Credit Union in Denver; $644 million Great Lakes Credit Union in North Chicago, Ill.; and the $630 million Farmers Insurance Group Federal Credit Union in Los Angeles.
With the new owners, came several key changes including a reduction in overhead expenses that helped Business Partners post a profit for the first three months in 2013. Those cuts included base salary and benefits for the CUSO's 45 employees at the time. Easley said there are now 42 employees. Last November, Business Partners also moved its headquarters from Chatsworth, Calif. to nearby Northridge.
Additional moves included the formation of a credit review committee, consisting of the chief lending officers from Business Partners’ primary owner-credit unions, the CUSO said. Their main responsibility is to ensure that each loan originated through Business Partners meets particular lending criteria.
During the previous loan review process, credit unions hired a third party to review the loans and make the recommendations. Internally, credit unions were required to approve and underwrite the loans. Now, before a loan gets to the loan participation level, the originator presents it to the credit review committee to ensure that it's strong enough to take to the participating credit unions.
Easley said she meets with Business Partners’ board of directors and managing partners each week to discuss the CUSO's status report. Getting to know the staff, she's discovered they are just as enthusiastic about the future.
“I couldn't ask for a better team. They’re knowledgeable about participations and business lending,” said Easley. “The average level of commercial lending experience is 15 years, which is really great.”
Business Partners ended 2013 in positive territory, according to Easley. However, like many credit unions and CUSOs in the business lending space, there's been some runoff, which is being managed, she noted.
Before coming to Business Partners, Easley was CEO of the $550 million American First Credit Union in La Habra, Calif. Her career experience also includes managing director and senior-executive level positions within the banking industry and building and managing multi-billion dollar loan portfolios. Easley said she is known in the industry for being a restructuring and turnaround expert.
“She has earned a reputation within the industry as an operational and enterprise risk management expert by successfully leading risk consulting practices for credit unions and regional and large-scale banks,” said David Maus, Business Partners chairman and president/CEO of Public Service CU.
As for creating a strategic growth plan focused on improving Business Partners’ core business, Easley said the first 90 days in her new role was spent assessing where the CUSO was and then developing a new vision with the managing owners and board. The plan is still in the development phase but is expected to be finalized in May, according to Easley.
Internally, the CUSO has updated its corporate values to include a focus on service, culture, high integrity, innovation and accountability, said Easley. Developed by employees at Business Partners, the revamped values are hallmarks of a culture that is moving forward along with encouraging a climate of open communication and knowledge, she added.
With a national reach, Business Partners is currently building capabilities in the Midwest, said Easley. Because a lot of credit unions have hit their residential and consumer loan caps, the CUSO is hoping to encourage them to consider participation lending. The loan arrangement is still new territory for some and that's why deeper communication has expanded to not only chief lending officers but boards, CEOs and chief financial officers. That depth will help understand portfolio needs including asset and liability management and risk appetite, she explained. Changes as small as updating Business Partners’ website to making larger improvements in technology are also set to take place.
While the CUSO is looking ahead, some have said the financial woes of Telesis, Business Partner's founder, put a taint on commercial lending and participation loan programs leading to regulators stepping up scrutiny of all types of CUSOs. Founded in 1995 by the defunct Telesis, for much of 2012 Business Partners had been operating under the management of the NCUA after the regulator was appointed the conservator of Telesis in March 2012 shortly after the California Department of Financial Institutions shuttled the troubled credit union into conservatorship.
“The previous culture was well documented in the press so I won't comment on that,” said Easley. “A critical point from the ownership was not only making sure a new leader came from the credit union industry but that the leader understood the situation and could deal with moving a company with some legacy challenges forward.”