Elevations Digs Deeper for Member Growth: Billionaires Club
If you click onto the Elevations Credit Union website – elevationscu.com – and select “Awards & Recognition” under “About Us”, you’ll see a list of honors from almost 20 sources.
Elevations President/CEO Gerry Agnes sees all of them as a vote of confidence in the Boulder, Colo., credit union. But he's especially proud of one particular award. It's the 2013 Rocky Mountain Performance Excellence Peak Award.
“It's the state version of the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award,” Agnes explained. “Unlike the others, which are a vote of confidence from the community, this award is only given after careful examination. There are very specific requirements. They do an audit of the application. There are only three other companies that have attained that reward.
“So that one is the most meaningful because it goes beyond the perception of the community. It is actually a validated, audited, highly scrutinized award with very strict criteria.”
Agnes credits a lot of people for Elevations’ rise to the Billionaires Club.
“Our management team is blessed to be standing on the shoulders of the leadership before we got here,” he said. “There were five CEOs and management teams before me that created a wonderful brand in our community. When I arrived one in four households in Boulder County were members of the credit union. That's grown to one in three.”
Elevations touts the fact it designs services to meet members’ needs. Agnes acknowledged most of those needs are probably pretty typical of credit union members in general. However, he noted the credit union conducts surveys and focus groups among both members and non-members, checking to see what non-members are seeking that Elevations can offer.
Elevations, chartered in 1952 to serve the University of Colorado, still works to deliver what students and faculty want. The student activity card is linked to Elevations’ debit card and is designed specifically for the student population. Faculty often move around, so Elevations works to ease their transition into the community.
In 2003 Elevations shifted to a community charter. The credit union also discovered opportunities to serve businesses, not only with business loans but a whole suite of banking products. Elevations spent more than two years designing systems and processes behind those products.
“We spent nearly 58 years as a really good consumer finance credit union,” Agnes said. “We feel strongly that transferring the brand, if you will, from consumer to business will be quite productive for our membership and community.”
The credit union started laying the groundwork for that process in 2011, and the branding rollout was completed this year.
Agnes describes member demographics as reflecting the communities Elevations serves – elderly residents, young growing families and those in between. In some branches, particularly the one on the University of Colorado campus, there are many young people. Overall the average member is 36 or 37 years old, about 10 years younger than the typical credit union member nationwide.
One interesting statistic reflects Elevations’ growth. In December 2008 capital was approximately $63 million. Five years later that had doubled to $125 million.
So who is the competition for this evidently thriving credit union?
“Our competition is really two-fold,” Agnes answered. “There are large national banks in our primary market – Wells Fargo and Chase. They’re formidable competitors, and they’re big in commercial. We’re number three in market share of deposits. From a consumer standpoint we would be head and shoulders above them.
“We also have some very effective regional and local banks. First Bank, which is headquartered out of Denver, is an excellent community bank doing good work throughout the Front Range.”
But Elevations can boast some major successes. The credit union is the top mortgage lender in Boulder County, which Agnes considers quite an accomplishment against Wells Fargo and Chase.
He attributes that ranking to several factors. The Elevations brand represents a very large presence, a top-of-mind standing. The credit union began revving up mortgage lending in 2010, when many competitors were exiting the market. Elevations also was able to hire what Agnes considers some very talented mortgage talent.
“Facing the angst of large money center banks shedding mortgage departments, they found the culture of a credit union could serve them well and they could be highly successful,” Agnes said.
“We did have to change some of our thinking. One point was compensation. Our mortgage originators make a lot of money. They are highly commissioned and they are highly productive. In fact, last year I think six or seven of our mortgage originators made more than most of our officers of the company.”
After graduating from California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, Agnes was hired as a CPA for Touche Ross. Then he joined a savings and loan, and although S&Ls were spiraling down, Agnes fell in love with the idea of helping communities grow by financing consumer real estate.
He went to work for a commercial bank holding company before taking a break from financial services to serve as president/CEO of The Community Foundation, serving Riverside and San Bernardino counties in California.
He then worked in a series of jobs with Altura Credit Union in Riverside, including president/COO, before coming to Elevations in 2008.
Although the Colorado climate is a change from southern California, Agnes and his wife have evidently adjusted. Skiing and hiking, and walking with their dog, are common activities on their agenda.
Besides, there are regular trips to California to visit their three children, who all live there.
Even so, “We’re proud to be in Colorado. We love Boulder. It's a wonderful community, and we’re sinking out roots quite deeply here,” Agnes said.