Largest Regional Trade Group Marks One-Year Anniversary
Cornerstone Credit Union League, the nation's largest regional trade association that serves 559 cooperatives in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, will mark its one-year anniversary in July.
Dick Ensweiler, president/CEO of the Cornerstone league in Dallas, reflected on the challenges of consolidating three leagues, what the regional league has accomplished so far, and its future initiatives beyond its primary advocacy role.
While legislative matters and advocacy will always be Cornerstone's top priority, it also is exploring new programs to help to increase consumer awareness at the local chapter and state levels, to help cooperatives expand into underserved markets and to facilitate the growth of loan portfolios, Ensweiler said.
With little controversy, member credit unions of the Texas Credit Union League, the Arkansas Credit Union League and the Credit Union Association of Oklahoma voted to merge in April and May. Cornerstone officially opened its doors at a Dallas office on July 1, 2013.
“When we sold the consolidation of the leagues, we said it would become a bigger, stronger and more relevant organization for credit unions,” Ensweiler said. “With size comes relevancy. That is what we anticipated and it's happening.”
Indeed, Cornerstone serves about 570 credit unions, representing 9% of the nation's cooperatives that employ more than 27,000 and provide financial products and services to 9.5 million members, according to the league. At the end of 2013, members’ assets grew more than $5.1 billion, reaching $95.3 billion. Although the average credit union is $150.6 million in assets, the median asset size is still in the $23 million range.
One of the ways the league's sheer size manifested its relevancy occurred at the exhibit hall during its first annual meeting as Cornerstone in April. The exhibit hall held 122 vendors, including a number of first-time national vendors, eager to meet more than 900 credit union professionals.
“We had vendors tell us they have never seen a league level crowd like this and it reminded them of CUNA's GAC,” Ensweiler said.
At the credit union level, Cornerstone carries even more relevancy.
“Cornerstone has a much larger staff. They have people who are experts in all different types of areas in the credit union industry,” said Linda Stanton, president/CEO of the $25 million Union Pacific of Arkansas Federal Credit Union in Little Rock. “They also have a group of people who solely work with small credit unions. So now we have a lot of different services that we weren't even aware of.”
In Henryetta, Okla., David Dykes Jr., president/CEO of the $55 million First Family Federal Credit Union, recently signed up for Cornerstone's compliance service.
“That service costs about one third of what we would have to pay for a full-time compliance officer,” Dykes said. “The service is a whole lot more beneficial for us as far as the economics goes.”
Since Cornerstone, Gary Davis, president/CEO of the $104 million Chocolate Bayou Community Federal Credit Union in Alvin, Texas, said he's more than satisfied with the league's service.
“The communications and the follow-up I’ve been receiving from the league personnel I’ve been extremely pleased by it,” Davis said. “I think everybody is excited and enthused by the new league and I think that contributes to better services for all of us in the long run.”
Over the short run, Cornerstone's Board Chair Paul Trylko, president/CEO of the $669 million Affinity Credit Union of Austin, Texas, highlighted during April's annual meeting what the league accomplished from July to December 2013, the first six months of the combine group's operations.
The league increased membership of councils by 20%, appointed 12 up-and-coming young credit union professionals to serve as young professional advisors, approved 301 grants totaling more than $384,000 that supported financial education, professional development and disaster relief and forged two new key business partnerships, through Cornerstone's subsidiary Credit Union Resources, with CO-OP Financial Services and INTECH.
These accomplishments aside, Ensweiler said during the league's first six months the toughest consolidation challenges were integrating the cultures of the three former leagues. After all, for nearly 80 years each league had been operating independently under different management styles, operations and resources.
“Getting people to know each other and work with each other in a new organization was a challenge and we knew it would be,” Ensweiler said.
What's more, league employees also had to adjust to the centralization of services of education, training, compliance, human resources, IT, public relations and accounting. The league's satellite offices, located in each of the state capitals of Little Rock, Oklahoma City and Austin, solely focused on legislative matters and advocacy.
It took some time, but league employees came around after getting used to working within the new organizational structure, Ensweiler noted. There were no personnel changes at the 3-employee Little Rock office managed by Reta Kahley, president of the Arkansas Credit Union Association.
In Oklahoma, two of the seven employees’ jobs transitioned to other credit unions and one employee was reassigned to a new position as a Cornerstone field representative in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Gary Jones, who retired March 31 as president of the Oklahoma Credit Union Association in Oklahoma City, was replaced by veteran lobbyist Nate Webb.
Though local, state and national advocacy remains central to league's purpose, Ensweiler said he plans to introduce new initiatives this year to support the growth of credit unions. Among them, to provide tools to help credit unions increase consumer awareness and develop new market opportunities across chapter regions and throughout each state.
“We’d like to explore with credit unions how they would like the league to support their promotions,” Ensweiler said. “We have a committee that is looking at different ways we can help get messages across to consumers for credit unions at the local chapter level and at the state level. We are just exploring that.”
Cornerstone is also looking at other measures including how it can help credit unions reach out to underserved Hispanic and Native American markets and exploring whether the league can assist credit unions to put more loans on their books.
“Credit unions are experiencing growth in members and deposits, but they are not necessarily seeing a proportionate increase in loans,” Ensweiler said. “We have identified this as an opportunity to see if there is some kind of role we can play in that.”