Billionaires Times Two Say How They Got There
Growth provides credit unions the opportunity to take service to the next level. But what are the secrets to hitting a big bull's-eye such as $2 billion in assets?
For advice on devising a successful growth strategy, and what hitting that mark means, CU Times consulted two institutions that recently surpassed $2 billion in assets: Grow Financial Federal Credit Union in Tampa, Fla., and Baxter Credit Union in Vernon Hills, Ill.
“A growing asset base expands the pie, which allows us to offer more products to more members, diversify risk, reduce the proportionate impact of fixed or other mandatory costs, become more attractive as a company for talent, and to capitalize on business opportunities,” said Tom Moore, EVP/CFO for the 190,000-member BCU.
Bob Fisher, CEO of the 175,000-member Grow Financial, said reaching $2 billion in assets helps to provide the resources credit unions need to survive and thrive.
In 1996, then-MacDill Federal Credit Union had $431 million in assets when the board adopted a long-range plan to gain efficiency and economies of scale, Fisher said. In 2007, the credit union underwent rebranding, gained a new name and moved into new, 140,000-square-foot headquarters.
“Our goal wasn't really to the biggest, but to be the best,” Fisher said. “So we’re constantly asking ourselves what we can do better.”
With $1.46 million in net income for the first quarter of 2014 and $12.7 million net income last year, Grow Financial's bottom line is healthy, Fisher said.
Grow Financial recently expanded into South Carolina, opening one branch in Columbia last year, with four more branches set to open this fall in the Palmetto State.
Geographic expansion increased membership and provided protection against disasters such as hurricanes and Florida's real estate crash, Fisher said.
Another factor that fueled both credit unions’ growth was hiring employees with excellent customer service skills.
“To me, the employees are the biggest asset of this institution,” Fisher said. “You must have the right people on the front line that know how to keep members happy. They have to be personable, professional and not afraid to ask members for business.”
Making the most of your marketing budget is also vital.
For example, Fisher said, Grow Financial has received more than $1.4 million in free advertising by hiring an experienced public relations specialist with extensive media connections.
BCU, meanwhile, recently added a corporate communications position that manages an intranet site and publishes a weekly employee e-newsletter, the credit union said.
Both credit unions also believe in rewarding employees for a job well done. Grow Financial recently raised salaries for its front-line people, Fisher said. BCU also compensates dedicated staff, said Carey Price, vice president of sales and service there.
“We strongly believe in incentives and are comfortable paying those incentives as we calculate the ROI,” Price said. “It's not uncommon for the average sales representative to earn double their salary in variable compensation.”
Extra labor costs have paid off in huge dividends with member loyalty and increased business, according to both credit unions.
Creating a positive work environment and a culture of respect and commitment also are crucial, Fisher said.
“I don't want my legacy to be about how much money the credit union had,” said Fisher, who is now in his 23rd year at the 58-year-old Grow Financial. “I want it to be about how many members we helped and how many leaders were developed among my staff. I want members to be glad that they bank at Grow Financial and for employees to be glad they work here.”
Both credit unions also agree it is important to embrace technology.
“You have to look at what kids age 18 are doing and provide the right tools for your staff,” Fisher explained. “If that means adding iPads so more transactions can be conducted, then you have to look closely at the cost factor, but you have to continue to try to move forward and push the boundaries to keep ahead of the competition.”
BCU benefited by leveraging SEG relationshipsand building strong partnerships with key vendors, according to Jeff Johnson, SVP and chief information officer of information systems at BCU.
Embracing technology means taking measured risks towards lofty goals, aligning with strong vendors, adapting to constant change and having a willingness to occasionally fail, he added.
Lending is critical to all credit unions, so credit unions must ensure that products are relevant and superior to the competition, said Jim Block, BCU's vice president of consumer lending.
“While one segment is building savings and establishing credit, another is buying a first home and another is planning for retirement,” Block said. “A member may join for a loan, but they stay for life, and hopefully encourage their family members to join, because of the service and our full product suite.”
BCUranked number one in Illinois and among the top 20 U.S. credit unions for 2012 first mortgage origination by generating a record-setting 3,353 mortgage loans totaling $769 million, the credit union said.
Encouraging employee volunteerism and supporting local charities can also spur growth.
BCU provides up to 16 hours paid volunteer time to employees and recognizes volunteerism with certificates, lunches and donations to the charities chosen by employees, said Sarah Thorrens, vice president of talent management.