SAN JOSE, Calif. – For someone who at one time didn’t even know what a credit union was, Patsy Van Ouwerkerk has come a long way. Van Ouwerkerk, now president and chief executive officer of Alliance Credit Union here, is to assume the chairmanship of the California Credit Union League during its annual meeting and convention Oct. 14-16 in Anaheim. “I think the fact that credit unions allow you to do things that make you feel like you’re contributing to someone’s well-being just really stuck with me,” she said of her early days in the credit union industry. “I cannot imagine being in any other sort of industry.” As chairman of the state league, she said her priorities will center on education – for consumers, employees, middle managers and volunteers – as well as mentoring programs among large and small credit unions. “I believe larger credit unions have a responsibility to develop more structured mentor relationships with smaller credit unions than we have today,” she said in remarks prepared for the convention. “Through the Shapiro Group and our chapters we can do so much to help smaller credit unions succeed. Likewise, mentoring and training opportunities need to be provided in a way that all credit unions, regardless of asset size and number of employees, have an opportunity to participate.” In an interview with Credit Union Times, Van Ouwerkerk said credit unions might be cool to the idea of mentoring other credit unions because in many cases they are now competing for the same members. “I think there will be a tendency to do less perhaps in terms of sharing business plans and things related to strategic planning, but the day-to-day needs that we have, I think there’s still a real spirit of cooperation,” she said. “I do see the league continuing to try to foster that and provide opportunities for people to get together to discuss what’s going on operationally where we can all learn from each other. “I think we’re going to have to work harder at keeping cooperation in the forefront, but I do think that’s something the league is really stressing and I will continue to stress,” she added. She also said she would emphasize education, both in program content and in the way those programs were delivered. “We have really good programs in place. Keeping them affordable and finding ways to have lots of credit unions take advantage of them is important,” Van Ouwerkerk said. Especially important, she said, are programs aimed at middle management. “Developing our middle managers must become one of our key strategies as succession planning becomes more important,” she said. As for board members, who were expected to bring up their concerns as volunteers at the league meeting, Van Ouwerkerk said more was being asked of them than ever before. “It’s not just about how do you do a good job on the board or the supervisory committee, but being able to understand all the new regulatory issues,” she explained. “Board members are expected to understand more technical regulations than we’ve had in the past, including privacy, and to become experts in such things as investments, asset liability management and Internet security.” To that end, the league was expected to announce at the conference the establishment of an advisory committee composed of credit union volunteers. The panel will make recommendations on how the league can meet the educational needs of volunteers. Van Ouwerkerk also stressed that the way educational programs were delivered would also be an area to be explored during her tenure as league chairman. “Part of the educational focus needs to be on how we provide this education to credit unions already so stretched that they can’t get to conferences,” she said. “A lot of it comes back to providing things in ways to meet their needs, like computer-based training and pushing training out to credit unions. When I talk about education, I’m also talking about doing a better job of delivering the training so that more people can take advantage of it.” Van Ouwerkerk said her focus on education is particularly important to her since she never completed her college degree. She dropped out of college to get married and move to California. “It’s unusual to be in the position (president/CEO) and not have a degree,” she admitted. “So I’ve always been particularly sensitive to the fact that education was going to become more and more important to me.” During her 25 years in the industry, Van Ouwerkerk has taken advantage of educational programs provided by the league as well as by the CUES’ CEO Institute. (She served as chairman of the CUES Board in 1996). She also graduated from the Western CUNA Management School. She noted that when she took her first job as a loan officer at Coast Central Credit Union in Eureka, Calif., she knew nothing about credit unions. Her financial background was limited to setting up business accounts and approving lines of credit for a semiconductor manufacturer in San Jose. From Coast Central, she went to Golden 1 Credit Union in Sacramento, where she spent 15 years, working her way up from a loan officer to a senior vice president. During that time, the credit union grew from $100 million to $1.3 billion in assets. “I liked the fact that as a loan officer I was supposed to look at the person, not just their credit report,” she recalled. “I worked for a military credit union for a short time and I remember always thinking when I had to turn down a loan that this could be one of my brothers sitting across from me not being able to go home for Christmas.” As senior vice president, she directed marketing, facilities, strategic planning, branch administration and statewide operations. She also oversaw the credit union’s financial and insurance subsidiaries. Before assuming the top job at Alliance ($315 million in assets, 48,000 members) in 1997, she served as president and CEO of Columbia Community Credit Union in Vancouver, Wash. Van Ouwerkerk has high praise for the California league, saying there was no single area where she felt it fell short. “It’s just making sure that we change as credit unions change,” she said of her goals for the CCUL. “I think the challenge for the league will be . in the areas of technology, staying out in front in terms of technology to meet the needs of credit unions that are league members.” “Change is going to happen,” Van Ouwerkerk said. “We need to try to make sure that we’re doing the planning so we can be responsive to it.” She also suggested that some prioritizing of league programs might be in the offing, noting that the CCUL, like the credit unions it serves, has limited resources. Both credit unions and the CCUL try to offer “a variety of products and services so that members can pick and choose,” she said. “I think what we all tend to do is add more and more to our plates and never get rid of anything.” [email protected]

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