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<p>CINCINNATI – Bill Lowes admits it may take awhile for him to break himself out of the habit of going off to work at Kemba CU, and that’s perfectly understandable considering he has been the credit union’s CEO for nearly 31 years. But it’s something the 63 and a half-year old Lowes will have to get used to now that he’s retired from Kemba, as of mid-February. Steve Behler, who has served as Kemba’s president and was named Operations Professional of the Year by CUES for 1999, has been named president/CEO, Lowes also resigned as treasurer of Kemba’s board. Three decades is enough time to collect a lot of memories, and Lowes has his share. When he began working at Kemba Cincinnati Credit Union, as the credit union was called in 1971, as assistant manager, the credit union only served employees and their families of Kemba’s sponsor – Kroger Company. Over the years, Kemba expanded its field-of-membership, took in select employee groups and was granted a community charter to serve the city of Cincinnati. It now boasts about 300 SEGs, and having reached the point where nearly a fifth of its 30,000 members lived or worked outside the city, Kemba dropped the word “Cincinnati” from its name. Lowes became general manager – as CU presidents were called then – of Kemba in 1972 when the credit union’s former manager Bob Wagner died from cancer. At the time, Kemba was a plain vanilla CU offering share savings accounts and car loans. The credit union had about $4 million in assets and approximately 5,000 members. At the time, it didn’t seem like there were a lot of issues affecting credit unions, Lowes recalled, but that was about to change quickly. In the late 1970s, when the savings and loan industry was deregulated and the limit was lifted on how much interest S&Ls could pay, competition started to heat up between credit unions and other financials. In the’80s, Kemba broke out of the vanilla mold and began offering checking accounts and ATM service. “I remember thinking things would relax a bit in the ’90s,” said Lowes, but in retrospect he knows that didn’t turn out to be the case. Lowes admits he’s part of the old school of thought when it comes to credit unions, but that didn’t stop him from backing Kemba from being innovative and trying new things. “Sometimes we got burned, but it was still worth it,” he said. He recalled one “experiment” Kemba tried as a way to get more young employees of Kroger stores to join the credit union. The promotion called for the credit union to give them all credit cards with a $200 limit, no questions asked. “We wound up charging off balances of $1,500,” Lowes said. But he still has no regrets about running the membership promotion. “You can’t just look at a situation and see the negative. Many of these young employees stayed on with us as members because they felt we trusted them. Sometimes you have to take the bad with the good,” said Lowes. Kemba was also one of the first credit unions to have a Web site (it won a Credit Union Times’ e-Award in 2000 for Best Overall Site.) The credit union’s wholly-owned CUSO, CU Advantage, offers electronic filing, car buying, mortgage, and auto leasing services. It is also looking to get into offering insurance services. When it came to Kemba applying to expand its field-of-membership and applying for a community charter, Lowes confesses he was a bit “sheepish.” “I was afraid the small credit unions, where I have a lot of friends, would feel intimidated by what we wanted to do and be upset with me,” Lowes said. “I’ve come to realize there are enough non-members for all of us to serve.” Although he admits he’s “not politically inclined,” Lowes has also come to appreciate the value of being active in credit union associations and organizations. For example, he was on the board of the Cincinnati Chapter of the Ohio Credit Union League, and served on the board of Corporate One Federal Credit Union in Columbus. He was also involved with CUES. So it’s understandable why Lowes procrastinated retiring for several years, but he finally notified Kemba’s board so they could put a succession plan in place. In the coming months and years, instead of traveling to work at Kemba Credit Union, Lowes is looking forward to traveling with his wife around the U.S. and spending time with their children and three grandchildren who also live in Ohio. “It’s time for me to pass the baton,” said Lowes. -</p> <p>[email protected]</p>

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