WOBURN, Mass. – It’s commonplace now for women to lead big credit unions and to a lesser extent big corporates, but back when Jane Melchionda was blazing the trail for EasCorp it wasn’t, and the driven Melchionda said she never really noticed. Melchionda played the lead role in getting the now $1.7 billion EasCorp off the ground. Her main job was to sell the idea of a liquidity provider to Massachusetts credit unions, which wasn’t easy. She was a field consultant for what was then known as the Massachusetts CUNA Credit Union Association. There were actually two leagues in the state at the time – eventually they merged together. The league wasn’t her first CU job, she briefly managed a small credit union “soup to nuts” as she put it. Having had some experience with the process of filing charter papers for credit unions while at the league, Melchionda was picked to get the corporate rolling. In 1978 what is now EasCorp was chartered by NCUA as Massachusetts CUNA Corporate Central FCU. Melchionda had to not only sell the idea of a liquidity provider but another foreign idea, that is credit unions providing “regulatory capital” for this liquidity provider to get started. Back then for the most part credit unions in the state would call each other to borrow money – there was no one reliable place to borrow. She tried to play up that card. “I would try to explain if we could pool our resources we could do great things. They would ask about our rates. I’d say `I don’t have a rate. When I get some deposits I’ll have a rate.’ ” “ It was laughable to try and sell the idea to some people because they understood what it took to start their credit union, but on a wholesale level it was kind of strange to them.” She was also a young woman on the road trying to convince experienced, financial savvy men to join the parade. “I was young and a female. A guy managing investment portfolios for 25 years would look at me like `what are you going to teach me about managing funds.’ I think people let me in because they were curious. I was so head strong,” said Melchionda. Melchionda said even 25 years ago she rarely felt any kind of discrimination for being a young female. “For the longest time we didn’t have another female at a corporate. I never thought about it. I think the worst discrimination I dealt with was golf, and that wasn’t bad.” She is an avid golfer who hits the links as often as she can, but back then she couldn’t find a club that had a membership available for singles. “You had to join and pay a family membership. I was restricted however, I couldn’t get out on the course much. They had men’s time for a lot of hours on Saturdays and Sundays.” She eventually quit that club and nine years ago joined a club that had a non-gender type membership without restrictions. “Now I can play any time.” She admits that she’s not the greatest golfer. “I’m not good at it. I have the mouth part down, getting in peoples’ heads, but that’s it.” As EasCorp celebrates its silver anniversary this year, Melchionda reflects on the early days when the corporate didn’t have much to offer. “During our first 10 years of existence, credit unions would tell me they’re going to a bank for this service and that service. They really taught me about what they wanted. We finally got large enough to do more things.” She said after 10 years she made the critical decision to bring in some talent that helped the corporate expand its product line. Getting that talent also took some serious convincing. “I called Phil Richards who at the time had a really good position at a large credit union. I wanted him to leave his high paying position with one of the largest credit unions to join us.” She managed to convince him and he remains as one of EasCorp’s key executives. Richards then recruited other people to help the corporate roll out more services, while Melchionda focused on the marketing side working very closely with credit unions. “I love working directly with the credit unions. They teach me the most.” Meanwhile the corporate’s product line started to expand. It unveiled item processing of daily cash letters in 1983. It only took three years for the service to surpass $1 billion in check collection. In 1985 the corporate’s name was changed to Eastern Corporate FCU to reflect its service area and future plans for serving more than just Massachusetts CUs, but New England CUs. In 1988 it opened an item processing center and introduced share draft processing. It had 40 CU clients by year-end. Next came investment advisory services in 1989 and later ACH origination software business in 1993. She said the more the corporate offered, the more trust credit unions placed in EasCorp and it became fun to see how many credit union needs they could meet. Things really took off when EasCorp started doing things credit unions weren’t even asking for. For example, EasCorp bucked the trend and moved to electronic check imaging in 1994 – the first corporate to do so. “When we went into imaging in the early `90s in a truncated share draft world people didn’t think you needed check images. We got to a size where we could start taking some risk, and it worked.” EasCorp now has one of the most sophisticated online product suites in the network, with not only check imaging, but also e-statements and statement rendering. It processed 82 million check items last year. She says automation not only for its credit unions but its own operations has become a hallmark of EasCorp and helps keep it efficient. Coming in close second behind the online services as a key to its success is its investment advisory CUSO, ALM First, created in 1995, which now has over $7 billion under management. (See sidebar on this page.) What makes ALM First so successful in Melchionda’s eyes is its total balance sheet approach. “Most firms if they do investment advisory stay on the investment side of balance sheet, but you can’t make a decision if you don’t know what’s going on with loans,” she said. EasCorp continues to innovate. It was recently approved by NCUA for a pilot program for derivative authority for hedging, especially useful for CUs with large real estate portfolios. This hedging power can be vital for EasCorp clients given New England CUs’ propensity for mortgage lending. Melchionda says a lot is made of a corporate’s asset size, but that’s only one side of the story. “The size of a corporate is actually an accident of geography. NCUA has leveled the playing field with its expanded FOM. How successful a corporate is now is kind of based on strength of management and member loyalty. We’re a great example of having a susccessful off balance sheet and on balance sheet business,” she said, of course referring to ALM First’s $7 billion assets under management. Despite all the corporate’s success, one of the things Melchionda is most proud of is EasCorp’s commitment to the Boston Children’s Hospital. Melchionda spearheaded a fundraising effort about seven years ago that yielded $70,000 for the hospital. It went up the next year to $150,000 and after it’s most recent contribution, it’s total tally is over a million dollars. “I never in my wildest dreams thought we could become a million dollar donor.” Melchionda was born in Massachusetts. She graduated Salem State College with a degree in business education. “I’m actually a high-school teacher, but I decided to be a business education teacher, I’d have to go out and learn about business.” She did that with credit unions and has never looked back. -pgentile@cutimes.com