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NEW YORK – It didn’t take William Porter more than a minute to realize changes were needed at Municipal Credit Union when he became CEO in 1981. As he walked off an elevator and into the hallway outside the credit union’s only branch, located in a municipal building, he encountered crowded conditions that proved the office was inadequate. Members were packed into the hallway, making access to the credit union almost impossible. His first thoughts – “I’ve got a challenge, not only financially but operationally. We need a better location.” Porter knew the credit union was struggling, and state regulators were looking for someone to head a comeback. At that time the credit union had 137,000 members, $98 million in assets and one branch. MCU was under the direct control of the regulators, so there was no board and no supervisory committee. The state hired Porter to lead the recovery. He had a degree in management from New York University and more than 24 years with Citibank. “I had learned a lot at Citibank, including how to operate in a retail banking environment. They had some excellent training programs, and I was able to bring those skills along with me. But I didn’t know anything about credit unions. The biggest issue was to get the credit union on a sound footing,” Porter recalled. By 1984 the regulators released the credit union back to the membership and a new board was elected. Chartered in 1916, MCU grew out of concern by then-New York City Mayor John Purroy Mitchell. He wanted city employees to have a way to manage their finances and avoid loan sharks. By the end of the first year there were 19 members with total deposits of $570. A glance through MCU’s history shows it was often in the forefront of what would become standard practice in the credit union movement: * 1920 – MCU’s president is part of a committee to considering forming a New York State credit union league. * 1926 – MCU begins to issue checks to individual creditors when loans are for debt consolidation. * 1931 – MCU seeks to set up a program to have loan payments deducted from a borrower’s salary. * 1940 – MCU arranges with a number of auto dealers to provide cars at a 10 percent discount from list and accessories at 25 percent off. * 1969 – The New York City Housing Authority becomes the first city agency to offer payroll deduction to MCU members. * 1977 – MCU goes on line with TRW to obtain credit reports. More recently, the credit union drew attention following the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center when businesses in Manhattan were disrupted and some MCU members overdrew their accounts at ATMs. “Basically, we have recovered operationally,” Porter says. “We had some negative balances we had to deal with because of the loss of our system. We recovered most of that money, and we have built a real-time backup center in New Jersey. If the system ever goes down again, we are prepared to switch over automatically.” Today, there’s still another challenge. New York City, like many other municipalities, faces a fiscal crisis. Members are seeing layoffs hit their agencies. The first round affected about 3,500 city employees. Later reports indicate that number might grow to 10,000. MCU is trying to sit down with members and help them on a case-by-case basis. Each situation is different, because members reflect such a wide range of the city’s public employees – teachers, doctors, nurses, clerks, hospital aides, transportation workers, and many others. Some are renters, some are homeowners. “We recommended to the board we try to put something together to assist members who are part of the layoff process. Obviously the main concern for laid off employees would be any outstanding loan obligations,” Porter says. “We created a program and put notification out through civil service print media, New York newspapers and on our Web site. We are prepared to work with members so they can maintain some level of good credit standing and reduce their financial burden. We know they will probably not be able to make the payments they made when they were employed. We are willing to reduce the amount of their payments so it will fit within their financial standing,” said Porter. Some years ago, Porter felt when MCU hit the $1 billion mark it would be a major accomplishment. But when it actually happened about a year ago, he found it really didn’t have the impact he anticipated. He realized it didn’t really change anything in terms of what needed to be done and how the credit union would go about meeting those needs. Yes, there would be a few more resources, but the overall perspective didn’t shift. “Business just for business sake doesn’t work,” Porter declares. “Our whole emphasis for this year and next year is service quality for our members – how we can deliver better quality service to all our members. “We have some impediments, and we want to remove them. A lot of it is tied to technology. We’re doing e-statements. Bill payment is coming. We’re looking at installing kiosks in the branches, and at putting them into the SEG groups so members don’t have to come into the branches if they don’t desire to do so.” Porter believes this will do more than deliver member convenience. It will also free staff from routine chores so they can concentrate on other activities. Some 22,000 members already use on-line banking and the audio response system handles 650,000 transactions a month. Just as he plunged into the job of reviving the credit union, Porter enjoys the role of Mr. Fix-It at home, going down into his shop and tackling home improvements. He also reads a great deal and watches both college and professional sports. Basketball is perhaps his first love, and in the past few years he’s developed an interest in watching golf. The Porters have three grown children and six grandchildren, and they spend a good deal of time maintaining regular contact with their family. “I’ve been very blessed with my job and other things,” Porter declares. “The credit union has been very, very good to me. I’m pleased to have been here as long as I have. It’s a wonderful movement, and despite credit unions coming under attack from different areas, I’m confident we’re going to survive it all. “We’ll still be strong and still be there to do the kind of things we need to do for all members, not only for members of my credit union but for members of credit unions throughout the country and probably throughout the world.” [email protected]

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