Desert Schools CU: Growing at `A Pace We Can Handle'
PHOENIX, Ariz. - If you're trying to find Susan Frank, probably the first place to look is her office at Desert Schools Credit Union, where she's CEO. But if it's a weekend, a holiday or she's on vacation, you might have to travel. Perhaps the trip will only involve a...
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PHOENIX, Ariz. – If you’re trying to find Susan Frank, probably the first place to look is her office at Desert Schools Credit Union, where she’s CEO. But if it’s a weekend, a holiday or she’s on vacation, you might have to travel. Perhaps the trip will only involve a quick jaunt to one of the many Phoenix-area spas, where she relishes relaxing and being pampered. Your trip may take a little longer if she’s pursuing another of her favorite activities, scuba diving. Perhaps she’s on the coast of Mexico or in Hawaii. Recently she and a niece went diving at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Yes, Arizona doesn’t exactly boast about its scuba diving. But Frank fell in love with the state. She’s also a staunch credit union advocate who says there’s no real secret to DSCU’s success. “I think it’s basically our service and the products we offer to our members. We’re very, very service oriented, as are most credit unions. We really place member satisfaction number one on our list,” she says. Actually, Frank considers DSCU pretty typical of the Billionaires Club ranks. “Of course, I’d like to believe we’re the best of the bunch,” she laughs, “but I think all the credit unions in that category are very well run, fiscally responsible and committed to service.” In addition, she continues, “Phoenix is a growing area, so we’ve been blessed by being located in a really good environment here.” If anything, DSCU hopes to manage its expansion. It doesn’t want to adopt strategies that will enlarge membership but diminish service. Even so, the credit union has opened branches at a pretty brisk pace. DSCU added six branches in 2003, five in 2002. Another 14 will debut this year, most of them grocery store branches. The credit union also has an agreement to operate in-store branches in Wal-Mart Supercenters. “With Phoenix growing at a very, very rapid place, we need to keep up with that growth. It’s difficult (to add branches) with build-to-own space. It’s very expensive, and it takes time to get up and running,” Frank says. “We found the grocery store arena was a wonderful way to expand our branches, provide a service to members, and very quickly move into areas where we weren’t previously.” In many cities it’s been tough for credit unions to open in-store branches. They sometimes find major banks have locked up the opportunities. However, Frank says DSCU has very skilled people handling the negotiations. The credit union has been even been able to establish a presence in stores that also have a Wells Fargo branch. The banks in Phoenix don’t necessarily want to commit to opening a branch in every Albertson’s, for example. From the retailers viewpoint, they don’t want to commit to just one financial institution that may pull out and leave the stores with no bank or credit union branch. About half the DSCU membership comes from public and private schools in four counties, and with 1,400 SEGs members are very diverse and reflect the growing Phoenix population. Some of the newest members are businesses. The credit union began offering businesses loans and accounts in June, 2003. DSCU isn’t the only financial institution attracted by the potential provided by swelling population in the Valley of the Sun. Bank of America, Bank One and Wells Fargo are established players. Some smaller community banks are moving into the area. “They move in and move out. But it’s pretty competitive. As for credit unions, I think we have great relationships with the credit unions in Phoenix and actually in Arizona as a whole. We’re a small group – there are only about 70 of us,” Frank says. “We compete, but there’s also lots of cooperation among us. It’s good to see we can still maintain that cooperation. There’s a pretty robust shared branching initiative going on. We help each other with that initiative. “We’re always cognizant of banker attacks, although here in Arizona we haven’t seen that – yet.” While the number of women CEOs heading billion dollar credit unions may be eclipsed by men, Frank expects to see more women in those ranks. “I had the distinction of being the first woman CEO of a billion dollar credit union, so I guess I got in there really early. Since then I think there have been five or 10,” she says. “I’ve always been blessed in that I haven’t run into any glass ceiling or any kind of impediment or discrimination because of being a woman. I know it’s out there. I know it exists. But I never really experienced it.” Frank earned her B.S. in education and psychology at State University of New York at New Falls. There were no teaching jobs available, but after a brief stay at a bank she was recruited by Bethpage Credit Union. Frank worked there for 12 years, rose to vp/operations and completed her M.B.A. at New York Institute of Technology. She then moved to Arizona in 1992 to become executive vp at DSCU. She had fallen in love with the Arizona climate and lifestyle, so the job offer was welcome both professionally and personally. She was named CEO in 1999. “We operate as a team,” Frank declares. “We have nine vice presidents, an executive vice president and myself. My management style is pretty much laid back. I respect the people who work for me tremendously, and I attribute our success to them.” Frank adds she’s also proud of DSCU involvement in the community. The credit union has gone into a couple underserved areas to provide financial education and is in the process of providing additional financial services for those areas. -
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