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LOS ANGELES-Eileen Rivera began her time in credit unions as a teller at Xerox Federal Credit Union while she was still in college, but never realized she would make a career in the financial cooperatives. “You never dream you’re going to be in credit unions 24 years later,” the president and CEO of FAA First Federal Credit Union remarked. After completing her undergraduate studies, Rivera requested that Xerox create a position for her in their marketing department, which they did. Over the seven years she spent at Xerox, she also earned her masters’ degree. Following that, Rivera was offered a position with FAA First as vice president of marketing and human resources. During her five years in that job, she impressed the board so much that they offered her the president and CEO post after her predecessor left. Rivera admitted that she had not even applied for the position because, at 29, she was not sure about the commitment. She decided to take on the challenge, but there was only one problem. “All my background and formal education was in marketing. I had to really quickly hone up on.finance and lending,” Rivera said. However, that background has served her well by making her “more in touch with the people side of the business.” “The most important thing in this position is to have some vision,” she explained. You need a “convincing plan” for where the organization is going. And, in her 12 years at the helm of FAA First, Rivera has demonstrated just that. This is the first year the credit union has implemented the use of Cardwell Group software for strategic planning, which the CEO spends time with everyday. Under Rivera’s direction the credit union is making several strategic moves. The credit union has reduced its branches by two and relocated an ATM to maximize member usage. Prior to closing the two branches, however, FAA First joined a shared branching network that not only creates more transactions than they initially expected-more than their own branches in fact-but it is also cheaper per transaction. Much of the credit unions’ strategic initiatives, like that one, are focused on cutting costs and finding new sources of income. Because of the diverse geographic locations of FAA First’s membership and the odd hours that many work, much of the credit union’s business is done online or through other technology. They recently added an interactive membership application for members. Additionally, Rivera said they have been working on enhancing the sales culture at FAA First and the call center has already doubled its sales. As an extra incentive, the credit union has begun offering employees an extra 1% tacked onto their merit raise if they score high enough on Performance Excellence through Acquired Knowledge manual exams, which teaches and tests employees on product knowledge. “We’ve spent a lot of time and money getting the best technology and the best people for many years and I think we’re finally there,” Rivera commented. That is why FAA First felt comfortable with its field of membership expansion as one of the first credit unions to be approved for a TIP-trade, industry, or profession-charter. Rivera described the charter move as “bittersweet” because the credit union has been a single sponsor for 55 years and they like the relationships they have built with the membership, but it is also exciting to see the potential with the expansion. She said membership growth has been a bit slow, which she partly blamed on the branch closings. Additionally, the credit union has begun charging a fee on some checking accounts and requiring e-statements for most. “I’m a big advocate that the majority of the members don’t subsidize the use of a service for the minority of the membership.As long as there are ways to avoid the fee, I feel the member that is using the services is paying the fee and it’s not subsidized,” Rivera said. “We’re finally realizing we can’t be all things to all people,” she added. Still the credit union remains strong with an annualized asset growth of 13% this year. Loan growth has been fairly flat this year, but FAA First just began loan participations a couple weeks ago. This strength has to do with Rivera’s philosophy, which she tries to instill in her employees, of “What would we do if it were our own company? What would you do if it were your own money?” Even with this philosophy, Rivera understands that it is not entirely about the money. “I love working for a non-profit organization and think it makes a world of difference.I feel very passionate about working at a non-profit where every dime spent and every minute spent goes toward our 23,000 members,” she explained. She added that she also loves how credit unions have evolved over the last 24 years from technology to products and services to regulations, like the TIP, that have allowed them to evolve. As credit unions have matured, so has Rivera: from a new, 20-something credit union CEO to a wife and mother of five- and three-year-old daughters. “My golfing days ended when I had kids,” Rivera said, laughing. The family does enjoy traveling and she still sneaks away every once in a while for a `girls only’ road trip. Recent destinations have been Hawaii and Lake Tahoe, as well as Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale, and Atlanta, where the Rivera’s have family. [email protected]

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