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NEWPORT NEWS, Va., – To say that Jean Yokum has grown up – at least professionally – along side Langley FCU is an understatement. After all, we’re talking about a woman whose career with the credit union dates back to the Korean War era. Now as president/CEO of the $1.03 billion credit union – the fifth largest in the state – Yokum has a unique insight to Langley’s growth and its future strategy. When Yokum joined LFCU as a teller in 1953, and even when she became CEO in 1969 and assets were $76 million, she had no idea the credit union would join the Billionaires Club earlier this year. During the past five years assets have averaged 9.36% growth a year. The largest jump so far came in 2003 with a 15.5% increase. Yokum’s career with the credit union dates back to when her husband enlisted in the Air Force, and they came to Langley. She previously kept books at a general merchandise store, and found she loved bookkeeping and numbers. Working at the credit union seemed like a natural. “I was happy learning something new every day. I don’t like things to stay the same very long. I like to see new things happen all the time,” Yokum says. After working as a teller, Yokum moved to accounting. Her first supervisory job was director of accounting. Then she was named assistant manager. The credit union was still small enough so she retained many of her accounting duties. When her boss retired in 1979, she decided to try for the job. “The last possible day, I applied,” Yokum recalls. “They made me get references. I thought, `I can’t believe this. I’ve been here about 25 years. They know all about me.’ But you know, I’m really glad they did. I knew they didn’t just hand me this job. I had earned it.” While happy about the credit union’s progress during the more than 50 years she’s been there, Yokum joins many other members of the Billionaires Club in shying away from expanding too rapidly. “We’ve always tended to make sure we could handle all the growth we brought in,” she notes. “We don’t want to deteriorate our service in any way. Sometimes businesses grow too fast and service deteriorates. We won’t allow that to happen at Langley. “This comes straight from the board. You’d have to be around to know how we take care of our members. If I get a complaint on any of the staff, everything stops and we take care of that first.” Evidently that doesn’t happen very often. Instead, Yokum says she hears constant praise for the way members are treated. She was delighted when someone told her, “I’ve been a member for 28 years and I haven’t had a problem yet.’ ” Assuming she is not out of town, Yokum personally meets every new hire. She isn’t evaluating their technical skills. She wants to assess their attitude and whether they like people. “ We don’t hire people and make them nice. We hire nice people to begin with. Not treating the member right irritates me more than anything else,” she declares. In addition to handling members with skill and courtesy, financial literacy is another priority. That effort involves not only schools but personnel at Langley Air Force Base, where payday loans are an issue. With payday lenders springing up just outside bases throughout the nation, education has become increasingly important. In fact, in addition to advising members about the dangers of payday loans, LFCU has just introduced an alternative, QuickCash. “I think it’s really going to make a difference,” Yokum says. “We want to teach young people not to get in trouble in the beginning, because once you get a payday loan, if you don’t pay it off you’ll end up paying the rest of your life. You’ll probably eventually end up in bankruptcy and your credit will be ruined.” QuickCash reflects how closely LFCU works with the base. The program was developed based on feedback from the credit union’s Langley Air Force Base Advisory Board. The board cited payday loans as a key source of financial problems for personnel. LFCU figures a $500 loan at a typical 15% from a payday lender will cost $75. That works out to annual interest of 390% and assumes the loan is repaid in two weeks. By contrast, borrow $500 through QuickCash, repay in two weeks, and it will only cost $3.48. The credit union will promote the program internally, build it into educational presentations, run ads in the base newspaper, and use mass transit bus advertising. As CEO of Langley Federal Credit Union, Yokum believes in participating as much as possible in community groups and activities. All LFCU vice presidents are expected to take on a role in at least one non-profit cause. Then there’s Langley Xpress, a van that houses two no-surcharge ATMs. Since the van was put into operation two years ago demand has grown. Organizers of events ranging from AirPower over Hampton Roads to the Newport News Greek Festival now call and ask if the van can come. There’s nobody on board to sign up potential members. It’s simply a public service. With the transient nature of military personnel, does LFCU keep members after they move to other duty stations? “Service will keep them every time,” Yokum says. “If they know you really care about them, they’ll stay with you. You don’t get that personalized treatment many places. We do lose some who move – you can’t help that. Some people do want to deal with a person. “But thanks to home banking, we’re retaining a lot more military members than we used to. Now with the war situation people are leaving and coming back. While they’re gone they can handle their financial business through their computer. It’s hard to get your direct deposit and bill pay changed,” and by staying with the credit union members avoid that hassle. At the same time, branches remain very important, Yokum continues. “Our members love branches, especially our older members. I don’t mean they’re not on the Internet. They are. But they also love to come to a branch. They’ll come two or three times a week. “We have no intention of closing any branches. I told the board years ago, when we were getting more automated, that when members weren’t coming in the branches any more we could downsize. I said it might take 10 years. It’s been well over 10 years and they’re still coming into the branches.” A widow, Yokum lives near her son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. They’re only about nine miles from her office and the same distance from her home. On weekends you’ll find her heading to their house to pick up her grandchildren, who spend every Saturday night with her and go with her Sunday morning to church and Sunday school. “We have a good time,” she declares. “They keep me busy and the credit union keeps me busy. When somebody asks `How do you feel?’ I say, `I can’t stop to find out.’” -

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