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John Siefken Prepares to End Legacy as he Wraps up Board Term at CEFCU. PEORIA, Ill. – His legacy at CEFCU spans more than 30 years including years of service as a board member, but anyone who knows John Siefken is quite aware of his no-holds barred approach to defending the mission of credit unions. Siefken, 72, who retired as president/CEO of CEFCU (Citizens Equity First Credit Union) in April 1998 after 29 years, will retire from the credit union’s board this April. His retirement is in line with a policy he endorsed and pushed for a decade ago that limits the age a board member can serve on CEFCU’s board to 70 years old. Siefken’s past two birthdays fell within his three-year term, allowing him to finish it out. A nominating committee “has the procedure of not nominating anyone who is over the age of 70,” Siefken explained. “We have done a lot of things to get our credit unions out of a bind,” Siefken said. “This policy allows for a more diversified board, which can represent a diversified membership.” Prior to the age restriction policy, CEFCU’s 13-member board were all Caterpillar Inc. employees, a company the credit union was initially established in 1937 to serve. At the time, six of the board members were over the age of 70 and five of those were so angered by the new policy, they took Siefken, who was CEO at the time, off their Christmas lists. “This (policy) gives the SEGs more representation and brings in new blood,” Siefken said. “(There) were a bunch of old foggies sitting around.” Today, that board has people from all walks of life beyond Caterpillar such as from hospitals and school districts. Siefken has probably never been one to mince words. At last year’s CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference, he spoke of the time when CEFCU was approached by “carpetbagger attorneys and bankers” whom the board unanimously ordered to “go fly a kite” after being offered millions of dollars to convert to a mutual savings bank. “I’m still comfortable saying show me a credit union director who is willing to accept a conversion offer and I will show you a slimy crook who wants to steal from the members he’s supposed to protect,” he said. Siefken worked at Caterpillar Inc. for 19 years before becoming the manager of CEFCU. During his nearly 30-year tenure, the credit union went from $29 million in assets to $2.5 billion, making it the largest locally-owned financial institution in central Illinois. It currently serves more than 225,000 members and 550 SEGs. Last year, CEFCU distributed a $4 million “extraordinary” dividend to its members adding to its total $64 million in dividends members have seen over the years. In 2000, members voted to convert from a federal to a state charter. CEFCU began with a state charter, but switched in 1984 because only a federal charter would allow it to serve out-of-state members. Today, the credit union feels a state charter-which now permits it to serve out-of-state members-would provide a more favorable business climate. Just last year, CEFCU named a vice president of member business and wealth management services to oversee those growing areas. Ironically, in 1998, the American Bankers Association testified before the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services and cited Siefken in its testimony in response to member business lending. “We expect to be number one in business lending, as we are in most everything else we do,” the ABA said citing Siefken in an unattributed interview. In answer to the question of whether CEFCU could make a $5 million business loan, Siefken replied: “Sure with the proper collateral. Seventeen million dollars is our limit today.” Today, Siefken is just as steadfast about competing with banks. “We rolled up our sleeves and started playing hardball with all competitors, especially banks,” Siefken said. “Now, there isn’t anyone that’s doing as much consumer finance in the Peoria area as CEFCU. This includes consumer loans, savings, first mortgages, checking” and so on. Siefken said CEFCU spends $3 million on marketing and 65% of Central Illinois’ households are members. The credit union just recently paid out a $4 million team bonus to staff with 14% going to each employee from the file clerk to Eldon Arnold, CEFCU’s president/CEO. “The team bonus is essential for a strong team culture,” Siefken said. “This is an acid test. It’s still controversial for other credit unions. This is our way of discouraging elitists and prima donnas.” Siefken emphasized that there are still merit increases but even pension formulas are the same for all employees. Among CEFCU’s many accomplishments, Siefken is proud of the credit union’s reach to the underserved. “These are areas the banks have long abandoned,” he said. “We won’t break even in these places but we can teach them how to write a check, balance their statements and save.” He said those with limited income, don’t have to pay fees at CEFCU. A center that opened up on the South side of Peoria, where 60% of residents don’t have a high school education, according to the credit union, is thriving. “We don’t consider poor people to be freeloaders,” he inserted. Under Siefken’s watch, CEFCU also owns and operates an online 24/7 ATM network with more than 100 machines. The credit union also owns and operates a used car lot which reduces deficiency balances on repossessions and in turn, reduces charge-offs. Arnold, CEFCU’s president/CEO first met Siefken in 1967. “John had a vision back then,” Arnold recalled. “We used to talk about ads on television, branch offices and that was long before people looked at credit unions that way.” Under Siefken’s leadership, CEFCU grew to have 20 branches and at one time, was the tenth largest credit union in the nation, Arnold said. It continues to grow 7% each year. “I consider him to be the father of CEFCU,” Arnold said. “During that time, John was very demanding but if you did your homework and were prepared, he was extremely fair.” With a little less than two months to go until his retirement from the board, Siefken, said he will miss the people the most but has no regrets about pushing for the age cap policy for board members. “The staff wants to be represented on the board,” Siefken said, referring to the requirement that CEFCU’s CEO be a member. “To sustain a one-team culture, we like to hold real tight together to realize our mission.” Post retirement, he plans to travel to Europe with his wife Lore of 52 years, to visit family and spend more time visiting with his two sons and four grandchildren here in the States. “Deep down, I don’t care to leave because it’s a great organization,” Siefken admitted. “They have a super record. We’ve done some unusual, out of the box things, but it has paid off for the members. We put the staff first because if the staff is happy then they can carry that over to the members.” [email protected]

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