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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – If you want to know how pleased members are with Truliant Federal Credit Union, you’ll be able to check simply by driving past the main office. You’ll see a 64-foot obelisk in front. Soon an “ambient orb,” which looks something like the traditional fortuneteller’s ball, will be placed on top. When members indicate satisfaction, the globe will glow blue. A yellow glow will mean members are less than happy. But that assessment won’t be magic. It will be based on surveys of members visiting a branch, phoning the call center or banking online. Every seventh member will be asked two questions: Are you satisfied with Truliant? Do you feel you’re a part of Truliant? The answers will go into a database picked up by satellite and transmitted to the ball at the top of the obelisk. “The second question is the tough one,” says President/CEO Marcus Schaeffer. “The staff is concerned about it. That’s my objective. I wanted them to be concerned about how a member would answer that question.” At the same time, he adds, 97% of the staff indicates they understand the vision of Truliant. Schaeffer grew up in South America, where his father worked as a mining engineer. He learned to speak Spanish and Dutch at an early age. After earning his undergraduate degree in international relations and economics at the University of California-Los Angeles, he accepted a job with the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C., where he had interned. He then worked for the Washington Center for Learning Alternatives, setting up internship programs at schools throughout the U.S., before enrolling at the Graduate School of International Management in Phoenix. His career objective was to go into banking in Latin America. But when he graduated in 1982 the U.S. banking industry was not doing well in Latin America. So he headed back to Washington to decide on his next step. He answered an ad for special assistant to the president of U.S. Postal Service Federal Credit Union. He became controller and was there four years before moving on to the CEO job at FDIC Credit Union. “That was just a wonderful, wonderful experience with a great board of extremely qualified directors. I stayed there for nine years until I accepted the position down here in January, 1995, as president/CEO.” Although Truliant has joined the Billionaires Club, it’s an achievement Schaeffer puts in perspective. “I recognize size is a meaningful measure for people. But I think it’s important people understand asset size has very little to do with service to members,” he emphasizes. “To a member who gets a 5% car loan instead of a 28% car loan, it isn’t any different if you’re $1 billion or $25 million. One thing I always try to pull my staff and myself back on is, don’t forget size is nothing more than a manifestation of the fact you’ve done a good job of understanding and meeting member needs. A billion dollars is a bank measurement. It’s not a credit union measurement.” Speaking of banks, Schaeffer recalls a West Virginia bank recently expanding into the area served by Truliant. A bank official commented he was very upset Truliant had opened a new headquarters and “snagged” $1 billion. “To me it was about as arrogant as it gets,” Schaeffer declares. “We have helped tens of thousands of families realize their dreams by financing homes, cars and their children’s education. Yet a banker who had been here less than two years could turn around and question an institution that has been here over 53 years. “Bankers don’t have a problem criticizing us anytime, anywhere, to anyone for any reason. You have to challenge that. It is wrong. It’s information that is false and misrepresented. We are the community, and the community has to speak up about the right of credit unions to exist, and to operate in a way that serves the members’ needs. We can’t allow the banking industry to define what credit unions are.” Schaeffer cites figures reflecting what Truliant is doing. Thirty-eight percent of member households earn less than $40,000 a year, and that’s with both spouses working. The credit union makes car loans to 14% of households for a total of about $43 million. The average car loan balance is $10,700 and the average rate 5.92%. “The story there is we’re large enough to make car loans at a very reasonable rate to families so they have a car to get to work and take their kids to school. We make another $45 million in first mortgage loans to those same households,” Schaeffer says. Basically, the credit union has grown by moving beyond its original Western Electric field of membership to include a wide range of companies and a number of communities. “You kind of get the hang of it after a while,” Schaeffer notes. “We’ve added those companies over a number of years, and I think we’ve gotten pretty good at working with a variety of companies. Of course, all the companies aren’t large. You tend to be able to group them by type or by industry. We have a cadre of people who are out there servicing those companies. It’s very important to us that we’re in the companies, going to orientation, having events like an ice cream day, maintaining relationships with the sponsor and the employees.” As for serving entire communities, “That’s a little more difficult,” Schaeffer continues. “All of them are underserved to some degree. We have one large group of 25 counties that we brought in through a merger with another credit union.” Schaeffer and his wife have two grown children – and a six-month old boxer puppy. “So we’re still raising him,” he notes. Fortunately Schaeffer as well as the dog both enjoy long walks. He also delights in working on his 1975 Triumph TR6. “I had one right after high school, and wanted another one. About 10 years ago I bought this one. You know how it is with TR6 owners – he spent two hours showing me every little trick and I loved every second of it,” Schaeffer recalls. If he isn’t tackling a project such as refinishing the dashboard on the TR you might find him in his home studio playing guitar. Or you could check the home swimming pool, or a nearby golf course. “I’d be a pretty good retired person, because I think of a lot of things to do,” Schaeffer says. “But I love what I do at work.” -

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