ALISSA SYKES has successfully—and quickly—wound her way into what she describes as a position that perfectly blends her personal desires and professional skills.
Here’s her quick path to success: After gaining some experience at a local bank—going from teller at age 17, to branch manager before age 20, and then to the mortgage side at age 22—Sykes moved to credit unions, and the mortgage department at $470 million asset Sunmark Federal Credit Union in Latham, N.Y.
“I love to help people,” Sykes says. “And now I’m able to focus on my passion—housing—as well. We never tell members ‘no,’ on a mortgage. We might tell them ‘not now.’ ”
That’s because for prospective borrowers who don’t qualify for a mortgage immediately, Sykes and her team examine the reasons: maybe they lack the necessary income or down payment or have poor credit scores that are holding them back. Then the team works with the applicants to correct the issues so the next time they apply, the credit union can approve the mortgage.
Sykes explains: “It’s not about the mortgage. It’s about the relationship. They [applicants] know we care.”
That approach to financial services is what kept the credit union’s business growing while other lenders were shrinking or failing during the real estate downturn late in the past decade. From 2005 to 2010, the lending department generated a 560% increase in loan volume. And the team generated more than $200 million in mortgage volume in back-to-back years—2011 and 2012.
Sykes has increased the credit union’s product and service offerings and brought everything in-house—from underwriting to legal services.
In 2014, she took over the credit union’s consumer and business lending and collections divisions as well. And a year later, she launched a service to provide underwriting of home equity loans to other credit unions unable to provide this in-house. Sykes is currently vice president of lending.
“Alissa has met every challenge with a solution, and business has blossomed because of it,” says Lisa Totaro, the credit union’s marketing manager.
Among the challenges Sykes sees in her future is operating a credit union as CEO, a position she eventually hopes to attain and one that she says will allow her even more opportunity to make a difference.