SEAN M. CAHILL has been in the credit union industry for 25 years, a career that has taken him to California, Arizona, New York, Louisiana, and now to the heart of oil country in West Texas.
He’s been CEO at $90 million asset Southwest 66 Credit Union in Odessa for four years, recruited by a board that sought a rare combination of stability, creativity, and innovation.
Cahill spent his first year learning about the dynamics of a one-industry town—oil—with a blue-collar base in what has been the fastest-growing U.S. city during the past two years.
When oil prices go up, the town prospers. But when it plummets, the economy slows down and Southwest 66 has to respond.
Southwest 66 is one of only nine credit unions in the region with a low-income designation due to its participation in the Juntos Avanzamos (“Together We Advance”) program. This certification confirms the credit union has dedicated itself to serving the growing Hispanic population.
“In our market, 65% of our members are Hispanic,” Cahill says. “Seventy percent of our staff is bilingual, and we’ve created a Hispanic advisory council. We have apps, Web services, and printed materials in Spanish.”
Southwest 66 has created a borrow-and-save program aimed at unbanked people. This provides an alternative to the area’s more than 90 local payday lenders.
Cahill says the program “establishes a savings behavior where instead of going to a high-interest creditor, members can tap into their own savings.”
He also works with Odessa’s Development Corp., a city entity that looks for ways to build up its business community. Cahill’s role was critical in Southwest 66 obtaining a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) designation. A CDFI is a specialized financial institution that works in market niches that are underserved by traditional financial institutions.
Currently, Cahill is working with some of the region’s largest credit unions to create a business services credit union service organization. “Banks here will lend $1 million to a business but not $100,000 or $50,000. That’s where we can come in. Also, we can help smaller credit unions that have already capped out their small-business loans.”
Besides his passion for credit unions, Cahill loves to golf—although his work responsibilities keep him off the links for all but three or four times a year.
“I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work in both small and large credit unions,” he says. “It will never be a way to get rich, but people helping people is the true reward. As the saying goes, ‘if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.’”