Maurice Smith, CEO of Local Government Federal Credit Union and Civic Federal Credit Union in Raleigh, N.C., and former CUNA Board chair, shared his thoughts on leadership and the state of credit unions during the 2019 African-American Credit Union Coalition Conference in Charlotte, N.C.
Among the thoughts he shared:
• Avoid complacency. Credit unions have been on a good run since the end of the Great Recession, Smith says, but plenty of competition exists.
“Somebody’s going to come after us,” he says. “Rooms full of people are working to put us out of business. More and more we’ll need new ideas to challenge the way we do business.”
• Diversity of thought is a competitive advantage. Financial service is fast becoming a global marketplace, Smith says.
“When I started in credit unions life moved much slower,” he says. “Now things change overnight. The best way to prepare for that is through a diversity of thought that understands how the marketplace is changing.”
• Embrace CUNA’s Awareness Initiative. One of the biggest frustrations of Smith’s 40-year career is credit unions’ stagnant market share, which has hovered around 7% for decades.
“If we believe in this business model, why don’t the numbers reflect that?” he says. “Members should be beating down our door. We know this is a preferred business model.”
What’s especially significant about credit unions’ relationships with members is that they are non-adversarial compared with banks’ relationships with customers.
“When you come to a credit union, you’re the owner,” Smith says. “It would be short-sighted to do anything that’s adversarial to members because they own the institution.”
• Minorities should leverage their status when they have the opportunity. Smith told the story of a young woman who was discouraged because she was often the only person of color, and often the only woman, in many business settings.
“What better way to stand out than as the only African-American woman in the room?” he says. “You already checked the first box. Now you have to perform. You have to be intelligent. You have to have good skills for the job and lean into the opportunities you’re going to get.”
• Defend your employees. Smith says he personally grieves when his credit union has to involuntary separate with an employee because he knows the cost that comes with the person’s ability to provide for his or her family.
“The CEO has to be an ardent defender of the people we work with,” Smith says. “If the employee doesn’t believe you’ll fight for their rights then I don’t know why you’re there.”