Bill Lawton’s path to credit unions was almost a birthright. His grandfather served as a credit union board member in the 1950s; his mother worked for the Michigan Credit Union League; and his father, George Lawton, served as manager of Community Financial Credit Union when Bill was growing up.
“It was only as I got a little older that I appreciated the background of those stories,” recalls Lawton. He serves as president/CEO of the same credit union his father ran in Plymouth, Mich.
Bill started at the credit union in 1974 at the age of 14, filing ledger cards. Eventually, he took on a more substantial role, leading the credit union’s transition into the computer age in the early 1980s and building the organization’s information technology infrastructure. Through the years, his role expanded. He took over as CEO in 2004. Today, the credit union holds $1.1 billion in assets and serves 79,500 members.
“I didn't have a lot of interest in doing credit union work in other communities because I had grown up and lived in the Plymouth community for my entire life,” he says. “So being able to have a job where I was able to have a positive impact on the community that I loved so much—it just felt right to stay and do what I could to make the credit union successful.”
Perhaps Community Financial's most enduring local impact is the more than 50 student-run credit unions it sponsors within the communities it serves.
“We’ve been doing student-run credit unions for more than 30 years,” Lawton says. “These young people develop good memories of working at the credit union at school and you build a relationship with them that lasts a lifetime.”
Lawton also serves the credit union community at large. He has joined National Credit Union Foundation Executive Director Gigi Hyland in testifying before the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Literacy and Education Commission on the value of youth financial wellness. He’s also worked with the Foundation to collect financial wellness survey data from credit unions.
Lawton takes care of his credit union family closer to home as well. During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Community Financial employees working face-to-face with member receive “gratitude pay,” an extra $50 every day worked to remind them of how much the credit union values them. “It’s just a little recognition that working with a mask all day is uncomfortable, but it’s important,” Lawton says.
Community Financial also gives back locally. Each year, the credit union dedicates a percentage of its earnings to its community. Last year, the credit union earmarked $1,351,425.
One of Lawton’s employees, marketing coordinator Kristen Todd, offers her own take on Lawton’s role at the credit union: “He’s not only just the backbone of Community Financial Credit Union—he’s the heart of it, too.”