Maurice Smith is an “eternal optimist.” Yet he worries that credit unions could “lose their relevance” in the minds of members.
“Without distinctiveness, we lose a little bit of our soul in a commodity market,” Smith says. “We must continually focus on telling a compelling story about cooperative credit.”
Smith is the CEO of $3.2 billion asset Local Government Federal Credit Union and $69 million asset Civic Federal Credit Union, both in Raleigh, N.C. He’s also chair of the CUNA CEO Council.
His plans for the two credit unions and their credit union service organizations (CUSOs)—a combined entity that Smith calls “the Enterprise”—in 2022 are a “how-to” list for creating a compelling story.
A new charitable foundation, Local Foundation of North Carolina, will assist nonprofit organizations in small towns with grants up to $25,000 to address the four Hs: hunger, housing, health care, and human services.
By focusing on small communities that larger foundations often overlook, Smith hopes to draw attention to the Enterprise and draw more donors to local organizations.
The Enterprise will address the ever-changing demands of a hybrid workplace, the lingering coronavirus pandemic, and economic uncertainty. A new financial wellness CUSO will assist members in the workplace, and another new CUSO will help the Enterprise stretch the boundaries of its corporate powers to create new ways to serve members.
“This is the coolest thing we’ve ever done,” Smith says. “We’re going to create companies that are a little like credit unions but have powers that allow them to do things credit unions can’t and bolt them onto our credit unions’ family of companies to address community needs.”
That links to Smith’s biggest dream of all: doing something meaningful to alleviate poverty.
“What if credit unions could crack the code for sustainable, scalable wealth-creation for disenfranchised communities?” Smith asks. “It’s really anchored in the notion that we as credit unions should focus on people who need us the most.”
That requires “bending over backwards” to reach members with low or modest credit scores and help them buy homes and access credit. That focus helped the combined credit unions achieve return on assets of more than 2%, with 23% year-over-year loan growth.
At the same time, delinquencies decreased 10% and charge-offs declined 80%.
Smith is inspired by his faith as well as the local government employees, elected officials, and volunteers who are the core of the credit union’s membership. He uses his 42 years of credit union experience to navigate the challenges of a changing world.
“Based on historical trends the next recession will be in 2027,” Smith says. “It would be a shame if we faced the next bout of financial troubles not having applied what we learned from previous recessionary times.”