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While the financial services industry has changed immeasurably since Mary Ann Pusateri joined it 33 years ago, one constant remains: her focus on member service.
“I still answer the phone and will take any member’s call,” says Pusateri, CEO at $362 million asset Partnership Financial Credit Union in Morton Grove, Ill. “We attend to members right off the bat.”
This consideration extends to her credit union colleagues, too. Pusateri and area credit union CEOs formed a lunch group years ago where they’d meet every other month to talk shop, network, and socialize.
“As time went on, everyone got older and everything got harder, from complying with regulations to hiring people to being able to pay for things,” she explains.
Three of her peers wanted to retire but feared leaving would lead to their small credit unions being merged out of existence—and some staff losing their jobs. Pusateri suggested another option: partnering rather than merging.
The four CEOs considered the best each of their credit unions had to offer—loan products, interest rates, health benefits—and combined these elements into one credit union.
“The idea was that every employee would keep their job, benefits, and seniority,” Pusateri says. “The CEOs stuck around until they were satisfied the concept would work.”
It was a true partnership—thus the name of the new Partnership Financial, founded in 2014 when the former Niles Township Schools, New Trier Federal, VAMCO, and Barrington Area Educators credit unions combined in members’ best interests.
Since that time, other credit unions have joined the partnership, says Pusateri, who ran the former Niles Township Schools Credit Union.
“We saved a lot on the economies of scale by having one health insurance plan instead of four and paying for one bond and one audit,” she says. “It allowed us to create a better website and buy a better mobile banking app and home banking system. Most of the savings went back to members.”
Pusateri also started a women’s leadership group “disguised as golf.” Many in the group had never golfed, so the meetings included lessons and information on golf etiquette, followed by a team scramble format. After golf, they would hold an educational meeting.
The group also has an annual charity fundraising event. Last year, it raised more than $14,000 to fight acoustic neuroma, which affects one of the group’s members.
“The idea was to empower women to network,” she says. “Many women are intimidated by networking, but it’s a chance to learn something new. You have so many more opportunities by doing that.”
That’s why she advises new credit union leaders to meet their peers and “get involved in everything and anything you can.
“I’ve learned from folks who’ve been on the job for one year and from those who’ve been around for 50 years,” Pusateri says. “I’ve learned from folks who run $1 billion credit unions and those who run $10 million shops. Through networking you’ll be tested and you’ll grow as a person.”