Toni Downing brings more than 25 years of accounting experience to the credit union movement as the new vice president/chief financial officer (CFO) at $197 million asset Allegius Federal Credit Union in Burns Harbor, Ind.
The former Porter County chief deputy auditor, who started in January, explains how she’s adapting to the credit union industry, her top priorities, and challenges Allegius Federal faces.
Toni Downing: Learning acronyms—ha! The learning curve has been steep. I’ve been fortunate that Allegius has a skilled comptroller and accounting team, allowing me to concentrate on our asset/liability management framework and strategies.
This proved beneficial during our NCUA exam in late April. Talk about a trial by fire. But going through a federal exam after being on the job for three months was a great learning experience.
NCUA’s areas of review and list of requested examination items not only helped me understand the flow of data and responsibilities within our organization, they also helped me identify priorities.
A: I have so much to learn, so my goal is to keep it simple. The feedback from our examiners confirmed that Allegius is healthy and well positioned to withstand ongoing economic uncertainty. It’s a great time to shore up internal controls and review policies and procedures to better position ourselves for future growth.
A: While not opposed to investment or loan diversification, we’ve taken advantage of some great opportunities simply by being patient while closely managing cash availability. We picked up a well-positioned pool of loans earlier this year. More recently we improved our bond portfolio with a sale and a couple purchases at a nice discount.
A: Positioning our organization to grow revenues despite ongoing volatility in this interest-rate environment. It’s finding the balance between taking advantage of investment and lending opportunities while maintaining healthy cash reserves.
Having been in local government, I know that perception is often reality. It’s not enough to tell our members that Allegius is healthy and stable. We need the financials to back it up.
A: It’s an ongoing challenge finding ways to protect against cybersecurity attacks and fraud while expanding mobile and digital services to maintain relevance with a new generation.
Allegius not only serves members of local labor unions, our full-time hourly employees are also members of the United Steelworkers Local 6787. Our organization’s ability to pivot and grow is contingent on maintaining a good working relationship and open communication with union leadership.
A: Rising rates and economic uncertainty require us to closely monitor our investments and loan portfolios, with special attention paid to delinquencies and charge-off activity.
Ultimately, we have little control over the larger economic landscape. Maintaining open, direct communication with our members while being responsive and flexible is important to our long-term viability.
A: As a mother of a 19-year-old son and a 23-year-old daughter, I’m impressed with the younger generation. They’re not inclined to follow the path laid for them, and I’m excited to see what can happen with a technology-focused perspective.
My advice is to keep an open mind and be willing to try new things. The ability to learn and adapt is just as important as the titles on your resume. And don’t underestimate the value of networking and reputation. I never aspired to be a CFO, but I was willing to keep an open mind and explore all opportunities.
That advice also works for credit unions filling positions on their executive team. Karin Birchel, Allegius’ vice president of credit services, reached out to me, which shows innovative thinking. She assumed I was a supporter of labor unions and would likely appreciate the organization’s mission and member-first mentality.
She was right. Checking those ideological boxes made it much easier for me to explore this opportunity.
A: I’ve always been a voracious reader and rarely end the day without reading at least a few pages. I particularly enjoy fiction that provides a glimpse into different cultures, such as Marjan Kamali’s “The Stationery Shop,” set in 1950s Tehran, Iran.
I’m still involved in my local political party, and am an appointed member of the Porter County Park Board. I was also recently appointed to the Chesterton (Ind.) Branding Leadership Team, helping local government understand the needs of local businesses and maximize connectivity with Duneland (Ind.) residents and visitors.