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As senior vice president and chief lending officer at $1.7 billion asset SAFE Federal Credit Union in Sumter, S.C., Drew Huckeba strives to provide a frictionless member experience and say “yes” whenever possible.
“In nearly all cases, we can find a solution that places our members in a better financial position and meets their lending needs,” he says. “Over the last few years, SAFE has accomplished this with fewer barriers throughout the lending process and a team of loan officers who take pride in finding a solution for their members.”
The CUNA Lending Council named Huckeba as its 2022 Rising Star.
Since he assumed his leadership role at the beginning of last year, his team has focused on reducing member friction through an enhanced digital experience and increased automation. This included adding new fintech partners to improve existing technology, restructuring the lending areas for increased efficiency and digitizing application workflow to improve the member experience.
As a result, SAFE experienced a 94% increase in loan applications and 86% growth in loan approvals in 2022 compared to 2021. This ultimately led to loan portfolio growth of 28% and more than $700 million in new loan production, both records for SAFE.
As rising interest rates strain members’ finances, SAFE strives to provide the best rates while maintaining a healthy balance sheet, Huckeba says.
“For every lending challenge, we lead with the question, ‘Are we living our SAFE brand of family helping family?’ That means, even in the current environment, we need to offer rates and products that make choosing SAFE the best option for our members,” he says.
Other top priorities for SAFE include expanding its suite of business services and enhancing technology.
“It’s important that we continue to shrink the technology gap between our organizations and large banking institutions,” Huckeba says. “Doing this requires an investment in technology that allows the same mobile and online experience our members expect from financial institutions and other companies they interact with digitally.”
This is especially important for lending, he says, with the growing expectation to have a 100% digital and automated experience available. This requires an interactive and integrated loan application process, as well as automated funding and documentation.
“SAFE has set the foundation for success with the addition of new fintech partners and by creating a culture of saying ‘yes’ to members’ loan requests whenever possible,” Huckeba says. “This foundation will allow SAFE to continue to grow in the coming years and reach more members of our community by putting our new resources to work.”
His career advice for aspiring lenders? “Focus on what’s best for your member,” he says, and understand that sales will come when you focus on service and building relationships. Being fair, trustworthy and willing to share your knowledge will create members for life.
“One piece of advice that has stuck with me is to be the leader who brings positivity and excitement to the room when you walk in, not one who sucks it out of the room,” Huckeba says. “With that, I’ve always made an effort to be approachable and down to earth, and make work fun whenever possible.”