Matt McCombs believes in getting ideas out in the open. Once they are, the president/CEO at Vibrant Credit Union in Moline, Ill., isn’t afraid of putting them into action.
Credit Union Magazine recently caught up with McCombs to discuss some of the ideas he’s implemented since taking over as CEO at the $1 billion asset credit union 12 years ago. He also shares his credit union background, why credit unions must focus on longevity, the importance of a familial workplace culture, and more.
Matt McCombs: My dad ran a small credit union, so I’ve been in the office since I was 10. I was a teller and a loan officer, and I ran a few offices as they expanded. I ended up working for Raddon Financial Group in 2007, starting in an analyst role and moving into strategic adviser consulting.
I loved what I was doing, but I was on the road about 190 days each year, and we had our first child. In 2011, I came to work at what was known as Deere Harvester Credit Union. The CEO was a tremendous leader who gave me a great opportunity.
I quickly went from running the sales and service team to running everything in our business other than compliance and finance. I got exposure to the business, and in 2013 I transitioned into the president role.
A: I spent my first two years trying to drive excitement, energy, and growth. We did back-to-back years of 30-40% loan growth, but there was confusion based on our name. Everyone thought they had to be part of John Deere to be a member, so we decided to go through a three-year process to enhance everything.
In 2015, we rebranded as Vibrant. In 2016, we replaced every piece of technology we had.
We saw mergers taking place and said, “In the next 12 months, let's see if we can do a merger.” We got a little overzealous and ended up doing six mergers in 18 months.
It expanded our footprint, probably a little too fast. By 2019 we had a refocus moment: What are we good at? We started to simplify the business.
Financial institutions are dramatically different now than five years ago. Our business model has been the great aggregator of consumers’ business. It was a great business model through the early 2000s, but today’s consumers don’t need an aggregator. How can we play in today’s space?
A: I don't have a problem experimenting. Leaders tend to get punished for experimentation—or you’re not rewarded unless it works. But the thing about ideation is that a lot of ideas aren’t going to work.
I tend to think through things out loud, so it’s important for me to have talented people around to help shape those ideas. Before launching the Vibrant Coffeeshop and Kitchen, for example, we spent 18 months working through ideas. Then we spent the first year refining it, and we’ll spend the next two or three tweaking it.
We don't look for perfection right away. If we can put action in motion, we're OK with things needing to be adjusted.
When you do things differently, you open yourself up to criticism. I worry that the industry is going to watch performance wane and use the “it's not just us” excuse instead of going, “What are we going to do about it?” My role is to make sure Vibrant is successful into the future.
A: One of the unique aspects of growing up inside a credit union is that the credit union was part of my life, and our home life was part of the credit union. I brought that style here.
I think work-life balance is a fallacy—we’re not one person at home and another at work. We intermingle work and life all the time, and that's healthy.
Our new corporate headquarters has a basketball court, and if you show up here on a Saturday or Sunday, you're going to see employees and their families in the gym. We want people to be friends with their coworkers and to incorporate their kids into what we do. We treat this as part of our lives.
A: Our journey in the last 12 years has been a reflection of the journey I've had to go through with leadership. A lot of people jump into leadership and they're scared to make a decision.
Ten years ago, we were like an awkward teenager. We wanted to run fast and do a lot of things, but we tripped on our feet. That's part of the journey.
The more you do, the more people get excited about what you're doing. It’s about taking action and not just sitting back and playing it safe. We've been able to bring a group of people together who are willing to take risks and do things differently.