When Fidel Gonzalez arrived at First Imperial Credit Union in 2009, the first-time CEO knew he had a daunting task ahead of him.
With $56 million in assets, the El Centro, Calif., credit union had a net charge-off ratio of 3.25%, net worth of 8.73%, net income at negative $1.1 million, and a CAMELS rating of 4.
The problems started at the top and ran deep—the main culprit being faulty loan policies.
“I told the board, if I don’t see a difference in six months we’re going to have to start looking for a merger partner,” Gonzalez says.
The board trusted him as he overhauled loan policies and implemented guidance that served members’ unique needs.
“I said, ‘We’re going to lend, and we’re going to help people. We’re going to do it without putting the credit union at risk,’” Gonzalez says. “Little by little, we got there.”
First Imperial has arrived. At year-end 2022, the credit union reported assets of $184 million, net worth of 12.48%, and income exceeding $2.3 million. For several years, it’s consistently reported CAMELS ratings of 2 or 3.
The turnaround is about much more than numbers. Gonzalez has expanded the credit union’s field of membership to include 14 communities in the eastern half of adjacent Riverside County.
He’s worked to achieve low-income designation and minority depository institution certification through NCUA, and community development financial institution certification by the Department of the Treasury to better serve populations in need.
Gonzalez also has made the credit union more strategic, starting with management and board education. He instituted an annual retreat and implemented a five-year financial strategic plan.
He has surrounded himself with managers and staff who are accountable for a culture centered around members, employees, and community.
Gonzalez, a 30-year credit union veteran who grew up in Los Angeles, says moving to a small community near the Mexican border was an adjustment.
“People grew up here and built their families, so there is a strong bond among the community.”
He turned that to his advantage. “Word got around: These guys are helping the community.”
Gonzalez builds relationships on trust, which is essential in a small community.
“Sometimes members may not look good on paper, but if you trust people they will reward you,” he says. “They know we’re here to help them when other financial institutions turned them away.”