Small CUs

CUinDenver: Small CU success is vital, but ‘takes a village’

July 15, 2015

Above: Preserving the sustainability of small credit unions is vital to the movement and will take the combined efforts of regulators, leagues, large credit unions, and small credit unions themselves, suggested panelists participating in a breakout session during the America’s Credit Union Conference and the World Credit Union Conference in Denver. (CUNA Photo)

DENVER (7/15/15)--It takes a village. That age-old proverb for raising a child was also suggested Tuesday by panelist Lily Newfarmer as one way to preserve the sustainability of small credit unions in the United States and throughout world.

Newfarmer, president/CEO of Tarrant Countys CU, Fort Worth, Texas, was a panelist during a breakout session titled “Small Credit Union Sustainability and Growth,” during America’s Credit Union Conference (ACUC) and World Credit Union Conference in Denver.

Large credit unions, regulators, associations and small credit unions themselves will likely all have a hand in keeping small credit unions viable into the future Newfarmer and other panelists suggested.

Newfarmer said the primary responsibility lies with the small credit unions themselves. “But we can’t do it alone,” she added.

“This is a shared responsibility, not just for regulators, but for large institutions to protect the small institutions, and preserve the diversity of institutions within our financial systems,” agreed Alexandra Marquez-Massino Rojas, general manager of Coope Ande, in Costa Rica.

And, just as a child must trust other village members, small credit unions must have trustful relationships with large credit unions, Newfarmer said.

“Just because a larger credit union is reaching out doesn’t mean it’s coming with one intention, and that’s to merge,” she said.

“It’s all about relationships,” Newfarmer later added, “whether it’s with your staff, your members or other credit unions. I think you have to prove you’re there for everyone’s best interests.”

State credit union leagues have already been instrumental in offering a helping hand to small credit unions. Newfarmer noted the Cornerstone Credit Union League, which serves credit unions in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, offers training workshops for small credit unions. This year, the league is offering sessions on data protection, an annual audit survival guide, social media and other hot issues.

Another panelist, Jon Hernandez, CEO of CalCom CU, Torrance, Calif., Mattel FCU, El Segundo, Calif., and Nikkei CU, Gardena, Calif., highlighted that the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues offers the Shapiro Group, a cooperative effort to pool resources specifically for small credit unions.

“There’s a lot of help already being provided,” Hernandez said. “We’re finding a lot of small credit unions are either not aware of it or they’re not taking the time to get the assistance.”

But at the end of the day, even with assistance, small credit unions will be forced to make some tough decisions to survive.

“A lot of small credit unions aren’t going to be able to have five tellers in the age of mobile banking and self-service,” said Shelley McDade, CEO of Sunshine Coast CU, Gibsons, British Columbia.

Sometimes providing more self-service options means eliminating other services, panelists noted. "Sometimes it makes sense to discontinue a product if 95% of your membership is paying for the 5% that use the product,” Hernandez said.

The ACUC-World Conference continues through today. To read conference highlights, click here.