When ‘member-centric’ is the ‘holy grail’

Exceeding member expectations is key to differentiation in a crowded market, says Karen Mathias.

September 25, 2020

Karen Mathias sees every day as another opportunity to exceed expectations.

Mathias joined Southwest Research Center Federal Credit Union (SwRCFCU) as a part-time vocational office education student in 1984.

Alice G. Viera, who is now president of SwRCFCU, interviewed Mathias for the job and knows a good candidate when she sees one. When Viera asked the teenager to describe herself in one word, Mathias didn’t hesitate: “resourceful.”

Karen Mathias

Click to enlarge. Southwest Research Center Federal Credit Union provides essential services for members during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Today, Mathias is the chief operating officer (COO) of the $80 million asset credit union in San Antonio, and has held leadership positions in marketing, administrative services, and operations.

Established in 1956, SwRCFCU has weathered many storms, including the savings and loan crisis, Y2K, 9/11, bird flu, the Great Recession, and credit union corporate stabilization in 2009.

Each of these events was challenging but not nearly as frightening as the risks related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Mathias relishes tackling complex challenges, and maintaining operations during the COVID-19 pandemic certainly requires her creativity and resourcefulness. Lobbies reopened in May 2020 with numerous safety protocols that align with local, state, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards.

“We’re essential to our members’ lives,” she says. “Ensuring access, either in person or electronically, is critical.”

San Antonio’s “hypercompetitive” marketplace includes headquarters for some of the country’s largest credit unions as well as national banks. Mathias notes a small credit union must differentiate itself from others.

“Being member-centric is the holy grail, the gold standard, and the heart of all we do,” Mathias says. “We have to exceed our members’ expectations through solid service while encouraging, fostering, and growing the financial relationship. With so much competition, we want to be our members’ primary choice and we accomplish this by delivering personalized results as their trusted financial partner.”

Offering turnkey solutions for members, many of whom work in highly technical positions, is part of SwRCFCU’s foundation.

“Our members expect high-level delivery either through technology or in-person visits, and each encounter affords our team members the opportunity to exceed their expectations,” Mathias says.

Mathias relies on creativity—from herself and her team—to meet those needs.

“As a leader, regardless of the organizational size, you have the responsibility to imagine, be solution-oriented, and persevere,” Mathias says. “Whatever the operation encounters, always think outside the box, get creative, and, most certainly, be resourceful.”

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