‘Respect all, fear none’

Tim Dunham named CUNA Lending Council Rising Star.

December 16, 2020

As a social studies teacher, Tim Dunham gained an understanding of how students and others comprehend concepts, learn, and act. It’s knowledge he’s been able to translate into his career at Credit Union of America in Wichita, Kan.

The CUNA Lending Council named Dunham, vice president of consumer lending at the $1.1 billion asset credit union, its 2020 Rising Star.

Dunham shares how the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected lending at Credit Union of America, how lending will change in the future, advice from a youth wrestling coach, and more.

CUNA News: How has the pandemic affected lending at Credit Union of America?

Dunham: We’ve kept the focus on serving our members and staying active as a lender. We don’t want to restrict what we’re doing. We want to be smart, but at the same time we think our good members will continue to be good members.

We’re trying to be a reliable lender to good people. We’ve tried to be flexible with special skip-a-payment programs to help our members during the pandemic.

We’ve been surprised this year because we hit our annual loan goal at the beginning of November. If you had asked us in March or April what our loan goal was going to be, I think we would’ve all said, “No way. That’s a long-gone thing.”

We’ve stayed with it and it’s worked out. Our delinquency and losses are down and we’ve actually had to take some out of reserve. That might change in 2021, but as of right now it’s a good problem to have.

Q: How will lending change in the future?

A: A large part of what I do now is focus on efficiencies and automation, and we’re going more toward that. Our big challenge is the availability of data and making it cost effective. We have lots of internal data and we have data available to us on the underwriting side that we haven’t considered before.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are a big deal. We can get a lot of understandings that we wouldn’t think of on the surface and find relationships that we wouldn’t have considered.

We need to be aware of our blind spots with data, and those will be brought to light as we get our data warehouses up and running. The data availability will grow, but the trick is to get it all in a cost-effective manner.

We must wrangle these complex systems to deliver simpler solutions for members. It needs to be easy to access and simple to interact with. The heavy lifting should be done behind the scenes so our members’ experiences are rewarding, and they don’t experience the gears turning behind the curtain.

‘We must wrangle complex systems to deliver simpler solutions for members.’

Q: What trends do lenders need to be aware of?

A: We need to understand our local markets, focus on our members, and try to understand them. And then we listen to them. We want to be available for the conversations.

Our CEO takes member calls. When members say, “I want the CEO,” they can talk to him. That’s part of our ethos. We need to be accessible to our membership.

Q: What’s the best advice you’ve gotten?

A: When I was six years old I started wrestling. Our motto was, “respect all, fear none.” That stuck. It’s about treating everybody with respect but not being afraid of the moment, task, or your opponent.

In the credit union world, it’s the ability to say “yes.” Just try to make something work.

In lending, there’s a direct correlation between trying to say “yes” and making it work for us. Sometimes we have to make counteroffers, and those function as a polite decline. They maintain the member’s self-esteem because they didn’t get turned down. They were given a path forward.

Finding a way to say “yes” is a big thing for any lender, but also within the organization, whether it’s a project we’re working on, cross-training, or something else. We’re just trying to find a way to make things work.

Q: What advice do you have for young professionals?

A: Understand the bigger picture and don’t rely on anecdotes. You’ll always have something bad happen in lending and you can’t be gun shy. Understand your pools of data and your performance areas within those pools, and use that.

Wrap your head around the big picture and the channels within that picture, and use that to guide your lending philosophy and decisions.

Also, find a mentor. I’ve gained so much from some talented people and I appreciate that. They gave me a lot of knowledge and the confidence to go forward and execute whatever their vision was.

 I gained their trust, which gave me the latitude to work on their behalf and on behalf of the organization and our membership.