David Tuyo and Deborah Fears
David Tuyo and Deborah Fears

‘Investing in employees is No. 1’

Two CEOs on how the pandemic will shape 2021 strategy.

January 12, 2021

Heading into 2020, David Tuyo, president/CEO of $822 million asset University Credit Union in Los Angeles, was making plans to acquire a second operations center as part of a headquarters renovation.

When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit in March, he put those plans on hiatus and moved into crisis mode overnight.

But as the credit union shifted to remote work and the pandemic became the new normal, Tuyo decided to forgo the second operations center altogether. He changed the design of the headquarters renovation based on staff’s feedback.

At University’s headquarters, employees have chosen to work from a “hoteling” arrangement, which eliminates assigned seating and allows staff to work in temporary spaces. More employees will work from home and some will work on a rotating basis to save space.

“Real estate is expensive in the Los Angeles area,” Tuyo says. “We believe we would have to increase our current employee base by five times before we need to add another building. So, it's been a tremendous blessing for our team. If you think about the management of our operating expenses, it's going to be unparalleled value for our member/owners as we continue to move forward.”

Curbside service

Halfway across the country, Deborah Fears made adjustments of her own. Fears was named CEO of $23 million asset Chicago Post Office Employees Credit Union one week before the pandemic hit.

She and her team set up “curbside” service from their storefront location in a southside Chicago neighborhood. Members call the credit union in advance and staff  “deliver” service on the street.

‘Employees are much more engaged when they are equipped to do their jobs.’
Deborah Fears

At the same time, Chicago Post Office Employees ramped up its digital services.

“We didn’t have bill pay or remote deposit, and we were just starting to work with online signatures for loans,” Fears says. “Our mobile app needed some work. We came a long way in a short time. We did a quick dive and got all these things working at once.”

The changes continue as the credit union gears up for 2021, including a walk-up window to an ATM room that’s exterior to the building.

Two priorities

Fears and Tuyo say they’re focusing on two priorities in 2021: the member experience and internal culture.

Where Fears had to adjust her service menu as consumer preferences changed with the pandemic, University had most of its digital technology in place to serve a more tech-savvy membership. Still, Tuyo says member expectations are always shifting.

“Look at appointment banking,” Tuyo says. “I think that’s something we’re always going to have in our toolkit. Members value that as a service. We’ve become much more experienced with video banking, and we’ve launched some artificial intelligence/machine learning initiatives with our chat bot, Royce.”

But the member experience reflects the credit union’s culture, requiring continuous education, Tuyo says. “Investing in our employees is always No. 1.”

To that end, more than half of University’s staff has completed the CUNA Financial Counseling Certification  Program (FICEP). Many are also enrolled in an intensive financial planning program at UCLA.

‘Our advice will be the core reason our members will come to us.’
David Tuyo

“Our advice will be the core reason our members will come to us,” Tuyo says. “As products and services continue to become commoditized over time, we can add value for our membership. Advice and expertise will play a big role in how we guide our members today and in the future.”

Fears says about half of her staff has also completed FiCEP. “Employees are much more engaged when they are equipped to do their jobs,” she says. “It allows them to provide better service to our members. Education is the key to that.”

Both Tuyo and Fears say empathy will be essential in 2021, particularly with inexperienced staff. “We have to support them and share our resiliency with them,” Tuyo says.

Fears worries for her members as well. “They’re essential workers,” she says. “They’re out there every day. I wonder how the pandemic will affect them in the long term. Once it’s over we want to be there to assist in any way we can.”

Fears also worries that small credit unions will struggle in 2021. “Our yields are not anywhere near what they were. We’re looking for ways to generate revenue. It’s going to be tougher for some of the smaller credit unions.”

Tuyo says he wants “to stay humble and stay hungry” in 2021, and complete work on headquarters renovations. He says “growth” has taken on a more nuanced meaning in the digital age.

“Whereas in the past you might have heard credit unions talking about growth through physical locations, in the future we’ll be talking more about growth in the sense of digital marketing, business intelligence, and predictive capabilities.”

► Read more about strategy in 2021, sponsored by Origence.