Strong member connections bode success
Opportunities abound in 2023 for Ironworkers USA Federal Credit Union, says CEO Teri Robinson.
Teri Robinson became CEO at Ironworkers USA Federal Credit Union in 2010 and watched the Portland credit union grow from $7.5 million to $93 million in assets.
She recently spoke with Credit Union Magazine about serving ironworkers, the benefits and challenges of leading a small credit union, and opportunities ahead in 2023.
Credit Union Magazine: Tell me about your credit union.
Teri Robinson: Our field of membership used to be the Pacific Northwest: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Alaska, and Montana. Union Ironworkers and their families were eligible for membership.
When I came, we were in net-worth restoration, we had negative earnings, NCUA had downgraded our CAMEL rating, and unemployment was high among my members. It was bleak, but I knew how badly the ironworkers needed their credit union to be around for them.
We got an action plan together and took steps to build the credit union to a sustainable point. We received our low-income designation, then our Community Development Financial Institution certification. Secondary capital in 2011 put us over the 7% “well capitalized” capital threshold. Previously we were at 4.5% capital ratio.
We continued to grow, and we received another infusion of secondary capital in 2014. In 2018, we submitted an application for an associational common bond charter. The NCUA granted us the opportunity to serve union ironworkers throughout the country.
That charter expansion catapulted us to where we are now: 93 million in assets with over 11% capital. We grew from 5,500 members to more than 12,200, with members in all 50 states.
Once the word got out that there was a credit union built by ironworkers here to serve ironworkers, we began to get flooded with membership applications from across the country.
Ironworkers are proud to have a credit union that understands the unique needs they face and tailors their products and services directly to them.
Q: How does Ironworker USA connect with members?
A: A couple years ago I was on vacation and saw all these membership applications come in from all over the country.
It was all word of mouth. One of my employees sent me a post in a closed Facebook group that spread to 41 new members by the end of the night, which is a pretty big deal for a growing credit union.
I was so excited, I said, "We're going to put hard hat stickers all over boxes with our stuff. And we're going to send them a card that says, 'Thank you for your membership.’”
They went nuts and posted them online, saying, “This is the best financial institution ever.”
So, we created a slick box that looks like our debit card, and now it's expected. When someone joins online, we send them a box of credit union swag.
We get online applications every night. It's not like we go out and spend a lot of marketing money. Members pick us because they know we’re built for them.
Q: What are the challenges of being a small credit union?
A: Technology, even though we're pretty versatile.
Also, with our national charter we need to make sure we have all the products and services that can serve our members’ needs online and remotely. So, what's the best choice for us that isn't going to break the bank?
We still have that small-town feel. We're family. We pick up the phone instead of throwing calls into a queue with an automated voice.
When you call Ironworkers USA, you will get a live person on the phone every time. As we continue to grow, my worry is being able to maintain that feeling from across the country.
However, so far, we have gotten amazing feedback from members thousands of miles away about how amazing it is being a part of the credit union. We frequently hear, “I know I just met you, but you feel like family to me.”
Q: What career advice would you offer a young CEO?
A: It’s tough. It's going to consume your life if you let it. My focus has been the credit union.
Think outside the box and don’t just do things because “that’s how it’s always been done.” We’re not here to be like a bank, we’re here to make an impact on the lives of the members we serve, and we can only do that if we stay true to the roots of why credit unions were founded.
What would I tell myself 10 years back? If I knew this was going to work, I would say, “Have faith and keep going.”
I definitely had dark days. I'd look out the window and think, "Is this worth it?" And then I'd have a member come to my door and I'd go, "Yes, it's worth it. I need to help.”
I don't think I would've done anything differently.
Q: What are the biggest opportunities you see in 2023?
A: The glass is half full. It's almost scary, the trajectory of growth that I see in our future. There are so many opportunities.
There are a lot of employer groups that need a credit union to focus on them.
Look in your parking lot. When your members come in, do they all have their car financed with you? You have to be your members’ lender of choice.
I do fear lenders are going to pull back because they're worried about the economy and if borrowers will have jobs tomorrow. Well, they have one today. Help them and worry about that later.
That's what we're here to do: Use deposits and loan them to members. That's why they trust us, and that's why our board trusts us.
Q: At the end of 2023, what will you consider a success for Ironworkers USA?
A: Having happy members and happy, enriched employees who know we leaned in and were here for them when times got tough. Also, that the credit union continued to be financially stable so we can ensure we will be here for many years to come.
Q: What do you like to do outside of work?
A: My motto is, “work hard, play hard.” I love to go on vacation. I get away a few times a year to get some sun and enjoy my down time. And I love going to country concerts.
Q: Any favorite spot in particular?
A: Arizona. That's my place. I love the sunny days, heat, and sunsets. I like to go as much as I can.