Embracing change leads to growth
While creating its own severe challenges, the pandemic forced innovation.
Harold Roundtree predicts UNCLE Credit Union’s ability to navigate a changing, hybrid in-person/online environment will allow the organization to thrive in 2023.
The pandemic led to the realization that employees can use video conferencing and other digital channels to work effectively whether their homes are down the street or halfway across the country, says Roundtree, CEO at the Livermore, Calif., credit union.
When COVID concerns limited face-to-face interactions, UNCLE enabled members to quickly switch to remote options.
Embracing these changes fueled the credit union’s growth from $407 million in assets in 2019 to $720 million at the end of 2022.
“Before the pandemic, we had no video conferencing capability,” Roundtree says. “The idea of having people work in another state was beyond me. And now, it’s par for the course.”
Competition for talent across departments is another pandemic development. Despite being named a top employer locally, UNCLE saw turnover rise in 2022, even among employees with double-digit years of experience.
The credit union responded by budgeting for 5% merit increases in 2023 and planning to reward high-performing employees with new titles that better reflect their contributions.
Losing some key staff to larger institutions that paid more “has made us more focused on compensation and titles,” he says. “Our top priority is keeping our human capital in place.”
UNCLE will also introduce Zoey, an artificial intelligence chatbot, in mid-2023 to respond to members’ questions 24 hours a day. While staffing levels will remain constant, Roundtree anticipates redeploying some employees in response to shifting from face-to-face branch interactions to the contact center, as well as from mortgage originations to home equity lines of credit (HELOC) and auto lending.
In 2022, indirect auto lending increased 20% and HELOCs rose 50%, with outstanding balances growing from $60 million to $90 million during the year. This lending growth created a liquidity challenge that UNCLE will counter by focusing on deposit acquisition.
UNCLE also had 10% membership growth, in part due to its third merger in four years.
Despite ongoing growth, Roundtree believes staying lean is the best way to prepare for a potential recession. “We’re continuing to analyze the questions of where the economy is going, where are interest rates going, and if there is a recession, how deep is it?”
The California native describes his career as a “quick journey over several decades,” starting with 12 years in banking, more than two years at a savings and loan, and then 17 years at another credit union before joining UNCLE as CEO in 2011.
UNCLE’s founding members were physicists at the research facility that became Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The facility made headlines in December 2022 for achieving fusion ignition, which is expected to make it possible to develop practical applications for clean energy.
“It’s very exciting for the bulk of our membership,” Roundtree says.
He sees the potential for face-to-face gatherings in the coming months as another energizing development and an important way to fulfill UNCLE’s vision of celebrating wins.
The credit union canceled its 2022 employee celebration but held a face-to-face event in January 2023.
“As much as I like the virtual world, there’s something important about a face-to-face meeting as long as we’re safe and vaccinated,” Roundtree says. “I’d like to get out and enjoy more in-person events in the future.”