Don't Be Satisfied With the Status Quo

Q&A with a 2012 Community CU of the Year Award-winner.

February 7, 2013

In October, CUNA presented the 2012 Community Credit Union of the Year Award to four credit unions for their exemplary displays of movement principles and positive influence in the field of service.

Among the four was First Community Credit Union, Jamestown, N.D., which received a first place in the more than $250 million in assets category.

First Community’s President/CEO Steve Schmitz—participated in a Q&A with Credit Union Magazine about what it takes to be a great community credit union.

CU Mag: To be successful a community CU must…

Schmitz: You need the entire staff to have an attitude of “growth” and not be satisfied with the status quo.

Be heavily involved in your local communities from schools and service organizations to local charities. There’s no better advertising than for staff to get involved.

This will pay off as your staff represents the credit union and establishes relationships throughout the community. Business will grow as a result.

CU Mag: What about your CU makes you most proud?

Schmitz: During the economic downturn, at a time when other financial institutions were struggling and pulling back, we experienced record growth in loans and deposits, while maintaining historically low delinquency and charge-offs.

We were lucky because North Dakota didn’t experience some of the issues other parts of the country had to deal with.

We felt we were very stable financially so rather than sit back, we looked at it as an opportunity; our employees went out and asked for new business, and we were very successful.

CU Mag: What’s the biggest challenge the CU has had to overcome in the last few years?

Schmitz: The immense regulatory changes coming out of Washington have been a major burden for our credit union. We have had to add two positions and hire compliance consultants. The challenges in the regulatory environment have taken a lot of our staff’s time and credit union resources.

Survival of small financial institutions, both banks and credit unions, is going to be very difficult in this environment.

CU Mag: What’s been the most effective way for you to reach out and understand your community audience?

Schmitz: First Community uses the typical forms of advertising including print, radio, and billboard, but one aspect that may be unique would be our focus groups.

As a way to better understand our member’s wants and needs, we hold regional focus group meetings where we invite members from a variety of demographics and backgrounds to an evening meeting.

We treat them to a nice dinner and then, using a facilitator, we divide them in groups and ask them a set of pre-determined questions.

This has been great way to gather feedback from members on what they like and don’t like at our credit union, new technology and products they want us to offer, and what areas we should focus on. We cover everything from loan policies to branch locations and everything in between.

The response from members attending these focus meetings has been very positive. We’ve implemented several of their suggestions, including a new facility in a particular market and increased ATM locations.

CU Mag: What’s the best advice you can give other community CUs?

Schmitz: Understand that the only way to differentiate your credit union from other financial institutions is through your customer service.

The reality is that we all offer very similar products and services; it’s how we treat our members that draws them to the credit union and makes them want to stay and tell their friends and family about us.

They’re not just a customer or a number at First Community; members are “part owners” and we treat them as such.

The winners of the Community Credit Union Award best advance the ideals of the credit union movement, provide products that meet the needs of diverse communities, and are active in their communities.

The other winners included 1st MidAmerica Credit Union, Bethalto, Ill. (honorable mention), Gulf Coast Community Federal Credit Union, Gulfport, Miss., and Dakotaland Federal Credit Union, Huron, S.D. (honorable mention).

The 2013 Community Credit Union & Growth Conference will be held Oct. 8-11 in Uncasville, Conn.