A Credit Union Team’s Office Reunion

Michael F. Abernathy, Jr. became CEO of Buckeye State Credit union in 2018 following several years of losses and decline.  The credit turned a profit in 2017 and has not had a losing month since. Before COVID hit, capital peaked above 11%.  Even after the pandemic shutdown, capital remained at 10% and is building every month.

His report below is an example of a CEO’s leadership efforts after months of shut down and remote administration.  His account follows.

The First In-Person All-Staff Meeting Since Shutdown

“We felt it was important for everyone to get back together in person, but with the blessing of the staff. The previous year, we held a hybrid model meeting where branches and back office met at their individual locations while members of senior leadership were divided up and led the meeting from different locations. The meeting last year was pre-recorded, but each senior leader had the ability to bring a “live” perspective from where he or she was located.

For last year, the response was good for the event, but there was a craving to get back together. During the 2021 planning process, we anonymously polled the entire  staff to determine if the team was ready to come back in-person, or preferred another hybrid model. The polling was unanimous…they wanted to come back together for an in-person event.

It was important because we have several new employees who had never attended an in-person  with the Credit Union. We wanted to deliver an experience that felt big and bold. We wanted our team to feel like they were part of something important. Our 70 attendees were able to interact and learn from incredible guest speakers:

    1. John-Mark Young: Whitaker Myers Wealth Management.  He talked about the “Never Again” moments in people’s lives when a person makes the decision to start the journey toward financial freedom by creating a plan to save and grow their money
    2. Jamie Strayer: Credit Union Strategic Planning. She talked about how our CDFI grant affected not only Buckeye State Credit Union, but also changed lives (thru credit unions) across the country by providing resources to create innovative programs that improve low/moderate income communities.
    3. Carol Middaugh: Frost Financial Services.    She talked about how Buckeye State has saved its members over $265,000 over the last four years through gap claims. She also spoke to the hundreds of thousands we have saved members in extended warranty claims for mechanical breakdowns that were covered. Gap and warranties often have bad reputation, but we are proof that these services have consistently saved our members money and protected their credit scores.
    4. David Kettlehake: American Share Insurance. David made insurance talk fun. He talked about ASI’s history and how they stack up against NCUA and FDIC. Because ASI is owned by its member credit unions, the credit unions have a voice and a seat at the table. ASI knows what the day to day activity of a credit union is like, where federal insurance funds overlap as both regulator and insurer. This bureaucratic perspective removes them from the normal operations of a credit union. He demonstrated how ASI’s coverage stacks up against the federal insurance and how ASI actually provides broader coverage than NCUA.
  1. I wrapped up the meeting with a town hall format where I shared stories from my life and career that shape me into the leader I am today helping to guide the credit union.

The CEO’s Message

The message I wanted to relay is that our credit union is different from many others out there. We are developing products that meet the needs of everyone in the community. While banks focus on people with wealth and strong credit scores and the predatory lenders focus on the poor and weaker credit, we are creating an atmosphere where everyone is welcome. We will lend and do business with all income and credit levels. While the banks and predators are content to run down the sidelines of the football field, we seek to utilize the entire playing field and work with everyone.

With that, the messaging to our members and the community at large is that we want to empower them regardless of income or credit level. We have already rolled out our First Time Auto Buyer Loan (no co-signer needed), Youth Empowerment Account (designed for children starting at 8 years old) and our Empowerment Account (Second Chance Checking Alternative).  Moreover, we intend to roll out the following by Mid-October (Around International Credit Union Day):

    1. Credit Builder Loan- Build or Rebuild credit
    2. Advance Line- Payday loan alternative…lower rate, lower payment, longer repayment cycle
    3. Empowerment Loan- Consolidate your debt and take back control of your finances
    4. Furnish or Fix Loan- Own or Rent a Home? Does not matter, this loan will provide funding for smaller needs and projects around the home
    5. Anything Loan- Self Described, use it as you want!
    6. Youth Empowerment Card- First credit card with no co-signer needed
    7. Empowerment Card- A secured card used to build or rebuild credit

The Partnership with ASI

ASI spoke at the meeting so everyone could learn first-hand about their relationship with credit unions.

ASI covers $250,000 per account, so the member can have more coverage than provided by the NCUSIF.  The firm is cooperatively owned and governed by its member credit unions.  It understands what credit unions are doing right at ground level.  They are not government acting in the dual role of insurer and regulator.

Reversing losses of $3MM going back years was due to the approach of ASI.  The insurer worked with us to correct adverse trends by giving latitude not harsh restrictions or deadlines.

ASI does monitor capital ratios and financial performance. But because they understand what is happening at the local level, this gives them a close-in perspective to be patient and an ability to work together with struggling credit unions.”



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