Ask Michael Bittle, CEO of the Vanderbilt University Credit Union, where his $25 million Nashville, Tenn.-based institution would be without its corporate credit union and he softly chuckles.
“I don’t think we’d be open,” Bittle said. “We were a 1950s credit union when I became CEO five years ago,” said Bittle, who explained that the institution offered no share draft facilities, no debit cards, and really, not much beyond auto loans, personal loans and savings when he took the job.
“With the help of VolCorp, we have become a full service credit union. Volcorp held our hand and helped us set up share draft and they helped us market it. In 2011, my share drafts grew 100%.”
VolCorp Federal Credit Union in Nashville, Tenn., and West Virginia Corporate Federal Credit Union in Parkersburg, W. Va., finalized their merger last month.
Bittle, whose credit union employs nine employees including himself, said VolCorp does all of its processing including share drafts, ACH, debit, wire transfers.
“If we are moving money they are touching it. They are a terrific resource,” Bittle said. “They have been there, with advice, helping us grow.”
At a time when many credit unions appear to be opting out of the corporate credit union system, there are some that say without their corporate, they would be much less capable of serving their members.
Mark Johnson, president/CEO of Naheola Federal Credit Union in Pennington, Ala., said it was 10 years ago that the $73 million institution first began offering share drafts. The key to doing it right was Naheola’s relationship with Corporate America in Irondale, Ala., he added.
“From December 2000 to December 2011, our membership doubled, our fee income increased from $16,000 annually to $660,000 and assets increased from $39 million to $73 million,” Johnson said.
The bottom line for Naheola is Corporate America’s offerings allowed its 6,100 members to experience a full service credit union by utilizing the operating capabilities of a strong back office partner, Johnson pointed out.
It is not just the smaller credit unions that sing the praise of their corporates. At the $518 million Neighbors Federal Credit Union in Baton Rouge, La., Jody Caraccioli, chief financial officer, acknowledged that the cooperative lost the capital it once had in failed corporate Southwest Bridge Corporate Federal Credit Union.
Neighbors said it chose to stay the course by capitalizing on Southwest’s successor, Catalyst Corporate Federal Credit Union in Plano, Texas.
“Catalyst provides our liquidity, they help us to continue growing,” said Caraccioli. “It is easy to talk with them.”
At $198 million Dakotaland Federal Credit Union in Huron, S.D., President/CEO Dan Cumbee said that another enduring plus of corporates is they share the credit union philosophy. The financial institution partners with Alloya Corporate Federal Credit Union in Warrenville, Ill.
“We were with a bank for clearings years ago,” Cumbee said. “They took it to us. They gouged us on fees.”
Alloya helps Dakotaland grow by letting the staff focus on what is important, leaving Alloya to do the detail work, Cumbee explained.
“Our corporate is a go-between for us with the Federal Reserve Bank. We don’t see near the hassle of credit unions that work with the Fed directly.”
Mike Phipps, president/CEO of the $830 million Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union in Evansville, Ind., said the financial institution also works with Alloya. He applauds the corporate’s broker-dealer CUSO, Balance Sheet Solutions, describing it as exceptional.
“When you are with a corporate and there is a problem, you have a problem solver at your side,” Phipps said. “Corporates may have saved the credit union industry a long time ago. We still need corporates. They are in business to serve credit unions and to help them grow.”
Asked for their opinions about their roles in helping their members grow, CEOs of corporate credit unions offer perspectives that seem in line with what members had expressed.
Steven Roy, president/CEO of TriCorp Federal Credit Union, the Westbrook, Maine-based corporate, summed up what he sees as the growth mission of any corporate.
“From the town hall meetings that we conducted, the message that came through loud and clear was that our members wanted us to continue to make their work lives simple in terms of overnight deposits and loans, settlement and correspondent financial services.”
Roy said TriCorp wants to continue to work with an organization that they know and trust and one that will be there to answer their questions and be part of the local credit union community. Credit unions want the corporate to return to operating in the background and taking care of their needs so that they can focus on all of the other issues that they need to contend with, he added.
“It will be important for us to continue to seek out and form partnerships and alliances that help credit unions with their business needs,” Roy said. “So, in terms of helping them grow their business we can help by doing as they have asked of us and keep our products and services competitive, relevant and valuable to their daily operational needs.”
Dennis DeGroodt, president/CEO of Missouri Corporate Credit Union in St. Louis, offered his take on how he needs to help members grow.
“Be invisible. We have too many other things to do, so be invisible to us so we don’t have to take time to deal with you,” DeGroodt wrote in an email on how busy credit unions are. “Make it simple. Keep the processes simple. We don’t have time to conduct complicated tasks.”
DeGroodt said Missouri Corporate will also be competitive and sustainable.
“You don’t have to pay the highest rates or charge the lowest fees but you have to be competitive,” he suggested. “Don’t offer me a product and then cancel it. Be there when I need you.”
Will that formula and the similar ones in place at other corporates be what it takes to keep these institutions moving forward in 2012 and beyond?
“How long can corporate credit unions remain relevant? That is the challenge under the new realities,” said Marvin Umholtz, president/CEO of Umholtz Strategic Planning & Consulting Services in Olympia Wash. “If they are providing value they will continue to survive.”