What kind of year did DFCU have in 2009?
Our core earnings were up 19 percent in 2009, which was another record year for us. We’ve really been fortunate because we stayed away from the troubles that other financial institutions got into with sub-prime lending. There’s also been a flight to quality over the last two years. Historically, in troubled times, people move their money out of the stock markets. There’s also been a flight from unhealthy banks to healthy banks and credit unions; so more people are transferring their savings to healthy organizations.
Operating Michigan’s largest credit union, how do you stay on top and grow without sacrificing on such things as customer service?
What we’ve found is that the most successful organizations focus on their core business. Our strategy is to focus on our individual customers and not diversify into business lending. We do fewer things, but in a better way. So we’re more efficient because we continuously support key markets instead of a number of different markets.
The credit union has garnered a number of best workplace awards, what do you attribute the recognition to?
One of our internal objectives is to be a preferred employer. We really support our employees, and everyone here is eligible for a bonus if the credit union exceeds its goals for the year. So everyone knows they have a hand in our overall success, and that keeps everyone focused. We offer competitive wages and benefits. We have 550 employees, 78 percent of whom are ladies. We’re very family friendly so we allow people flextime, for example, so people can attend a son’s baseball game in the afternoon. We also offer a lot of training programs, so our employees appreciate that we support them.
Where do you see growth coming?
We’ve begun to diversify from a market standpoint. Last year, we expanded into Lansing and Grand Rapids, and we’d like to grow into other markets. When we do expand, we bring in our value proposition. For example, when we merged with Cap Com Credit Union in Lansing (in March 2009), they had $200 million in assets but they were losing money. We were able to turn things around fairly quickly and we wound up ahead by $1.6 million last year in that sector.
How did you get started in the business?
One of fortunate things was when I was completing my credentials early on I worked in public accounting. That helped me learn a variety of industries very quickly. Financial services were of the greatest interest, so I started in that industry in 1983, and I’m still here today.
The credit markets are still fairly tight; do you find more borrowers are turning to credit unions to assist with their individual financial needs?
There are two things that are happening. We have the money to lend, but for people who are trying to borrowing against their home, there’s not as much value to work with today. The concern about employment is making people cautious, as well. But I will say when the global financial downturn hit (in fall 2008), credit unions were the only lenders people could turn to.
Do you see other mergers or acquisitions on the horizon?
We do see opportunities for diversifying into other markets so that we don’t have all of our eggs in one basket. If we expand into other states, there may be some regulatory requirements to complete. But some states like Ohio and Illinois share reciprocal legislation (with Michigan), which would allow us to expand fairly quickly if an opportunity presented itself.
Any lessons learned from your business or personal experiences?
It’s really critical that you have constant communications with your staff. Sometimes leadership gets away from it, but it you stay with it, everyone is more focused, productive, and it brings out the best in your team. You also need to be a student of your business. Never stop learning. Learn to emulate the best practices of the best companies, and avoid the practices of those who are not.