1 New Department. 3 New Products. 50% Loan Growth.

East Idaho Credit Union turned lemons into lemonade in the past 18 months to post some of the highest growth rates in one of the country’s fastest growing states.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Idaho is among the fastest-growing states in the country, and the state’s credit unions are posting huge numbers as a result.
  • East Idaho Credit Union’s metrics particularly shine among Gem State cooperatives.

There must be something in the Idaho water, because the state’s credit unions are growing like crazy. At second quarter 2021, the 31 Gem State credit unions rank second among all states in asset growth, first in share growth, and second in loan growth: this, from a state of less than 2 million, the 38th most populated in the United States.

The recent 2020 U.S. Census data shows that Idaho grew its population at the second-fastest rate of any state in the past decade. And since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Idaho has one of the fastest population jumps as many workers traded big city life for a more rural experience.

But while an increase in population provides the industry with more opportunities to serve members, credit unions still need the right products and services to start and build relationships.

One Idaho credit union that has certainly done that in recent years is East Idaho Credit Union ($462.5M, Idaho Falls, ID). At second quarter, the state’s sixth-largest cooperative ranks third in asset growth, third in share growth, and first in loan growth, at a blistering 53.5%, all without mergers. But that’s no surprise to the credit union, which has been serving east Idaho — and more recently, most of the state outside of the northern panhandle — since 1935.

“We’ve been deeply embedded in the different communities we serve for a long time,” says Steven Foster, the credit union’s vice president of marketing. “We serve everyone, from nurses and construction workers to engineers and potato farmers.”


East Idaho’s Growth Rates


Moving To Idaho

Idaho Falls is the fourth-largest city in Idaho, and the largest in the eastern part of the state, a region that is primarily agricultural, Foster says, with a large number of potato farmers and cattle ranchers. Of the credit union’s 11 branches, all but four are located outside the Idaho Falls area.

But Idaho is also a favorite for folks who enjoy leisure and recreation, whether camping, hiking, fishing, or just enjoying natural wonders.

“In recent years people have started to realize how beautiful and scenic Idaho is, which is why we’ve seen an influx in population,” Foster says.

And the growth has been geographically diverse, too. In 2000, only four cities in the state had populations greater than 50,000; now there are eight. And while, according to Foster, the credit union’s digital channels effectively serve members, East Idaho does have plans to build additional branches in areas outside Idaho Falls that are gaining population. Already, however, the credit union has locations in Challis and Salmon — both cities on the edge of a large national forest and known for camping and fishing.

“Our digital channels can handle 99% of what they need, but we think it’s important to maintain that physical connection,” Foster says.

With more population comes different product and service needs, Foster says. And while there have been calls by members for some products, the pandemic accelerated several changes at the credit union that have paid big dividends.

Turning Lemons Into Lemonade

Despite pandemic-related challenges, East Idaho has seen a number of small businesses sprout up in the past 18 months. And while in the past members have asked the credit union for business services, Foster says, East Idaho was able to launch its program in the early stages of the pandemic.

“We had been developing this team for some time before the pandemic,” Foster says. “The two things just happened to coincide.”

East Idaho built its business department from scratch, hiring local lenders and account specialists to jump-start a side of the balance sheet that had previously been unused. At first quarter 2020, East Idaho added its first $130,000 in commercial balances; a year later, that portfolio now holds $14.4 million. This despite not participating in the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program.

“We were looking to serve the needs in our communities that already existed,” Foster says. “We just happened to turn lemons into lemonade along the way.”

“We were looking to serve the needs in our communities that already existed. We just happened to turn lemons into lemonade along the way.”

Steven Foster, Vice President of Marketing, East Idaho Credit Union

In addition to products and services, East Idaho offers small businesses resources such as digital marketing, financial accounting, and access to East Idaho’s own C-level team to leverage their expertise.

“We frequently find that small business owners are really good at building their widget,” Foster says. “But they may not be as attuned to the finer points of running a business. We’ve found that our bread and butter is offering all the things that help these businesses grow.”

Beyond its new business services, East Idaho launched two additional loan products that have helped its portfolio grow in recent months.

The first, RV loans, were a no-brainer, Foster says. Especially in a part of the country where camping and outdoor activities are common. East Idaho introduced a traditional RV loan, as well as a small RV loan that is designed for ATVs, snowmobiles, jet skis, and horse trailers. The second is an energy defense loan that provides funds for homeowners to make energy efficient improvements to their homes, from windows and doors to roofing upgrades and furnaces.

“Expanded offerings paired with all this pent-up demand for these items is really why you see exponential growth in our loan portfolio,” Foster says.

Growing In The Years Ahead

On the deposits side, East Idaho has also experienced significant growth. But unlike its loan counterpart, the secret here is not so much new products — though business accounts have certainly helped — but conversations between employees and members on how to approach their finances.

“One of the things that has resonated with members in the past 18 months is the fact that we’re willing to interact with them in whatever channel they want while also providing the service they need,” Foster says. That means both in branch and through its digital channels.

CU QUICK FACTS

East Idaho Credit Union
DATA AS OF 06.30.21

HQ: Idaho Falls, ID
ASSETS: $462.5M
MEMBERS: 37,445
BRANCHES: 10
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 33.4%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 53.5%
ROA: 0.55%

“Our employees are ultimately the ones who drive share growth by engaging with our members in positive ways. They love to work with them,” the marketing VP says.

And don’t just take his word for it. In 2018, 2019, and 2021 East Idaho was declared the best place to work in Idaho (it came in second in 2020), a reflection of the credit union’s carefully curated culture. Foster describes East Idaho as a casual, fun workplace where people feel comfortable expressing thoughts and opinions. That ethos is important for employees and makes the credit union a happier, more productive place to work.

“I think the openness and the diversity of opinion in our organization really allows us to set a robust strategic direction and organizational goals,” Foster says. “It strengthens us.”

With growth, however, comes opportunity, and East Idaho is now challenged with taking the next step forward after 18 months of growth. And while the credit union isn’t exactly sure where this growth will lead, it knows it must further invest in the development of its employees, its products, and its technologies, as well as vetting new possibilities along the way.

All these opportunities, however, must tie back into one thing, Foster says: taking care of the member.

“Growth can be detrimental to what you become as an organization,” he says. “But as long as every conversation begins with how we can take care of our members and enable them to do things today they couldn’t do yesterday, everything is on the table.”

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Aug. 9, 2021


Comments

 
 
 
  • well documented article; certainly makes the case for the coop difference without every once using cliches. Like the use of June data in a positive context. Should inspire others.
    Chip Filson