St. Helens Community Federal Credit Union ($161.8M, St. Helens, OR) began in a paper mill and is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2013. It holds a community charter for Columbia County on the Columbia River northwest of Portland, OR and counts approximately one-third of the rural county’s among it’s over 15,000 members. St. Helens has three branches plus two additional high school locations. Brooke Van Vleet has been the CEO for eight months.
Since I became the president/CEO last July, I’ve had two foundational objectives that are important for any new leader to achieve. The first is to work with the leadership team to cast a clear, compelling vision. The second is to cultivate a staff environment in which that vision can flourish.
I am fortunate to have a strong and supportive board. Together, we have outlined an ambitious but realistic vision for the coming year. That vision can be summarized as follows: Simplify. Stabilize. Strengthen.
CU QUICK FACTS
St. Helens Community FCU
HQ: St. Helens, OR
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 0.56%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 1.42%
Everything we pursue this year — product offerings, partnerships, community involvement, staff development, member growth — will reflect our vision to simplify, stabilize, and strengthen our core competencies and relationships.
Communicating our vision to staff and enlisting them as our brand ambassadors is also critical. This is where creating the right staff environment becomes important. I want employees to have a clear understanding of the vision, a shared sense of purpose, and a genuine belief that their success is key to the overall success of our credit union. To that end, I’ve made staff well-being and development top priorities. Employees must be empowered to confidently meet the needs of members and grow professionally. They must also feel their contributions and opinions matter. One of my mantras is communicate, communicate, communicate. My job is to communicate the credit union’s vision and the value of each team member, but communication is a two-way street. I want to cultivate an environment in which employees are able and willing to provide constructive feedback to improve our services. Ultimately, a strong and committed staff will be the best way to improve the member experience and grow business.
I am optimistic about the year ahead and the opportunities to strengthen our financial position. Diversification is critical in this regard. For example, our commercial loan portfolio — commercial real estate, car dealerships, etc. — has been one of our strong suits, but I believe there’s an opportunity to grow our consumer lending business. We’ll also explore ways to expand our non-interest income streams through insurance and investment products, among other options. The goal is to diversify our product mix to attract new members and deepen financial relationships with current members.
Above all, we want residents and businesses to know St. Helens Community Federal Credit Union (SHCU) is eager to lend in 2013. The local economy was hit pretty hard the past few years as some local businesses exited the area, and our unemployment rate exceeds the national average. People need to know SHCU is committed to helping our economy move forward and stands ready to extend credit and help.
A unique opportunity coincides with my first full year as CEO. SHCU will mark its 75th anniversary this year, which means 2013 offers a chance to celebrate our service and reintroduce the credit union to local non-members and businesses. There’s a great story to tell of our community involvement — both as a trusted financial institution and as a charitable partner. I’m especially proud of the way SHCU employees embrace community service. Each year they participate in a program called CU 4 A Cause in which they vote to support local nonprofits and raise funds through bake sales, raffles, and other activities. SHCU then matches the money raised. This is just one example of the ways we’ve been making a difference over the past 75 years. Although SHCU has relatively high market penetration — 31% of residents in Columbia County are members — there is still an opportunity to share our story and deepen our local roots.
As we reflect on what’s made SHCU a successful community partner in the past, it’s also important to prepare for the challenges ahead. Like all credit unions, we need to attract the next generation of members, who are comfortable with technology and want innovative, mobile products and services. One way we’re connecting with the younger generation is through two high school branches staffed by outstanding students. We have also prioritized teenage financial literacy, and SHCU was recently recognized for having one of the “Best Teen Savings Accounts” in the nation. We believe in the importance of drawing new members when they are young, and we will devote significant effort this year and beyond in making sure we have the technology to meet their needs long-term.
Five Goals For 2013
I’m focused on making progress in five key areas this year:
Grow and diversify our membership base.
Identify and develop leaders from within our staff.
Further strengthen the financials of the credit union.
Develop the quality of the staff and increase staff retention by offering better training that broadens employee knowledge levels and improves member service.
Deepen our member relationships with the hope of increasing wallet share. We will employ segmentation and target marketing, set clearly defined goals, and use innovative techniques for measuring success. Search engine optimization, for example, will help ensure our messages are getting to the right target audiences.
All of this is pretty ambitious for a first-year CEO but well within reach. We’re looking forward to an active and fruitful 2013.
As told to Brooke C. Stoddard