Anatomy Of A Leadership Culture: An Update On Veridian Credit Union

The Veridian Experience has guided the credit union for more than 30 years. It continues to guide the Iowa cooperative today.

 
 

It’s been two years since Callahan & Associates profiled Veridian Credit Union in the fourth quarter 2011 issue of CUSP. Since then, the economic and demographic outlook of Waterloo, IA, has changed. The recession, which was slight in Iowa compared to other areas of the country, is in the state’s rearview mirror. In August 2013, the Hawkeye State posted a 4.9% unemployment rate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is one of the stronger performances in the region. By comparison, the unemployment rates in Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, and Nebraska, respectively, were 7.2%, 9.2%, 5.1%, and 4.2%. The national unemployment rate in August was 7.3%. The state has continued to welcome an influx of a newly migrated minority Iowans and the population of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls metropolitan area continues to inch up, by some estimates reaching nearly 168,000 in 2012.

Veridian  ($2.4B, Waterloo, IA) has also enjoyed sustained growth since 2011. In the two years since the Anatomy profile, Veridian’s asset size has jumped from $1,875,730,496 to $2,457,299,856 and membership has increased from 163,946 to 175,434, according to Callahan & Associates’ Peer-to-Peer data.

In 2011, the credit union said it was focused on investing “aggressively,” maintaining an inclusive membership and workplace, and increasing its leadership role within the state. In 2013, these goals remain the same, though they have evolved.

Big Picture

The biggest difference between Veridian then and now is its strategic direction. Today, the credit union spends more time and resources around career development, specifically recognizing the transition of baby boomers out of the workforce and Gen Y into it. It has even updated its balanced scorecard to make sure it is attracting and maintaining a millennial membership.

In addition, Veridian is developing a more structured advisor role with its members through its Advice for Life program. The credit union established the program to help it sit down with more members and proactively help them with financial needs and issues rather than just passively making loans and investments.

“At times it felt like members would come in and if they needed a loan we’d give them a loan and they would be on their way,” says Jean Trainor, CEO of Veridian. “We could have had a broader conversation with them about some of their financial needs that were going unmet.”

Investments

Veridian takes seriously its position as the largest credit union in Iowa and concentrates its investments in regional initiatives to foster growth within the state. It currently has $853 million invested, focused partly in Iowa startups and small businesses. Other Iowa credit unions, on average, invest just 7% of that total, according to Callahan & Associates' Peer-to-Peer data.

In fourth quarter 2011, Veridian reported a yearly income of $11.2 million collected from investments and trade. Despite its aggressive investment philosophy over the past two years, Veridian's income from investments and trading totals $4.1 million as of June 2013, behind the pace set in 2011. Though subject to change, such a decrease in income collected from investments and trades has been echoed across the industry.

One way in which Veridian’s investment portfolio has grown is in the support it provides Iowa’s thriving startup and small business sector. In 2011, board policy limited total dollars invested in venture capital funds and small businesses to 1% of net capital. Today, Veridian has increased that to 2%, representing an additional $2.5 million in available funds. Veridian’s desire to help small businesses in Iowa, however, does not overpower its member obligation to avoid undue risk.

“We are very cautious with our members’ money,” Trainor says.

Burmese Population

There are approximately 60,000 Burmese refugees who have fled Thailand, 50,000 of whom have settled in the United States, according to data from the State Department. Many have moved into America’s Heartland. One of Veridian’s balanced scorecard measures tracks the diversify its membership because it wants both its membership and its workforce look like its community. For this reason, the credit union is taking a concerted effort to give this growing population the financial support it needs, which includes plans to employ individuals who can speak the Burmese language.

“We like our workforce to look like our community,” says Trainor. “We’d like to make sure that everyone that is included in our community feels welcome here. Quite often, that comes down to seeing someone who looks like you when you walk in the door, speaks your language, or [does] whatever it is you’re looking for when you use a financial institution.”

Leadership: The Veridian Experience

Veridian employed 565 full time equivalent employees at midyear; that’s up 19 employees from fourth quarter 2011. Regardless of the number of employees, the credit union’s commitment to making sure employees understand its culture and expectations is unwavering.

“It’s an ongoing effort and an ongoing investment,” Trainor says. “As we grow and are in different markets and are more dispersed, it’s more challenging to continue to maintain that culture.”

Veridian continues its work with Portland-based management consultant Carnahan, Smith & Gunter, bringing in coaches twice a year to put new employees through a three day initial training and working with management and other senior staff to develop their leadership skills. The consultant group has come to Waterloo bi-yearly since the mid-1990s, a testament to Veridian’s commitment to leadership growth.

The credit union’s commitment to what it calls the “Veridian Experience” has been just as consistent. Trainor says it even existed before she took over as CEO more than 22 years ago.

“It’s something we had even before we were called ‘Veridian,’” Trainor says. “I came to work here when we were John Deere Employees Credit Union. It was a culture then, and it still continues to be a culture. We care about the members and we care about one another as employees. That carries over to caring about the members — that’s our Veridian Experience.”

Anatomy Of A Leadership Culture

To learn more about the culture of Veridian Credit Union, read the 4Q 2011 CUSP feature.

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Oct. 14, 2013


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