Every quarter, Callahan visits a high-performing credit union for an in-depth, on-site examination of what makes that institution successful. The “Anatomy” feature — which includes both written and video content — appears in CUSP and on CreditUnions.com.
The enduring lessons learned from the two-day visit with GTE Federal Credit Union are just as relevant today as they were in 2011. The credit union’s story of struggle and triumph is a timeless reminder of what any credit union can accomplish with the right resources, strategy, and mindset.
Almost half a decade after the first signs of an economic recession, anxiety hung as heavy as the humidity in Florida in 2010. But the cooperative spirit was never forgotten.
Today, the state has 174 active credit unions with 14 of those serving members in the Tampa area alone. Despite significant downsizing, GTE Federal Credit Union ($1.5B, Tampa, FL) remains one of the largest cooperative financial institutions in the region.
“Last year, the community was pretty depressed,” says CEO Joe Brancucci, formerly of BECU in Seattle, WA. Home and job losses were so significant that everyone was at least circuitously affected, and the recession had sapped the energy from the air.
It wasn’t just consumers feeling the credit crunch, says Shamus McConomy, vice president of member business services. Even successful businesses that weathered the storm struggled to find liquidity and valuable partnerships for the future.
On Firmer Soil
The economic environment was one hurdle for GTE, but there were lingering mental hurdles from the recession as well. Hard decisions had been made and still needed to be made in the days ahead, including branch closures, layoffs, and possible pay reductions.
“When I arrived on July 12 of last year, we had very little senior team,” says Brancucci. The credit union’s only strategic focus was to dig out from under the problem loans that had dropped its capital level “to the mid-sixes and deteriorating.”
Brancucci proactively identified the need to fill these positions with a talented roster that believed in the cooperative mentality and could bring new vitality to the brand. He also wanted individuals who could reengage the board in dialogues about who GTE was going to be in the days ahead.
“I threw out a number six weeks before I got here - 7.10 - and asked everyone to think about that number but didn’t give them any other perspective,” Brancucci says.
It turned out to be the institution’s first goal – gain operational stability by achieving a 7.10% net worth ratio by year’s end. Instead, they hit 7.25%.
Despite stabilization success, management knew that one metric beyond net worth, assets, delinquency, charge-offs, or any other factor, would hold sway over GTE’s future: net member growth, which had not been achieved since 2004. “To me, that’s kind of the currency of a credit union,” Brancucci says.
The institution had dug itself out of an economic trench, but now it was time to do the same for its communities. The process started in 2010 and continues today, but there is finally light at the end of the tunnel.
GTE and many other cooperatives have changed significantly since their founding, Brancucci says, “but if we go back to the original concept of these organizations, it does work.”
In the first quarter of 2011, GTE finally achieved net member growth for the first time in half a decade as it reconnected to membership in powerful new ways.
“It’s about changing the environment,” says Brancucci. “We’re going to create the new GTE in this new market, with these new demands, versus trying to take the old GTE and convert it.”
“We’re going to continue to be a pillar in this neighborhood and this community and continue to be successful,” says Todd Gregory, GTE’s vice president of member experience, “not only for ourselves, our employees, and our families, but for our membership base.”