Less than 20 years ago ECCU had $40 million in assets. It now has over $1 billion in core assets and $3 billion in assets under management owing to a participation network. Its employees are passionate about helping their credit union’s member ministries.
Explain your credit union.
SV: We exist to make evangelical Christian ministries more effective. Like any financial institution, we provide loans and banking services, but we are not a typical credit union. Instead of serving consumers, our primary market is ministry organizations, specifically churches, Christian schools, colleges, and other evangelical ministries. World Vision and Campus Crusade for Christ are two examples. Even with all this emphasis on serving non-profits, we do serve individuals. Essentially, so we can focus on doing the best for ministries, we limit our services to individuals to just deposits, with the one major exception. Because we serve Christian workers doing relief, linguistics and other kinds of work around the world, we are thrilled to provide this specific member segment with all the banking services the average credit union provides. It’s really another way of serving ministries—the organizations that send them overseas like having a banking partner that will drop everything to meet the needs of their expatriates—today these folks are in more than 100 countries.
The most concise way to describe ECCU is to say that we’re a ministry, structured as a credit union, functioning as a commercial bank. We coined the phrase “ministry banking” to define our marketplace.
Our headquarters are on a 17-acre campus in Brea, California. We have a regional office in Colorado and representatives across the country, because we serve organizations all across the nation. In 1989, we had $40 million in assets. Now we have over $1 billion in core assets and $3 billion under management. That’s because we make loans that we, in turn, sell into a large participation network.
Our ministry customers include churches wanting to buy land or expand, ministries such as rescue missions, soup kitchens and universities. While we serve some of the largest churches in the country, we are interested in every organization that’s doing good stuff–one quarter of our loans are to inner-city churches.
How do your employees relate to your mission?
SV: Our employees are the engine behind the success of the credit union. They have a passion for helping ministries. If you asked any of them why they worked here, they’d say something like, “to increase the effectiveness of ministries.” They appreciate the opportunity to blend their business and banking skills with their passion for helping ministries pursue their missions. Many of them are involved in ministry outside of work. A loan officer, for example, might be a Sunday school teacher or a leader at her church. Volunteerism is very important here; the values we support as an organization travel outside the office and into the community when our employees leave for the day. Our turnover is very low and mostly among entry-level staff.
As an organization, we also want to be invested in our community—the place we live and work and raise our children. For example, our Brea campus has a community center that local organizations and churches can use. Our staff has enjoyed drawing alongside the local community center and helping people who are struggling with life. We have a growing relationship with an organization helping abused women and their children. It’s exciting stuff and incredibly humbling—we have so much to be thankful for.
How do you present your message to borrowers?
SV: We start by listening to their stories, learning about their ministry and mission. Then we’re able to live out our commitment to be their ministry banking resource by developing banking solutions that address their unique needs. We also tell them that doing business with us is going to be different than anything they could expect from a bank.
What do you say is your competitive advantage?
SV: We say that we understand ministries as no one else can because of who we are, because our mission resonates with their mission. Some ministries cannot fathom this at first; and it is kind of strange, they’ve never seen anything like it. But as we develop a relationship, they discover that we really are more like a ministry partner than a bank. With more than 40 years experience on both sides of the issue, we know the problems and challenges ministries face. We can and do help them over rough patches.
To what do you attribute your success?
SV: Focus is a principal factor. For example, banks generally do not seem so focused on a singular mission that revolves around their customers’ reason for being. We are, and ministries respond to that.
We understand that we have a hard time competing with larger banks, point for point, and that in any given financial arena they could likely out muscle us. But we have a niche large enough where we can prosper, and focusing there has been very good for us. When we lose our focus, when we have tried to straddle ourselves into diffused strategies, we have not done so well. We have to work at avoiding distractions. But when we stay focused and drill down in market areas that are not being properly served, we do very well.
We also consult with clients and potential clients. If we feel they should hold off on borrowing for a while, or if they can get a better solution at a local bank, we counsel them to do so. Our staff understands that no one makes a sale at the expense of the good of the ministry. We will only do what furthers the mission of a ministry. We tell ministry customers that what we cherish is a relationship, not a yield.
Can you pass along advice to non-faith-based credit unions?
SV: I think it’s very important to be picky about the people you hire. Look for those who have a passion for your mission to complement their business skills. Hire them and a lot of the rest takes care of itself.
Also, don’t worry about being the low-cost provider. Instead, worry about being the one who can develop the best solution for the customer. We also feel that one of the best things we can do for a ministry is be in business tomorrow, so that we’re able to continue serving them. A relationship is a mindset on both sides. When the two sides resonate, that’s ideal.
Where do you go from here?
SV: We are working to further develop the secondary market for the kinds of loans we make. We think the loans can be securitized, and by doing so, there will be benefits all around.