Our credit union was chartered in 1935 as a single sponsor: Library of Congress employees and has remained that way until the mid 1990s, when we merged a small and nearby credit union into us converting our charter to a multiple occupational. We still, at present, have only one operational branch in the Library of Congress Madison Building with our administrative and back office located in nearby Maryland.
I have been with the credit union for 16 years, during which it has grown from $32 million to $144 million currently serving 10,600 members. During this time, our management supported our core membership; The Library of Congress (LOC) and their strategies which included adding contractors and SEGs from LOC into our field of membership. We found this difficult for two reasons: contractors came and went before we had the opportunity to sign them up and obtaining a current list from LOC was not always possible.
Fortunately, we are a very efficient credit union. Our rates and services are excellent, creating a tremendous “buzz” from our membership. Word of mouth is so good that a person running a small company in California signed up with us because he learned so many good things from his relative who works at LOC; they use our website and a shared branch in California to do their transactions with us.
Looking ahead, we are now approved to serve the underserved in Washington, D.C. In doing so we are required to open a new branch within two years of approval and we have begun the search of a location.
We have many challenges ahead: How do we maintain the “lean, mean, and clean” efficiency we have translated into our rates while expanding to attract new membership? And whom do we pursue – the credit-driven, the fee-driven, the middleclass depositors or others?
To help us with our planning and to develop some answers to these questions, we turn to some outside aids. We begin the process with CUNA’s Environmental Scan (E-Scan) in our planning efforts. Board of Directors, Committee members and management view the E-Scan video together and are also provided with the book for reference. We like the E-Scan as a tool, and years ago we felt that alone could help set our course. But now we do not feel it should be the only information guiding long-term strategy.
We also are working with Raddon Financial Group for the first time this year. Their recent report for us will provide household profitability, product opportunities and overall performance. The report will be presented to all volunteers at the fall planning session and will help reveal our strengths and our weaknesses, who we already have as members, who we could go after to become new members, marketing strategies, efficiencies and more as we move deeper into the District of Columbia market. We think the Raddon report is going to add a lot of value to the planning process and can work well as a training tool – with it we can see what our peers have done and how we would stack up under certain circumstances.
For three years we utilized CUES Strategic Scenario Planning and gained a lot of benefits from the process. It got us thinking, moved us out of a rosy view of the world and thought about what it could look like tomorrow and what challenges we might face, and Scenario Planning helped management, as well as the Board of Directors, to think more strategically.
This year and last, we are working with C. Myers for our spring and fall planning efforts. They have provided us with simulations or “what ifs” of potential financial performances prior to and during the planning sessions which provides a better foundation for decisions and changes to our business model. In addition, we discuss the use of traditional and contemporary measures of success and re-evaluate how we measure success which is extremely important.
We are a niche credit union looking to expand our niche – that is, expand on our strengths. We need to retain the brand while stretching outward.
So our strategy is for incremental, not revolutionary, growth, using our present mix of products. We’ll continue a disciplined approach around member value and controlled expenses. It has worked well for us in the past and should continue to do so in the future.