CommonWealth One Federal Credit Union ($307.7M, Alexandria, VA) began in 1944 as a credit union for an Army Air Force facility. It now offers membership to people in Washington, DC, and several jurisdictions in northern and western Virginia, including underserved areas and more than 200 SEGs. Its assets top $300 million, and it has nearly 35,000 members. Charlotte Cash has worked for the credit union for 27 years; in July she replaced the retiring CEO of 18 years.
We had a good year in 2012 and reached $300 million in assets. My goal as a new CEO is to build on that momentum and take us to the next level: $400 million in assets. Thus, an important focus for me is to be more aggressive at growing assets and loans, to spur organic growth and concentrate on existing members. We want to do more for the people we have and to draw in their family members. We want to be our members’ lifetime financial partner.
I hope to improve the communication with our membership. I started reaching out to our members through quarterly videos they can view on our website or YouTube. I talk about good-news stories illustrating how we’ve helped members, but I also take the opportunity to convey other beneficial information. I have also started a direct email link on our homepage called Ask Charlotte, which has developed into a kind of forum for sharing issues — all to the good because it shows our members they are being heard. Both the videos and the Ask Charlotte emails have enriched communication between staff and members.
CU QUICK FACTS
CommonWealth One FCU
HQ: Alexandria, VA
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 4.36%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 4.65%
This year I also want to improve our efficiency. I can see from studying our peers that we can do better, and when I became CEO I felt this was an area to which I could bring value. We’re going to place a lot of effort on process improvements. We’ll make concrete changes such as adopting new software. We’ll be challenging employees to find easier and faster ways to help members. Members will benefit and so will employees. Change can be hard, but in this environment we have to be more nimble and adaptable.
We realize we can’t be all things to all people. But we can look harder at what our membership wants and how to better meet those needs. We can’t compete on branch convenience, so we’ll focus more on online delivery channels. We’ll continue to work to enhance our online delivery and research the up-and-coming options that best fit our members’ needs.
Attracting Younger Members
In the same vein, I want to work harder at making our credit union more attractive to young people. We support our league, which is developing a social media campaign to reach potential young members. I’ll be excited to see the results. One of our SEGs is James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA, and we work with students there to help identify what they want from their financial institution. Many students use us while they’re on campus but close their membership when they graduate because they want a brick-and-mortar location near their new home. We need to do a better job of showing them the best location is as close as their smartphone.
An Unpredictable Economic And Regulatory Environment
As a CEO I have to be sensitive to the economy, and I don’t see complete recovery in Northern Virginia. In our area, we can’t be sure what impact sequestration is going to have. We talk about the new normal, and I don’t think anyone has an idea what that is. There are lots of unknowns; economic upsets could come at us with little notice. Despite the economy, we did grow loans in 2012, but it’s hard for institutions like ours to make loans.
I started reaching out to our members through quarterly videos they can view on our website or YouTube.
I’m concerned about the increased regulatory environment. New regulations have put stress on credit unions. Complying with regulations takes time and effort that pulls us away from other efforts that would help us, especially when we are trying to be more efficient, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
Leadership Style And Metrics
Establishing a leadership style and voice is a challenge for any new leader. One of my goals is to make it clear to my staff, board, and employees what my vision is for this credit union. Credit unions need to do a better job of telling our story. We need to take individual action, but I believe we also have to do a better job of doing it as a cooperative movement.
For gauging my progress in this first year, I am going to rely on feedback from staff, from members, and from the board. I have an open-door policy and keep abreast of what’s going around the office. I talk to my staff. I’m interested in what they do and in them personally — that’s my style. I send personal notes when I hear of something they’ve done well and share it with others.
Of course, the financials are one key to measuring progress, along with measures showing we are becoming a more efficient organization. When we become more efficient it helps the membership. I want the membership as a whole to benefit from the changes we’ll make. We’re a cooperative so the whole must benefit, not just a few.
I’m looking for visionaries and for people who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves, people who understand the cooperative nature of credit unions. Because of staff relocations, I’ve been able to shape a good portion of my own team with those who have the same vision for this credit union.
I try to lead by example and show enthusiasm for CommonWealth One, and I am optimistic about CommonWealth One’s future.
As told to Brooke C. Stoddard