Spokane Federal sees membership growth spurt
Credit union reports strong gains in consumer loans
LeAnn Bjerken-Journal of Business
August 13th, 2015
Spokane Federal Credit Union CEO Susan Blain, standing outside of her office overlooking the Spokane River, says the organization has added 545 members so far this year.
Spokane Federal Credit Union began in 1956 with just a few hundred dollars and only seven employees who also served as its first members. Today, it has approximately 11,500 members, and about $137 million in assets.
Susan Blain, the credit union’s president and CEO, says SFCU had added a total of 545 members this year as of the end of July, which compares with 711 new members for all of last year.
Blain says the added growth in its membership has to do with added efforts to deepen relationships with the credit union’s current members, through outreach to small-employee groups. “We keep in touch with people who are eligible for membership, building those relationships and really talking with them about what we can offer to enhance their lives.”
The majority of SFCU’s members are county or federal employees, although some are state or city employees and some are part of small-employee groups. Blain says of recent membership growth, “It’s just been a really good year for us. I would like to attribute it to our persistent outreach, particularly our growing relationships with the small-employee groups.”
SFCU’s year-to-date net income through June 2015 is about $311,000, up from about $125,000 in the first half of last year. “Loan demand has made a difference in our net income this year,” says Blain.
As of July 31, SFCU’s total loans were $96.1 million, with a loan growth rate of 10.7 this year. This is up from last year’s loan growth rate of 5 percent. The majority of SFCU’s loan growth has been in autos and recreational vehicles.
In terms of profitability, SFCU’s net worth ratio is 9.7 percent. A credit union’s net worth supports growth and the credit union’s ability to manage fluctuations in income during hard economic times. SFCU’s regulator, the National Credit Union Association (NCUA), says a well-capitalized credit union’s net worth ratio is 7 percent; or better therefore, SFCU is considered to be healthy with 9.7.
SFCUs main office is located at 601 W. Mallon, and it has a drive-up location at 930 N. Howard. SFCU is also part of a shared service center with Progression Credit Union and United Health Services Credit Union at 1212 W. Francis.
The building on Mallon Avenue, which once housed administration for Expo ’74, the environmentally themed world’s fair held here, sits right across from the Flour Mill with a view of the Spokane River.
“It’s a great location,” says Blain. “Our members can easily walk up from their work, or on lunch break in the park.”
Blain has been SFCU’s top executive since January of 2008, having begun her career there assisting with new accounts in 1980. “I just love credit unions,” says Blain. “It’s been an amazing ride getting here from where I started.”
Her main goal, she says, is and always has been being there for Spokane Federal’s members. “I really believe in the idea of reaching out and making a connection with members,” says Blain.
SFCU has a total of 45 employees, with the average employee having been worked there for at least 10 years.
“Twenty-nine percent of our staff have been here for over 15 years,” says Charlotte Nemec, the credit union’s vice president of administration.
“The numbers are all things you can easily measure. A member’s experience is worth more to us because it’s something that’s not as easily measured,” explains Nemec. “We’ve found that if you provide the best possible experience, those good numbers will start to follow.”
Blain says, “I encourage the staff to interact with members based on the idea of, ‘What if this were you?’”
The credit union’s focus on its members has developed over time to become a core value at SFCU. “It’s just something we want to do,” she says. “To make every member’s experience a ‘wow’ experience.”
Nemec says, “For staff it becomes not how many new accounts you opened today, but rather how many customers did you ‘wow’ today?”
SFCU staff is encouraged to go above and beyond in assisting members, following what is known as the Fish philosophy. Modeled after the Pike Place Fish Market, Fish is a technique to make employees alert and active in the workplace, with goals of choosing one’s attitude, playing at work, making someone’s day, and being present.
Blain and Nemec agree that Fish gives the work environment at SFCU just the right work to life balance, contributing to both a fun and helpful atmosphere. Both relayed stories of staff assisting members with everything from giving a gift card to someone who’s struggling, to helping out when a car breaks down in the drive-through lane.
“Our staff is really amazing. I truly value their input, and the things they do help make my job a little easier,” says Blain. “We want SFCU to be a place where both members and staff can feel comfortable sharing their struggles, as well as planning for those milestone moments in their lives,” she says.
Since its beginning in 1956, SFCU has merged with the Navy Supply Depot Credit Union, as well as the Spokane County Federal Credit Union, the Veterans Administration Credit Union, and Contented Federal Credit Union.
Nemec says SFCU is what the staff likes to call “the right size,” offering the same services as many larger credit unions, with the exception of commercial loans.
“We’re small enough to offer those personal connections, like knowing your name when you walk in the door. Yet we’re just large enough to offer our members more,” she says.
Many of the things SFCU offers are technology based, things like home banking, mobile applications and member-to-member transfers. “Some of the technology is really cool,” says Nemec.
SFCU’s technology too, is meant to be user-friendly, with member input and ideas often being incorporated into improvements in customer service.
“We want to hear member feedback, so my phone line is up on our website, along with my email. People can contact me directly with any concerns or ideas,” says Blain.
Blain says she’d like to see SFCU continue its healthy growth and keep up its efforts to serve members.