Management

 Tell Members Their Money Is Safe

In the heat of the banking crisis, this CEO was a voice of reassurance.

September 27, 2011
KEYWORDS board , news , safe
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On a Sunday in March 2008, Joe Robertson was worried about his credit union’s members as he watched the television news about the failures of several major Wall Street firms and big banks.

Robertson’s first thought: Members will be concerned about the safety of their funds. He realized he needed to communicate quickly and directly with members of $228 million asset Our Community Credit Union in Shelton, Wash.

“I was thinking, ‘We need to get a letter out to our members and tell them exactly why that’s happening and why it’s not going to happen to us. We need to tell them their money is safe.’”

Robertson wanted the letter to be effective for his specific membership, and to explain that the credit union was a healthy financial institution and in no danger of failing. So he personally wrote the letter.

The goal was to be proactive—to reach members before they became seriously concerned about the financial meltdown. Robertson didn’t expect much of a response; he simply wanted to calm fears.

Turns out, the credit union did get a sizeable response—nearly 1,000 calls, letters, and e-mails. Members also visited the credit union and personally thanked Robertson when they saw him around town to express how grateful they were that the credit union had stayed out of the subprime lending mess and had the courtesy to send them a personalized letter.

“I couldn’t believe the response,” he says. “I never in my fondest dreams thought that more than 10% of the people would read the letter, and maybe half of those would say, ‘That’s good to know.’ But that was not the case; instead the reaction was fantastic.”

Robertson followed up with two additional letters when more news of bank failures and economic crisis hit the airwaves. He also wrote a letter to the community-at-large—including about 9,600 potential members—and educated them on the credit union difference to help reassure them and offer a “banking alternative.”

Robertson’s letter-writing campaign resulted in a local newspaper interview and presentation requests by local community groups. The credit union garnered a record $18 million increase in total deposits for 2009 (doubling the previous year’s increase), as members and new members sought a safe haven for their money.

It was a stressful time for all financial institutions, Robertson admits, because fear fed upon itself, the bad news kept building, and accountholders—including members—didn’t know where it would end.

Those times stand in stark contrast to Robertson’s life today. In December 2010 he retired, and Bert Fischer, formerly chief operations officer, became president/CEO.

Robertson says his stress vanished immediately. “I thought retirement would be like being on vacation,” he says. But it’s better, he admits. “When you’re on vacation when you’re a CEO, you still think about work all the time.”

Robertson’s retirement comes on the heels of a 35-year career in the credit union movement—all of it at Our Community. Before that, he was a marketer for a restaurant chain. For 10 years after being hired by Our Community, Robertson worked in various positions, including collections officer and operations manager. In 1985, he was named president/CEO.

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory (www.appreciationatwork.com/assess) will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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