‘Thanks for Treating Me as a Friend’

CU blends lending acumen with a genuine concern for members.

January 16, 2013
KEYWORDS credit , loan , mortgage
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Northeast Community Credit Union in Elizabethton, Tenn., serves the surrounding rural communities in a caring, yet innovative way that harkens back to the original mission of financial cooperatives.

The $80 million asset credit union’s mortgage special is evidence of this approach. Northeast Community realized it could charge a flat $500 fee and still achieve a net gain over the life of the loan.

The credit union asked local attorneys, real estate agents, and appraisers to reduce their costs during the special promotion, and these providers agreed to do so.

This mortgage special spurred growth from an average of eight mortgages a month to 26 mortgages for $2.7 million during the first month of the special. The credit union closed about $8 million in mortgages during the three-month promotion.

This shows that innovation need not be the province of large organizations with like budgets, says Kathy Campbell, Northeast Community’s president/CEO.

“Our vendors frequently refer to us as early adopters, as we tend to embrace new technology and product lines quickly,” she says. “We use database mining, for example, to target members with existing home loans. Loan officers also contact members for whom they had recently done loans of any type.”

This personal contact helps cement relationships with members and provides a foundation for member referrals. It also offers an opening to obtain more loans from members.

“Every time the loan officers have opportunities for face-to-face contact with members, they take time to analyze every debt and every financial relationship,” Campbell explains. “Members are shown how moving an outside loan to the credit union saves them considerable money.”

Flexibility is another key component to Northeast Community’s success. Members experiencing financial difficulties can obtain modification agreements for first mortgages. They can change the frequency of mortgage payments to go to weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly.

The credit union’s numbers speak for themselves: Loan growth was 13% in 2010 and close to 12% in 2011, and net worth grew almost 12% during both years.

But beyond the numbers is how the credit union puts its “people helping people” philosophy into daily practice. Campbell recalls a member who got a divorce and faced the prospect of losing her home.

Her mortgage had been sold to a “company that was soon to give me more grief than I had ever known,” the member says. “They sent a letter stating I was behind in payments and requested as much as $4,000 to be sent or I’d face foreclosure within a few weeks.”

After a year of harassing letters, working two jobs, and sending thousands of dollars to the mortgage company, the member was “beat and ready to give up.” She made her way to Northeast Community and found loan officer Stephanie Grindstaff.

Grindstaff helped her immediately, refinancing her mortgage and promising to never sell her mortgage again.

In a letter to the credit union, the member wrote, “Thank you Stephanie and the staff of Northeast for treating me with such kindness and respect. Thank you for making it so easy and caring about me, and treating me as a friend. I’m forever grateful.”

Northeast Community Credit Union won an Excellence in Lending Award from CUNA Mutual Group and the CUNA Lending Council for outstanding credit union mortgage lending (less than $250 million in assets).

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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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