In October, CUNA presented the 2012 Community Credit Union of the Year Award to four credit unions for their exemplary displays of movement principles and positive influence in the field of service.
Among the four was Gulf Coast Community Federal Credit Union, Gulfport, Miss., which received a first place in the less than $250 million in assets category.
Gulf Coast Community Federal’s Executive Vice President/Chief Communications Officer Debbie Pidek participated in a Q&A with Credit Union Magazine about what it takes to be a great community credit union.
CU Mag: To be successful, a community CU must…
Pidek: Always be looking ahead. The market is constantly changing and to be successful, we must be able to adapt to that changing market. It may sound like a cliché, but it’s a fact.
After the economic downturn, many in our industry continued to do business as usual but in fact, the business environment changed dramatically and will never be the same. We knew we had to change the way we did business to reflect the changed economic environment.
CU Mag: What about your CU are you most proud?
Pidek: We are most proud that the programs we put in place to help credit challenged and low-income members help us make a positive difference in our community.
We were one of the first credit unions in the United States to send our entire lending department, including payment solutions (collections), through CUNA’s Certified Credit Union Financial Counselor program.
Our lending philosophy of understanding that bad things sometimes happen to good people enables us to couple that compassionate lending mindset with the financial counseling expertise required to truly help our members achieve their financial goals.
CU Mag: What's the biggest challenge the CU has had to overcome in the last few years?
Pidek: The Mississippi Gulf Coast was severely impacted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, closely followed by the economic recession and then the BP oil spill, so many of our members are still struggling financially. We had to learn how to lend to people who are credit and income challenged.
Again, the market changed, and we had to change the way we did business. Learning to effectively lend to C, D and E paper members has enabled us to continue to have positive loan growth during a time when many financial institutions have negative loan growth.
CU Mag: What's been the most effective way for you to reach out and understand your community audience?
Pidek: We have stated our lending philosophy (“We Understand That Bad Things Happen To Good People”) in all of our advertising and that message has really resonated with the people of South Mississippi.
In an area where predatory lending is more prevalent than in any other state, people need help and that message has helped them understand that we are here for them.
CU Mag: What's the best advice you can give other community CUs?
Pidek: Celebrate your success – the more you tell your good story, the more good stories you will have! We find we have more and more to celebrate.
The winners of the Community Credit Union Award best advance the ideals of the credit union movement, provide products that meet the needs of diverse communities, and are active in their communities.
The other winners included 1st MidAmerica Credit Union, Bethalto, Ill. (honorable mention), First Community Credit Union, Jamestown, N.D., and Dakotaland Federal Credit Union, Huron, S.D. (honorable mention).
The 2013 Community Credit Union & Growth Conference will be held Oct. 8-11 in Uncasville, Conn.