A Beloved Rule Bender Named ‘Rokmom’

‘Rocker at heart’ meets with almost all loan candidates face-to-face.

October 02, 2013
KEYWORDS credit , estes , lend , loan , Rock Stars
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If you know only two things about Helen Estes, they’ll tell you a lot.

When we asked if she has any favorite rock stars, Estes, who will retire next year, immediately replied, “I’m a rocker at heart. My 36-year-old son was in a KISS tribute band and has played since he was 15. I’ve been a band mom since then, and knew all of the local groups. In fact, my email address is ‘rokmom.’ ”

Her daughter also looks up to her mother, finding inspiration and guidance in her own credit union career.

Another thing about Estes, loan officer at Old Dominion University Credit Union in Norfolk, Va., is that she detests credit scores. “I don’t believe in them. They don’t tell the story you need to hear. If you’re going to lend money to somebody questionable, why charge an outrageous rate just to foreclose on them a year earlier?”

Her lending decisions run the gamut, from $100 consumer loans to $1 million mortgages. She recently helped an overseas professor who had a $450,000 down payment on a $1 million mortgage but couldn’t get a secondary market-approved loan because he didn’t have a credit score.

“I gave him the loan,” she says, adding that everyone involved agreed the member was a good credit risk.

As a one-woman loan department, Helen is in a unique position to bend the rules to everybody’s benefit. “Old Dominion accepts that I’ve occasionally made a wrong call, but they support my approach.”

Her openness to borrowers’ stories doesn’t mean she never says no. “The first time I had to say no I was scared. It was difficult. I had to explain our policy and why this loan wouldn’t work. Many times when I say no it’s from a gut feeling.”

She can be strict. “Sometimes I’ll spend hours with a member, methodically contacting and paying off creditors. When we’re finished, I say, ‘This is the only time I’ll do this for you. If you go back to these lenders again, where will you get the money to pay them off?’ ”

Helen meets with almost all applicants face to face. “They have to sit down and talk to me. I know the people I lend to and I know their stories.”

If her answer is “no,” she’ll work with the member and explain the steps needed to make improvements before the credit union can offer services. “Sometimes they cry, and sometimes I cry right with them.”

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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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