For the latest Trailblazer 40 Below, success is about pushing the envelope of the cooperative structure so credit unions can best deliver on the promise of value.
“My advice to anyone is to figure out where your passion and talents lie and to do what you love,” Meyer, president/CEO of St. Cloud Federal Credit Union in St. Cloud, Minn., said. “I just wanted to make a difference and I found that in credit unions. There’s such great possibility and opportunity in what we can accomplish as a collaborative group.”
Meyer began his career in the financial industry more than 15 years ago, and his experience has ranged from frontline service to loan operations to senior leadership. He worked in several types of financial services organizations, including banks, before finding his home in the credit union industry.
Under Meyer’s leadership over the past two years, the $145 million credit union has focused more deeply on aligning its strategy with its core values, which spell PURPOSE (passion matters; united we make a difference; reach for more every day; people are trustworthy and unique; operational excellence; service above self with balance; and embrace change and creativity.)
These phrases are not just lip service or something on a wall – they’ve been steeped in the credit union’s culture, Meyer said. For example, its plans to merge with the $20 million St. Cloud City and County Employees Credit Union aligned with the value of embracing change and led to positive results. The September 2015 NCUA Financial Performance Report Ratio Analysis revealed the credit union experienced market share growth of 8.41, loan growth of 13.56 and member growth of 4.98 compared to the peer averages of 4.71, 8.30 and 2.26, respectively.
“At St. Cloud it’s never been about growth for growth’s sake, but rather growth to expand opportunities to make a difference,” Meyer said.
The credit union’s strategy in its most basic form revolves around taking care of members, employee development and financials. He said when staff prioritized “the human element,” and the needs of members and employees, financial success followed.
In addition, at St. Cloud, giving back through community engagement and financial education is a responsibility, not just something to be checked off a to-do list. He added that relevant engagement with members and employees is how credit unions can enrich their communities and help people become successful.
Meyer pointed to a partnership with Sartell-St. Stephen School District 748 and a $2,500 grant from the Minnesota Credit Union Foundation, which St. Cloud matched, as an example of what can be possible. This partnership and funding resulted in the creation of a lending curriculum for the school’s human geography classes, for which ninth grade students create development plans for different parts of the world and present micro-lending opportunity research to a panel of experts from St. Cloud. Students then partner with Kiva, a global non-profit organization that helps people around the world alleviate poverty through small loans, to turn their ideas into reality.
Most of the loans granted through the program range from $50 to $100, and the payback of the loans has created a self-perpetuating program that can be used by future students. In addition, the program was originally created for an advanced placement class but is now available to every ninth grade student at the high school.
“It is such a cool program, and to see the dynamic presentations from these teens, we are left just inspired and in awe of what their future holds,” he said.
This sense of collaboration has extended beyond St. Cloud’s walls to other credit union leaders in the area. Once a quarter, a group of local credit union professionals get together to share ideas and challenges, and when necessary, lean on one another for insight and assistance.
“It’s great to have a network of leaders you can call,” Meyer said. “As a young CEO, no matter how dynamic you may be, you can’t replace the wisdom that comes with experience. You’ve got to be humble and be a sponge. Before you decide to blaze new trails, slow down and pay attention.”
Meyer has always tried to take advantage of every opportunity presented to him, so it was important for him to land in an environment where employees have freedom within a framework that balances empowerment with accountability.
“It’s not enough to just say you see their potential,” he said. “People have to be given the opportunity to be great. I can’t want it more than they do. They have to want to be at their best and drive the car.”
He added that nothing is more fulfilling than being in an environment where one’s beliefs are aligned with what he or she does on a daily basis. Putting people above profit within a cooperative structure allows for many opportunities, not just in attracting top talent, but in attracting members, he said.
The challenges of a changing landscape, the cost of technology and economies of scale have been around for years, and unfortunately, too many credit unions have been in survival mode as a result, he said. According to Meyer, the solutions to these challenges may lie in focusing on what makes credit unions unique – their cooperative structure.
“The industry will change more in the next 10 to 15 years than it has in the past 30,” he said. “We can’t just be reactionary. We have to start with a strong strategy. Where are the opportunities, what are our weaknesses and where can we take more risks? I don’t think there are enough conversations at conferences about, ‘Here’s what I’m doing in my marketplace because of xyz and the results.’ The moment we stop learning, we stop moving forward. There’s always room to improve and adapt so we can keep pulse with our members on how they want to do business with us.”