SUFFOLK, Va.-Diane Johnson couldn't be happier running a branch of a credit union instead of a bank, and she has her mother to thank for the career change.

Johnson, who now manages the Godwin Boulevard office of the Franklin, Va.-based Bronco FCU, used to run a bank branch in Suffolk seven years ago. But when she saw Bronco constructing a new building just down the road from the bank location she was running, she recalled what her mother told her more than a decade ago.

"She worked for Bronco in the back office and always told me those were her best years of her working career, " said Johnson, who explained her mother had also worked for the local paper mill that used to sponsor Bronco. "The credit union gave her a job when the mill went under. My mom said she always felt appreciated at the credit union, and loved the way the credit union treated her, respected her, and listened to her suggestions,."

Johnson said she applied for the Bronco manager's job and got it when the $200-million CU opened the Godwin office. She has never regretted the decision.

"I worked with banks since 1985 and this was a good change of pace. I enjoyed working for a bank, but the switch gave me the opportunity to work in the same field and focus more on service than sales."


Not About The Sales Numbers

That was Johnson's expectation, and is exactly what she found at Bronco. "We have the products to help our members. We get them what they need, and we don't sell them something with the goal being the institution's profit."

The change in philosophy has led to a much different business day for Johnson.

"There is not a lot of difference in managing bank or credit union staff. But I spend more time now serving members and less time keeping up with the sales number," she told Credit Union Journal. "At the bank it was about reaching business objectives not as much about taking care of customers. At the credit union we focus more of our time on building relationships with members, and getting out of the branch and building relationships to better serve the community."

Johnson feels Bronco's approach to business is more effective, especially long term. "You work to build strong relationships, members tell family and friends, and that will increase your numbers over time. We are seeing that here. I think banks may be more effective with very short-term goals, but in the long run that approach will have a negative effect."

It wasn't simple, acknowledged Johnson, to make the change to running a credit union branch. "It was a challenge at first, coming from such a driven world, all the numbers and tracking. I had to tone that side of me down here at Bronco. I had to learn to enjoy the journey in servicing members and not constantly address numbers. It took me a while."

The Godwin office is right in the middle of an industrial area, with a lot of blue-collar workers. It's located on a main road just outside of town in a growing area. One regret Johnson has had during the recession is having to tighten lending standards slightly, and like most FIs across the country, it has seen lending slide somewhat.

"At the credit union I feel I play an important roll in helping people with their financial future," concluded Johnson. "I didn't dislike what I did at the bank. However, making a difference in the quality of people's lives gives you a much better feeling when you come to work."

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