MASSENA, N.Y.-SeaComm FCU would not be in its enviable position today-10.10% capital, $7 million net income, and 1.67% ROA in 2011-without holding to the basic credit union principle that CUs exist to help members when other financials won't.

SeaComm did not cut back on lending during the recession and even made some unique exceptions that kept households afloat and members in their homes. Those decisions drove lending to a combined 15%-plus growth during 2008 and 2009, while delinquencies held steady over the recent years around .60%.

As a result, SeaComm was recently recognized by NAFCU as its Federal Credit Union of the Year for CUs above $150 million in assets.

CEO Scott Wilson, who came on board in in 2007, said that in 2008 and 2009 most local lenders , despite the economy faring better in the area than in many other parts of the country, drastically tightened lending guidelines. "We determined that was not the direction in which we wanted to go."

Wilson said the $460-million credit union not only did not tighten standards, but went outside lending guidelines when it felt the risk was appropriate. He shared the story of a semi-retired couple from upstate New York that had built a log cabin home, only to find they could not make the payments after the husband lost his part-time job.

 

Dream Home Resurrected

"They had their loan through a bank and were about to be foreclosed on when someone told the couple to come talk to me," explained Wilson. "They were surprised that they could get to the president of a financial institution to talk to him, especially after having to deal with the bank, which gave very little consideration about their circumstances."

Wilson said the husband had lost his job after blowing the whistle on wrongdoing within his company and was fired shortly afterward. "Here they are, in their dream home, and now having to make all the payments on their fixed income, and could not. The husband did the right thing on his job, so we decided to do the right thing and help them with their mortgage."

SeaComm paid off the bank loan and rewrote the terms to make it affordable for the couple, who have been paying on time ever since. "They had had loans with us in the past and had always paid on time. So we decided to save their home," said Wilson.

The couple was grateful and have since increased their business with SeaComm, expressing how happy they are to be part of the "SeaComm family. We are doing the right thing, prudently, and at the same time building stronger relationships with our members," said Wilson.

 

What It Means To Be Relevant

What is also adding to the credit union's position in the market is the fact it always looks for ways to be relevant with its members. Wilson said that process begins by reaching out to the membership. "Relevant can't be what I think it means, it has to be what our members tell us it is."

The credit union conducts regular and random member surveys, and Wilson makes himself available quarterly at a selected branch to sit down with members and anyone in the community who wants to stop by. "We advertise in the newspapers and people come in to talk with me. If they don't stop in, they know they can call or e-mail me."

Becoming more relevant lately has meant adding technology, such as mobile banking, remote deposit capture, and improving home banking. "Members want to be served 24/7, that is the big thing now," said Wilson. "But that too will change. To thrive, you can't be the same credit union you were five years ago, and you can't be the same credit union in five years that you are now."

Wilson added that instituting a sales and service culture, holding employees accountable for their performance, and rewarding and valuing the staff have contributed significantly to the credit union's success. "I am not the most important person in the organization. It's the employees and they know that. As a team, the board, the front-line, and management, we are responsible for this honor from NAFCU."

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