BALLSTON SPA, N.Y.-The recession forced TCT FCU to reverse its business philosophy of spending money first on branch staffing and member support and second on upper management.

CEO Curt Cecala explained the decision to focus more on management was based on a combination of factors faced by many of TCT FCU's peers: plentiful share growth, little lending, low investment rates, and NCUSIF premiums and special assessments. "That was a cocktail that would pressure our net worth ratio. Because of this we shifted our strategy focus to place less emphasis on building our front-line staff to serve our members and more into building our upper management and support staff."

The objective, said Cecala, was to ensure the credit union had the skills to streamline operations and improve efficiencies and had a deep management bench, in the process impressing has a team that can handle the impact from all the new laws and regulations and shrinking net worth due to the large deposit inflow.

Decision Comes With Costs

Cecala acknowledges the decision was difficult, and has not come without some costs. "When you are a small business it is difficult to balance building your organization and taking care of your members. Therefore the heavy emphasis we placed on improving our staff size and compliance skill did come with some risk. Our financial results may be satisfactory but our loans and member growth have significantly slowed. We were unable to devote the proper time and energies to turn these areas around."

Cecala said the "biggest frustration" is that the $136-million CU lost out on "two-plus" years of opportunity to "really go out and help members financially and show them we are there for them when our competition isn't. We hope this year we can place more of our focus and money on our members."

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