CU*Answers, a Credit Union Service Organization located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2020, marking it as one of the oldest CUSOs in the country. Founded in 1970, CU*Answers is a cooperative that serves over 180 credit unions in 23 states.
Called West Michigan Computer Co-Op, Inc. (WESCO) at the time of its founding, the small CUSO had just five employees and one client. WESCO continued to mature and expand over the next few decades, hiring the current CEO, Randy Karnes, in 1994. At the turn of the millennium, WESCO was recognized as “2000 Operational CUSO of the Year” by NACUSO, and introduced their flagship program, CU*BASE® GOLD.
However, the cooperative soon felt that while their current name reflected their beginnings, they needed something that better represented their current place in the credit union industry, and thus in 2003, WESCO officially changed its name to CU*Answers. The change did not slow down their progress, however, and the newly named CU*Answers was awarded NACUSO’s CUSO of the Year award again in 2008, becoming the first CUSO to win the award multiple times, and exceeded over one million members, a far cry from where they started in 1970.
As they approach their 50th year, CU*Answers is taking the time to look back and reflect on their accomplishments, while also keeping their eyes on the future and what the next 50 years might look like.
When asked about what this milestone means for him and the company, CEO Randy Karnes commented, “When I take the time to really ponder what 50 years means to our firm and to me, it always comes down to the same thing. It’s not about NOW. It’s not just about the time this team has been around and contributed. It is about the teams that came before us, and the teams that will come after us. It is about our respect for them.”
Frankenmuth Credit Union first joined CU*Answers in 2002. Vickie Schmitzer, a longtime employee of the credit union and CEO since 2000, has been a CU*Answers board member since 2007. Vickie reflected on the many technological changes seen over the years and the importance of a steadfast partner to navigate those changes. “We are grateful that for the 50 years CU*Answers has been a stalwart dreamer, producer and leader in these ever-changing times,” noted Schmitzer. Since joining the CU*Answers in 2002, Frankenmuth credit union has grown from $71 million to just under $700 million in total assets today.
Geoff Johnson, COO and President of CU*Answers added, “As we turn 50, it is a time to look to the past and appreciate those that laid the foundation for this anniversary. I appreciate our current customer-owners and business partners that have made those 50 years possible; I look forward to partnering with them on the next opportunity to come, and I smile about those partners that we have yet to meet.”
The CUSO will kick off their semi-centennial celebration at their annual CEO Strategies Week in November 2019, hosting an open house at the Grand Rapids Art Museum for them and their credit union partners. The festivities will continue into the new decade at their annual Leadership Conference in June 2020 (duly nicknamed the Golden Jubilee), where CU*Answers will host a gala event at 20 Monroe Live.
“It’s important to take the time and celebrate all those who have built and continue to build this company by and for its owners,” said Board Chair Scott McFarland, “but it is even more important and impressive that we carry the passion for this movement forward for many more years.”
As CEO of Honor Credit Union since 2008, and a CU*Answers board member since 2009, McFarland has also seen success for his credit union. In the last 11 years, Honor has grown from $232 million to over $978 million. “I am humbled to be part of this great experiment in collaboration and I appreciate the fact that the team today and those from the past have paved the way for a bright future.”
As for their plan going forward, Karnes added, “The work to sustain the effort has always been the same: honor the past, take on the challenges handed to you, and prep to hand off to the future. This team is up to the challenge, and we are confident that teams in the future will be too!”