Call Federal, 60 Years Young and Still Run with Passion

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60 years ago, seven employees of the Philip Morris Company formed a credit union to serve their employees. It cost 25 cents to join.

What is noteworthy is that the founders’ commitment, the human motivation required by any co-op startup, still drives Call Federal today.

The mission statement is “passionately local banking.” The focus is building lasting relationships and giving back to the community. That commitment is stated as follows:

“Call Federal has called the banks of the James River home for more than 60 years. Our employees live here, all decisions are made here. The money we make here stays here. We’re invested in this community because it’s our community too.”

The members’ voice

I learned about this passion for member service in a video celebrating their 60-year charter milestone. The three minutes is almost entirely member interviews. The culture of member service is described through real experiences. These are situations where the credit union has made a difference in members’ lives spanning generations.

A workplace of choice

The CEO John West recalls his predecessor Roger Ball—CEO for 36 years—saying that service is not just the words used, but how you make members feel.

West’s current senior management team brings varied career backgrounds to the organization, not limited to financial services. “We want employees to span different schools of thought to continuously enhance our member relationships.”

West’s background illustrates this prior life and work experience. In November 2021 he was appointed to the Board of Families Forward Virginia. The press release tells how this appointment aligns with the credit union’s mission:

“Families Forward Virginia is the commonwealth’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to disrupting cycles of child abuse, neglect, and poverty. . . Working with parents and their children, the statewide nonprofit provides Home Visiting Programs, Family Support, and Education, Professional Development, Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Programs, Advocacy, Public Awareness/Public Education.”

Prior to joining Call Federal in 2012, West was a senior accountant with Mary Washington Healthcare. Before that he worked for the United Way of Fredericksburg. West is a graduate of Leadership Metro Richmond and served for one year with Lead Virginia.

West commented on his appointment: “Growing up in cooperative housing for steel mill workers, I know the value and importance of a strong community. Part of our mission at Call Federal is recognizing the stress that financial burdens can create.”

A creative financial wellness program

One example of how the credit union addresses this “stress” in members’ lives is its creative Financial Wellness Program. The program rests on three unusual principles to help members “be more confident in their financial decisions.” The three are:

  1. Create Self-awareness. Discover your “money personality”: the habits and attitudes that influence your financial health, for better or worse.
  2. Understand the fundamentals of money management.
  3. Go Beyond by taking care of your physical and mental health and by giving back to your community and the world around you.

One example of this holistic approach to member financial well-being is a free resume review. Other services include coaching, financial workshops, even for kids, and articles to help members with both financial events and career planning.

Sustaining the movement

Speaking with West about how the credit union sustained the founder’s original passion for serving members, he replied that the effort was not merely a credit union story. Rather it is the “human story,” that is, serving each other while living in the community.

The credit union’s 2021 “State of the Union” video below describes the credit union’s response during COVID. It includes two members recounting their personal circumstances, an employee’s special efforts to help staff, and a community agency discussing the credit union’s steadfastness. Each person speaks with passion about their credit union connection.

That passion is the difference that never grows old, no matter a credit union’s charter date.

Author

  • Chip Filson

    A nationally recognized leader in the credit union industry, Filson is an astute author, frequent speaker, and consultant for the credit union movement. He has more than 40 years of experience in government, financial institutions, and business. Chip co-founded Callahan and Associates. Filson has held concurrent positions at the NCUA as president of the Central Liquidity Facility and Director of the Office of Programs, which includes the NCUSIF and the examination process. He holds a magna cum laude undergraduate degree in government from Harvard University. After being awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, he earned a master’s degree in politics, philosophy, and economics from Oxford University in England. He also holds an MBA in management from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School in Chicago.

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