Listen and Launch: How Everence Federal Credit Union Will Change in the New Year

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Right before the holiday season, rkGoBig’s Lending Council (a group of collaborators meeting monthly for the past five years) gathered to trade knowledge on the “go-forward” for their credit unions. I was listening to them list idea after idea of how they were moving their already successful credit unions forward in 2024.

I plucked one motivating story to share and hopefully inspire you to consider change in your walls.

Kristen Heisey is the CEO of Everence® Federal Credit Union in Lancaster, PA. They have $423 million in assets, nine branches, and a national branch. They help members across all 50 states integrate their faith and values with their finances. The credit union is also part of Everence Financial.

In this national faith-based financial services organization, members and clients put their faith and values into practice through their comprehensive financial products and services, member and community benefits, and stewardship education resources. Across the organization’s entire enterprise, Everence manages over $6.7 billion in assets on behalf of their 78,000 members and clients nationwide.

They also happen to be a founding owner of our collaboration CUSO: rkGoBig.

Kristen has been with Everence for a year and a half, and with the newness came the opportunity to evolve their thinking on launching the next chapter of Everence Federal Credit Union.

Nate: When you took stock of the successes and challenges facing Everence Federal Credit Union—how did you approach taking a hammer and chisel to an already successful operation?

Kristen Heisey

Kristen: I did a listening tour in my first couple of months, visiting every branch location and talking to every employee to really understand what was going well and where there was room for improvement.

One challenge was our long-term strategy, asking ourselves, “Where are we headed?” Another was around developing our people and giving them opportunities to grow or improve their skills within their current jobs.

Throughout these conversations, I also sensed that the expectations were not high. Are we truly meeting all the financial needs of our members? Because the reality is that they are going to go somewhere! But are they going to think of us? We don’t have many members who would call us their primary financial institution. How do we work at that?

One of the things I started talking about right away was having a growth mindset, or more specifically, a growth vs. fixed mindset.

A little Carol Dweck for everybody?!

Yes! I told everyone about her book on growth mindset and said, “Anyone who wants this book, I will buy it for you.” I bought one for everyone on the leadership team, and we did a book study last year. Our foundational work the previous year was to open people’s minds to thinking differently. To say: “I can grow, and I can stretch!” and stress that it’s a positive thing.

We revisited that study a year later and asked, “How did you grow in the last year? What did that look like?” This allowed us to say, “Let’s talk about the credit union and how WE want to grow.”

That foundation allowed them to hear our vision for the future.

Did you find there was resistance at all from your team? Was there any change that needed to happen due to the change you were expecting?

I think we have tried to move slowly to help people. I heard the analogy once of driving the bus and then quickly jerking it to one side, dislodging people from their seats. We tried to turn the bus slowly. We took a year to prepare people, so when we shared the vision of the future, the team’s excitement surprised me. I expected more resistance. But because it was a collaborative effort, we experienced more engagement and ownership.

In the service of your new strategy, is there anything you decided to stop doing even though it was technically working?

One example is a branch that became available to lease, and there were compelling reasons to consider leasing it. We did a market analysis to see the benefit (we know we need share and loan growth to reach our new 2030 goals). We looked at it and said, “What would we get from a growth perspective?” The little gain we project from this location isn’t enough for the risk of being distracted from all the big things we need to do to achieve our strategic objectives.

Our work made the decision easy, and I don’t think we could have done that without this vision and strategy behind us.

A cousin to that last question, is there anything you decided to tweak or adjust? Taking a product in a new direction?

We added a new relationship savings product last year, which has exploded. You need a checking and debit card with a certain balance to receive a higher interest rate.

We then did a soft launch of a relationship-checking product where you needed direct deposit and ten debit card transactions. Quarterly, we meet with and listen to our sales managers, and almost everyone there said, “I don’t use a debit card; I use a credit card.” It was an impromptu focus group!

We plan to tweak the new product before we roll it out publicly and allow credit card transactions. It’s only been a few months, but we want to adapt. The product doesn’t need to meet every need, but understanding those nuances is helpful.

How do you coach people up to listen? How do you encourage listening as a critical value at Everence Federal Credit Union? It’s pretty clear you believe in that.

Modeling. One example is that we’re getting ready to do performance appraisals, and I reached out to all the direct reports of the people who report to me and asked for feedback on their experience with their supervisor. One of the people who reports to me saw that and asked, “Can I do the same thing?”

Modeling best practices encourages others to do the same.

It’s also scary, right? We did upward summaries for the first time this year, and there’s some resistance! You know? “I don’t want to see that!”

It is SO hard to see that.

We know many small credit unions who do not feel they have the time and resources TO start. How do they start?

Prioritize time away from day-to-day operations. I put planning time on my calendar in a different color. I intentionally put time aside to plan. Create a KPI dashboard, too. Regularly seeing our progress was super helpful this year. We would not have easily seen things that matter without that dashboard.

What’s one thing we can learn from your work that other credit unions can easily attach to?

Re-look at your product offerings. Constantly evaluate your customer needs. Why are they not using you? Refreshing our business suite of products is a focus for 2024. We’re doing this because we were starting to hear from our larger non-profits that we can no longer serve their needs.

Listen, and be willing to change what you do.

Author

  • Nathan Anderson

    Nathan is the Chief Operating Officer of rkGoBig---a CUSO dedicated to preserving and igniting small credit unions. He specializes in operational facilitation, strategic collaboration, and project management. Nate runs the day-to-day operations for the CUSO while helping manage cross-network projects. Immediately before that, he sat with a high-level strategic seat for the birth, growth, maturation, and exit of the ticketing start-up PatronManager.

Comments
  • chip+filson#1

    February 1, 2024

    a very insightful interview. To the point with concrete examples.

    Reply
  • Amber Mooney#3

    February 1, 2024

    In a world that’s always changing, the story of Kristen Heisey that you shared in your interview really shows how important it is to be able to adapt, to believe in the ability to grow, and to have leaders who focus on both a big-picture plan and helping their team members grow individually. This story isn’t just relevant to those in finance; it has important takeaways for any leader trying to guide their group through today’s complicated world.

    Reply
    • Nate Anderson#4

      February 2, 2024

      Thanks for reading and commenting Amber! Really valuable feedback.

      Reply

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