Hello and welcome to our third edition of The Juicy Stuff: An Interview Series with Our Board Members. Each month throughout 2019, I will be interviewing one of our board members and publishing it to our blog, right here. The interview is a mix of strategic questions as well as surprise questions to keep things entertaining.
This month, I interviewed Mr. Mike Merryman, President/CEO of Interior FCU.
Because Mike’s credit union is based in Washington, D.C., I didn’t exactly have the budget to fly there for a 45-minute interview. Even if I did, I wouldn’t have been able get on a plane because the entire Denver Airport and even the road that leads to the Denver Airport closed the day before our interview, due to what was coined as a BOMB CYCLONE STORM. This BOMB CYCLONE was said to be so incredibly powerful that it causes pregnant women to go into labor. No one in Denver was going anywhere on Wednesday and Thursday.
Never fear – cellular service still worked great – and Mike and I were able to carry on for a great interview.
1. What are your credit union’s goals for 2019?
Mike Merryman: We’ve been fortunate to have experienced some robust growth during the past three years. For 2019, we’re planning on staying course with our strategic plan. We’re continuing to make investments in technology and infrastructure, as well as improve our member experience. We definitely feel that member experience builds the member loyalty. We do serve members in all 50 states, so we want them to have easy access and have a great experience, especially in our online channels. We are trying to compete with the large financial institutions and feel that the member experience and keeping up with technology are key to doing that. We’re kind of a small mid-level credit union, and that can be challenging at times, but one of our goals is to be a fast adopter of technology.
Alicia Disantis: Credit union of your size – there are so many that are struggling with keeping up with technology. What have you guys been able to do technology-wise that a lot of other credit unions are challenged by? What is the different approach you have?
M: We do use a lot of third-party vendors for home banking, mobile banking and different technology like that. Typically, when vendors come out with new bells and whistles or enhancements we’re pretty quick to use the technology. We’re not big enough to be a beta testing credit union but we are fast adopters of the technology.
We offered remote deposit capture early on. We’ve been doing that for a long time and found RDC to be part of our success, especially as we have folks all over the United States who aren’t able to visit our brick-and-mortar branches.
A: Is your credit union on shared branching?
M: We are. It’s helpful not only for the ATM exposure for our members but also the branch locations are great.
A: It’s time for your first surprise question
2. You are sitting in front of the TV, what are you watching?
M: Well this time of year it’s easy: it’s definitely March Madness.
The ACC Tournament kicked off last night and I will be watching a lot of college basketball between now and whenever the championship is, sometime early April. That’s always a highlight for me.
I coached a Varsity Girls High School basketball team for nine years and played basketball in high school. Basketball is definitely huge for me and watching college basketball is always a highlight each year.
A: So, at the time of this article being published, the NCAA Tournament will be in full swing.
Who are some of your favorite college teams?
M: Well, originally being from Maryland, I have followed Maryland University. For me I just enjoy seeing the competition level. You get 68 teams and they’re all trying to get to the championship. I love seeing the excitement that goes on during game time and all the men and women laying it all on the line to compete for the championship. It just brings about a lot of good basketball and amazing highlights that are fun to watch. It’s a fun time of the year to be watching sports.
A: What about the rest of the year?
M: I’m not a big television watcher. Typically, I would watch a movie here and there.
I do kind of like the Chicago’s series Chicago Med, Fire and PD.
3. What was challenging for you last year, as a credit union CEO?
M: Finding and retaining good talent. Being in the Washington, D.C. area there’s definitely a very low unemployment rate and there are close to 100 credit unions within a 45-minute drive of each other. It feels like we’re kind of vying for the same pool of applicants.
Last year was one of our highest turnover years. This was one of the reasons why we moved a lot of our accounting services to CU Service Network. We had experienced almost 100% turnover in our accounting department, and CUSN helped us through the process.
A: We’re hearing this over and over. At first, I thought it was just rural locations, but now it seems like this problem is across the board with credit unions. You have people in other credit unions or banks come in and offer them 25 cents more an hour and there’s just no loyalty.
M: I agree, it is. It definitely creates compensation challenges.
The second area has been liquidity. We’ve been blessed with a high loan to share ratio which is nice in terms of bringing in income with a rising interest rate environment. Last year that definitely felt the liquidity pressure. What we are seeing with the internet and the ease of moving money between financial institutions, there is more of a challenge for us to bring in funds than it was several years ago.
In the beginning of 2019, certainly the government shutdown didn’t help, and we were heavily impacted.
Oh my goodness. Yeah.
4. What is something that you do that your staff wishes you didn’t?
M: Staff wish I didn’t? I don’t know…I’m going to have to poll them. [Long pause]
I’m not a micromanager. I love to delegate and empower my staff. Can I get back to you?
[An hour later Mike emails me and tells me he surveyed his staff. This is the response: My staff wishes I did not have my video camera turned off during Webex video meetings. When we have video conference calls, and everyone has their video on so we can see each other, I never turn on my video camera. Not a fan of being seen on video so I never turn on my camera, but no one ever said anything, so this is something new I just learned.]
5. What is something that most people love but you find overrated?
A. What’s your unpopular opinion?
M: Wow…I mean I hate running. People say running is good. I hate running. I don’t mind exercising, but I don’t want to run. I’ll bike, lift weights, but I do not hit the treadmill. I can’t stand it.
I’ll play basketball and soccer where running is a part of it. Just going out jogging and running? No, I don’t do that at all.
A: It doesn’t clear your head? It’s not meditative?
M: It doesn’t. There’s nothing fun or enjoyable about running a marathon or anything like that. No thank you.
6. You’ve been in the credit union industry for decades and seen a lot of things. What has surprised you most, something you never expected to happen to the industry?
M: The tremendous impact of the Internet and cellular Wi-Fi in the industry. Society has changed to the “I want it right now” kind of mentality. Members are expecting immediate response. E-mails, texts, online chat, instant messages. Open accounts online immediately. Loans applied for online are expected to have approval and funding in a few minutes. Real time transferring of funds between financial instructions and P2P happens instantaneously, and not having a delay of a day or two. This has had a huge impact. It is certainly a blessing for the members and challenge for the credit unions to keep up with that, especially depending on their size. Smartphones really are powerful computers that you keep with you all the time. Handheld devices provide instant access to all kinds of information and the ability to simplify and improve your life…I think it’s kind of a blessing and a curse. It’s an easy way for you to access information or to make a request, but on the flip side, when you’re the one that is receiving all the messages on your phone, it can be a little daunting.
A: Information overload.
M: You want to treat others the way you want to be treated, right? When I send a text or an email I’m looking for a quick response. It’s the same with our members and staff. Ten or fifteen years ago I would never have imagined all the online capabilities that members now have.
A: As a CEO what do you do to help with information overload and how do you keep yourself sane when you have an inbox of 400 unread messages? Do you have any personal advice for how to manage everything and make sure your life doesn’t get absorbed by it?
M: I’m not advocating this for everybody, but I use a lot of filters for email and have a lot of different categories in my Outlook and its helpful. I do spend some time every day, whether it’s on a weekend or even on vacation, looking at my emails and prioritizing. I find keeping up with it on a daily basis, even for a small period of time, is better than coming back from vacation or a weekend and looking at my emails for the first time and trying to catch up. I feel like I’m always pro-active with what should be done or respond immediately rather than allowing it to pile up.
There’re some people that shut off their phone and don’t access e-mail when they’re on vacation, but that’s difficult when I come back. I can regret that I went on vacation. Why did I go on vacation? [laughing] Taking a little bit of time each day is helpful.
7. What could you spend all day doing?
M: [No hesitation] I could spend all day at the beach, especially if my family is there. I love the ocean. I love the beach and going in the water. We have extended family down in Florida and I love going down there at least once a year.
It’s my zen moment…my relaxation. Crashing of the waves, the smell of the air, the seagulls. It’s very peaceful.
8. There is a new wave of credit union decision makers on the horizon. What advice would you give them?
M: Improve the culture where you work by taking initiative and having a strong work ethic. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Go above and beyond the minimum requirement in your job description. Make yourself invaluable to your employer and your team members. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. Seek out mentors or find a boss or a credit union leader that can provide you input into your management style or work through some decision making. Get involved in your YPN group. If you’re not into serving and caring about others, then the credit industry is probably not a good fit for you. Might be time to move on. I like the people helping people motto. I definitely believe the credit union industry is a little different industry than others out there.
A: Right. There’s really no in between: either you are passionate about the credit union industry or you’re not.
9. Name someone you admire greatly.
M: I would say my dad. He worked for the Montgomery County Department of Transportation right out of college and worked his way all the way up to the highest level you get without having to go into an elected position. I admire the way he really serves and cares for his extended family. He and my mom serve heroically in their church and he retired early so that he could spend more time serving other folks in the church and his family. He is definitely somebody that I would like to emulate. I really admire how he gives his life serving and caring for others. That is very different than what I see in the world today.
10. Tell me your thoughts on the future of credit unions.
M: I love the credit union industry. I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of it for almost 30 years and I’m definitely excited about the future of credit unions. The number of credit unions has been on the decline, but I believe our industry as a whole is getting stronger.
We seem to be capturing more of the financial market and people are seeing the benefit of the credit union culture, but credit unions need to be fast adopters of new technology for us to be competitive in this market.
Technology changes quickly and consumers seem to embrace the new technology as it provides them greater control of their lives. If we aren’t providing what they want, it’s so easy for them to go somewhere else.
I believe CUSOs will even be more critical in the future as the regulatory burden increases, technology changes and the products and services that members expect us to deliver change. I certainly appreciate the excellent services that CU Service Network provides. We partner with them for our compliance and accounting support and I know how critical CUSOs are to us. We’re also involved in several other CUSOs for products that CU Service Network does not offer, and for our sized credit union ($210M) wanting to be competitive in the marketplace, I think the collaborative, co-operative CUSO model is so important in helping credit unions who aren’t able to do things in-house and support us in this ever-changing financial market.
A: Thank you, Mike
M: Thank you