In this case study, we will investigate how Aux’s accounting assistance service came to the rescue in a time of great uncertainty and stress for this credit union, as well as the makings of a strong accounting partnership. Areas of focus include
- The benefit of having a team with deep, credit union-specific accounting expertise at your fingertips;
- The real, pervasive problem of lack of skilled staff across the country;
- How Aux and Siskiyou implemented services quickly (less than two weeks) to address urgent needs; and
- Challenges, tips, and advice for partnering in shared services model – and how it doesn’t make sense for everyone.
The Aux Team sat down with Becky Ives, long-time CEO of Siskiyou CU, and Brenda Byrd, equally long-time CFO-turned retiree-turned CFO again (we’ll explain.) They shared with us their ugly, very bad start to 2020. Byrd had spent two years training her replacement – and sadly the replacement left Siskiyou after just one year. Then, shortly after, another key person from the accounting team went on maternity leave. Suddenly and without warning, Siskiyou’s accounting team vanished. “We were in a situation where we were not going to have our in-house accounting available anymore. Ok, where do we turn?” sighs CEO Ives.
Ives reached out to her trusted network at TCT Risk Solutions and Richard and Associates, who does their internal audits. They in turn recommended Aux as a possible outsourced accounting solution. Previously, Ives and Byrd had little knowledge that such a turnkey, robust service existed—let alone who Aux was.
The Challenge of Finding, and Affording, Skilled Staff
It seemed like the Aux Accounting Team’s extensive industry experience and skilled team, trained three-deep on each client, might be a remedy to Siskiyou staffing plagues. The partnership moved quickly.
“Once we had the conversation with the Aux CFO and her team, we felt pretty comfortable moving forward with the process. I was also fortunate enough that Byrd came out of retirement to help. From the time we got the two-week notice, we were on the phone with the Aux Team within 48 hours and had our decision made and a contract signed within about a week’s time,” explains Ives. In addition, Siskiyou received notice that the state and insurance regulators were coming in for their two-year audit during this time. Consequentially, Byrd came out of retirement to help Ives with the credit union’s accounting function and finding a new replacement. Talk about stressful!
We wanted to take a moment to address how common Siskiyou’s staffing woes are in the industry. The Aux Accounting team has worked with dozens of credit unions over the past five years, in all shapes and sizes. Staffing and key person risk is as pervasive a problem as they come, and not confined to one region. California, however, is a hotspot, both in affording and finding skilled staff. In Siskiyou’s case, their woes included the latter.
“We’re in a very small city at the very top of California,” explains Ives. In 2019, Yreka’s population was 7,500. Only 45,000 people live in the entire county, and the closest mid-sized city, Eugene, OR, is 200 miles away. “Byrd was with us for 24 years and looked for a replacement for six years,” said Ives. “It’s very, very hard to find a candidate that has the qualifications and has the necessary passion for accounting. It’s not everybody’s forte, even if it’s something they feel they want to learn.”
We’d be remiss to not acknowledge how proactive Siskiyou was in finding a solution to their problems, which benefited them mightily. Not every credit union takes such an aggressive and open approach to finding a solution, which can create massive structural issues to an accounting function over time. Desperate hiring of inadequate staff, lack of training, and messy, inconsistent processes can create real problems, many where Aux has had to step in and “put out the fire.”
But Ives knew what damage a disruption would do to Siskiyou. “I’m going to come right back to the fact that I worked with Byrd for 24 years, and I knew what that disruption was going to look like. I didn’t have any choices – I had to bring some stability to my credit union.”