By: Bill Merrick
How does a small credit union in the Florida Panhandle compete with the omnipresent national banks or even larger local competitors?
“We don’t try,” says Jan Page, CEO at Community South Credit Union in Chipley, Fla. “We know our members and we do what we do—well. Other institutions offer lower rates and that’s OK. It takes the pressure off because we don’t constantly monitor what everyone else is doing.”
Based on the credit union’s growth, the approach is working. Community South had $43 million in assets since Page became CEO in 2007. It now has $175 million in assets, three branches, and 50 employees.
Key to that growth was focusing on its target market—modest-income and low-wealth consumers—and concentrating on member loyalty.
“We came up with a campaign called ‘No Cheaters’ because we didn’t want our members to cheat on us with another financial institution,” Page says. “Initially, many members didn’t consider us for loans. They thought they’d get a better deal at the dealership. We targeted them and offered incentives to move their loans to us.”
Much of Community South’s membership is low-income, “and they’re not used to being treated well by financial institutions,” she adds. “We implemented a policy that it takes two people to say ‘no’ to a loan request. We do our best to say ‘yes’ and find ways to make loans. Members realize we want to help them and that they matter to us.”
That consideration extends to staff, too. Since the start of the pandemic, Page has prioritized employees’ well-being and addressed staff’s health concerns with education and information about how to protect themselves.
“Just like during hurricane season, we make sure they’re prepared so they can make good decisions for themselves,” she explains.
Recognizing a need among her counterparts at small credit unions, Page is one of 13 CEOs who founded the Credit Union Women’s Leadership Alliance. It supports female CEOs at credit unions with $300 million in assets or less as they face unique challenges.
“Traditionally, women have a much larger responsibility at home, so we have those additional pressures,” she says. “And at smaller credit unions, we wear a lot of hats. We have to know all the pieces of the credit union in much more detail than CEOs at larger credit unions.
“It was eye-opening that many us have the same experiences, whether it’s with board relations or being promoted from within,” Page continues. “We provide a safe space for collaboration and support. It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in my career.”
Page credits her father—the first beekeeper to be inducted into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame—for her strong work ethic.
“If something needed to be done, he did it,” she says. “And if someone needed help, he’d give it. He was never stingy with his knowledge. He passed that on to his children.”