To: SECU Board of Directors
Dear Chairman Ayers,
Well Mr. Ayers! See that you and the SECU Board have gone ahead and done the the dirty deed! Sure you're proud of risk based lending...add it to your resumes, so North Carolinians won't forget you.
Many members believe you and the SECU Board of Directors are missing the point, that you simply don't understand "There Is A Difference" at SECU. Here's a member letter on the negative impact of risk-based lending on the members of SECU.
You received this letter 5 months ago - have you read it?
From: Kirby Parrish <email@example.com>
Subject: Policy Changes
Date: October 20, 2022 at 11:11:54 AM EDT To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cc: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Chairman Ayers,
I would like to tell you a brief, true story but would begin by giving you a short introduction.
I am recently retired from SECU. I started off as a part time teller, then loan officer, branch manager and eventually district manager finishing an almost 39 year career as a Senior Vice President, all spent in the branch. As I told someone recently I bleed branch. I think I can make the case that a career spent in service to SECU members and staff is a life well led.
I am concerned about the new direction of SECU in some areas. When I was in the branch everything we did...everything, was centered on helping members, from the teller line to the loan office we worked hard to enhance the member experience, streamline it when needed and be attentive to member needs. It was pretty simple, do the right thing for the members, period. One of our greatest strengths as an organization was our local relationship with members, it fed our growth. Not for growth's sake but because we were doing the right thing. Not necessarily the thing that produced the most income but the right thing. I understand math, SECU must stay financially sound to be able to continue to serve members (and we always have), but not to the extent we harm certain members. I see that we have tiptoed past that line with some newer policies such as risk based lending and raising fees.
I would like to tell you one story from my personal experience that may help you understand what we do for members and what I fear we may be losing. This story involves a member when I was the manager of the Garner branch. Mr. Ratliff was an older gentleman I helped on a regular basis. He was soft-spoken, humble, sincere - he literally came in with his hat in his hand. Just a sweet man right off the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. He would come in every month or two to get a small loan of $100 or $150 for something he really needed. I always helped him and we always got paid. But while he was soft-spoken, he was also hard of hearing even with his hearing aids so I would close my door when he came in because I would have to raise my voice to speak to him.
One day Mr. Ratliff came in to see me and he had a young boy with him, maybe 6 or 7 years old. I called them in the office and I asked how I could help them. Mr. Ratliff looked at his grandson (I later found out) and nodded at him. The little boy told me his grandfather’s hearing aids had broken and he needed new ones, he could not hear without them. I asked the boy how much Mr. Ratliff needed, he paused and handed me a piece of paper that had $800 scribbled on it - a much larger amount that anything we had ever done before. But I knew right away we were doing it even if I had to give him the money out of my pocket.
So I told the young boy that of course we could help his grandfather. He looked at his grandfather and shook his head yes. At that point Mr. Ratliff let out a deep sigh of relief and although he did not say a word these big tears slowly rolled down his cheeks. When his grandson saw his grandfather with tears he started tearing up, and me, upon seeing both of them, I started tearing up. So there we all sat in silence with tears rolling down our cheeks as I wrote up the loan.
I’ve told that story several times over the years and I never get through it without choking up, just
like that first time. And THAT was the best loan I ever made.
And THAT is what worries me because the credit union is full of Mr. Ratliffs. I’m sure you know but one of the pieces of risk based lending is that for members with a credit score below a certain threshold SECU will not make them a loan under any circumstances. That local ability to look a member in the eye and make a character judgment based on your relationship I fear is going away. It is what made us who we are. When you only engage a member as a stranger by phone or email it becomes much easier to see members as things and not people, and easier to dismiss their need if it does not fit into a pre-made box.
Taking much of the local decision making out of the branch concerns me a great deal. Assume you know that your local VP or SVP can no longer make or approve a mortgage loan, initiate and recommend a mortgage assistance plan, approve even a 1 month loan extension or work with delinquent members since collections have been centralized. (Although I have heard because that process has not gone as planned that the branches are being asked to rescue collections, at least temporarily.) Our great strength compared to others was our decentralized decision making. Knowing our local members and building a relationship, sometimes over years or decades, set us apart and contributed to the powerhouse financial institution we became. It would appear SECU is underutilizing the wealth of knowledge and experience available in the branches to help members.
Over the last year I get the feeling that we have been broken for a long time and we needed to be “fixed”, that there needs to be a change in culture. I would respectfully disagree. I could not be more proud of who we are and what has been accomplished by helping many members that have no other alternative but the credit union. If we lose that ability we have lost our identity.
I would implore you to evaluate any significant change in our identity with all members in mind and the (unintended) consequences of those decisions. Additionally, fuller transparency to the members may provide you with valuable feedback before implementing major policy changes.
I would be interested in hearing your thoughts, and look forward to hearing from you.
CC: SECU Board Members Jim Hayes