Powerlist: Credit Unions

BY KIM MOORE

A conversation about credit unions with the CEOs of Advantis Credit Union and OSU Federal Credit Union, followed by June's Powerlist.

BY KIM MOORE

0614powerlistBob-CorwinRobert Corwin
CEO of Advantis Credit Union

OB: How has the economic recovery affected your lending strategy?

RC: After the downturn, consumer loan demand decreased. Now that the economy has recovered, we have seen the pent-up demand by consumers lead to a robust recovery in the auto-loan industry. Our auto portfolio increased by 71% last year. We also saw an increase in homeowner refinances, but that seems to be slowing a bit. With real estate values once again moving in a positive direction and with rates still relatively low, we have turned our focus toward the purchase market for mortgage loans.

OB: Are more businesses coming to you for loans because of the economic recovery?

RC: Yes. Our commercial-loan portfolio grew 41% last year. During the downturn, as commercial banks backed away from the market, we experienced an increase in demand for commercial lending and are still seeing robust activity. Predominantly, we are a commercial real estate lender; however, we are looking at additional opportunities to better serve the small-business community.

OB: How do you distinguish yourself from other financial institutions?

RC: Our biggest challenge isn’t differentiating from other credit unions — it’s simply creating awareness of credit unions in general. There is still an education gap as to what credit unions are and what services we provide. When we are trying to distinguish Advantis, we like to rely on the fact that we have served the Portland area for more than 85 years, are stable, are financially sound and are consistently rated as a best value for consumers.

OB: Why do you think there is not much public awareness of credit unions?

RC: Nationally, there have been efforts to increase public awareness of credit unions. However, we still have work to do. I think of how the “Got Milk?” campaign raised awareness of the benefits of milk, and I think the credit union industry could benefit from the same type of campaign. The overall message of credit unions formed as cooperatives and returning earnings to members in the form of lower fees and better interest rates is a positive one.

OB: Credit unions still represent a small section of the financial services sector. Do you see any potential for future growth?

RC: There is significant opportunity for growth, particularly as consumers are looking for other options and a better value after the financial crisis. However, the nature of our cooperative model puts a restriction on our growth. Credit unions must maintain appropriated levels of capital and can only increase capital through earnings. This restriction is both a plus and a minus, as it ensures financial stability but limits how quickly we can grow.


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