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Q&A — Credit union feeling shifts in business

JIMMY SMITH

JIMMY SMITH

By LISA MONTI 

Jimmy Smith, president and CEO of Singing River Federal Credit Union since 1993, was elected to the board of directors in 2002 and currently serves as chairman of the Mississippi Credit Union Association.

Smith has an MBA from William Carey University and a banking and finance degree from the University of Southern Mississippi. Among his professional affiliations, he has been a board member of the Mississippi Credit Union Association since 2002 and Credit Union 24 since 2012.

Smith says membership in Mississippi’s credit unions continues to grow, even though there is still a misconception that credit unions are somehow behind these tech-savvy times. He explains why that’s not the case.

Q. What is the state of credit unions in Mississippi now?

A. Currently, Mississippi has 81 credit unions with assets over $5 billion. Like many states, unfortunately the number of credit unions continues to decline, primarily due to the many burdens placed on smaller credit unions by government regulations.

As a result, a lot of smaller credit unions choose to merge with larger credit unions.

However, in most cases merging these credit unions generally mean better financial services for the members.

Even though the number of credit unions are declining, the number of credit union members continues to increase.

Q. Who is the typical credit union member in Mississippi? Is there one?

A. Of course, credit union members have to have some type of affiliation to become a credit union member – this may include a particular employee group or living in a particular community or county.

I would say that most credit unions serve a wide variety of members from various socioeconomic groups.

Yet, I believe that the largest number of credit union members would be considered blue-collar workers and those of mid to low means.

Q. Why choose a credit union instead of a bank?

A. Surveys will prove that credit unions offer better deals for their members than bank customers receive from their bank. Better rates and lower fees and service charges mean credit union members save more money. The credit union philosophy is “people helping people.”

This philosophy holds true in every aspect for credit union members experiencing their relationship with their credit union.

And finally, the credit union member owns the credit union. No matter how large or how small a credit union member’s deposit may be, that member owns an equal share of the credit union.

Q. What are the trends in the operation of credit unions today? More technology? More branches?

A. One of the things that credit unions do very well is combine our resources to better serve our members nationwide. Knowing that consumers desire convenience at low cost, credit unions have developed some unique ways to better serve our membership.

For example, I serve as chairman of the board of directors for CU24. This is a surcharge-free ATM network that allows affiliated credit union members to withdraw funds from ATMs at thousands of ATM locations nationwide. We have a similar network with Shared Branching. As president/CEO of SRFCU, my 25,000 members can transact business at over 5,000 credit union branches within the U.S.

Needless to say, this gives my members freedom to travel abroad, while still having access to their credit union, just as if we had a branch where they may be.

Q. What issues are leaders of credit unions concerned about and are working on?

A. I would say, much like many businesses in America, the government regulations greatly limit our ability to offer the best member financial experience. When I became president of Singing River Federal Credit Union 23 years ago, our primary focus was to meet our members’ financial needs.

Today, we still work diligently to meet this goal, yet much of our resources are now focused on meeting the plethora of government mandates. Frankly, I sometimes wonder if we work for our members or the government.

What is the potential for growth and expansion in Mississippi for credit unions?

Nationwide, only about 6 percent of the financial assets are held in credit unions. In Mississippi that number is closer to 7 percent. However, there is a tremendous opportunity to grow credit union membership. There is perhaps a stigma that credit unions are our parent’s or grandparent’s banks. This could not be further from the truth.

Most credit unions today are very tech savvy with financial delivery channels. Most credit unions generally offer all of the same banking services banks do as well, but often at lower costs, while offering better services for the member.

Consumer surveys consistently prove that non-profit credit union members are more satisfied with their credit union than customers are with their for-profit financial institution.

The challenge that credit unions have is educating the general public. We have to do a better job of sharing the credit union member experience. Perhaps I just did.

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