Stephen J. White is president and CEO of Westerly Community Credit Union, a position he has held for 13 of his 34 years in the credit union industry.
He is on the board, and a former chair, of the Credit Union Association of Rhode Island. He is treasurer of the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center, district clerk of the Dunn’s Corner Fire District and a past president of the Portsmouth Rotary Club.
White has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Rhode Island. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin’s Graduate School of Business CUNA Management School program. He has completed the Credit Union Executive Society’s Executive Operations Institute sponsored by the University of Missouri. He has also completed the Credit Union Executives Society’s CEO Institute, a three-year program jointly sponsored by the Wharton, Johnson and Darden schools of Business and has earned the designation of Certified Chief Executive Officer.
PBN: Westerly Community Credit Union is celebrating its 65th anniversary on Oct. 15. What do you think are the main factors that have kept it financially viable and healthy through all these decades?
WHITE: The biggest reason is that we have a very loyal and devoted membership. The Westerly Community Credit Union has worked hard over its history to earn the trust of our members. We know that the reason we are here is to support them and they have rewarded us with their patronage through the good times and bad. Additionally, we take pride in being a good corporate citizen, supporting monetarily and with volunteers many community events, with a special focus on supporting financial literacy, especially in our local schools. People know we are here to help.
PBN: Rhode Island has a very competitive banking landscape. How does Westerly Community Credit Union compete with other credit unions? With other banks?
WHITE: Our primary focus as an institution is to be an advocate for our members. When a member or potential member visits and meets with a member of our staff, we listen to them and try to get an understanding of what the person’s financial goals are, evaluate their financial situation and make suggestions as to courses of action that they can take to achieve those goals. For some people, the goal may be a comfortable retirement, for others getting out of debt or owning a home or repairing their credit. We are committed to helping our members succeed and achieve that goal. We are so committed to helping all of our members, that we have members of our staff certified in financial counseling to help those who require a greater level of support to get their financial houses back in order.
PBN: Back in 1948, when Westerly Community Credit Union began, the first 23 members pooled their money to for a total of $169. One week later the first loan was granted – for $120. How many members does the credit union have now and what are its assets?
WHITE: As of our last quarterly filing with our regulatory authorities, the Westerly Community Credit Union has 15,807 members, $221 million in assets and $185 million in outstanding loan balances.
PBN: Westerly Community Credit Union now has four branches. Are you planning to hold steady at that number or is there a strategy in place to expand in the near future?
WHITE: Currently the credit union is focused on continuing to build membership at our two newest offices in Richmond and South Kingstown. We really like those communities and believe we have a great opportunity to continue to grow the credit union there and in the surrounding towns. Additionally, we continue to monitor and evaluate economic conditions in Washington County and would consider expansion, given the right situation.
PBN: What do you think are the biggest challenges credit unions have to face now in Rhode Island and in the U.S? What are your strategies to overcome those challenges?
WHITE: Probably the biggest challenges in Rhode Island are the slow economic recovery and a shrinking statewide population. It is hard to grow a business when businesses and people are leaving the state. To overcome these challenges, we need to continue to communicate to the residents and small businesses in the communities in which we do business that our business model is different. That we are not here just to provide loans and checking accounts, but to work in partnership with our members to help them manage their finances in a prudent manner. Nationally, the biggest threat to credit unions is overly burdensome regulation, which was designed to reign in the largest banks, but in many cases is being applied to smaller financial institutions significantly driving up their costs for compliance and the delivery of services. In this area we need to continue to work through our trade associations to educate legislators that credit unions did not cause the financial crisis of the recent past and should be regulated in a manner that ensures their safety and soundness, yet is appropriate for a financial cooperative.
President and CEO of Westerly Community Credit Union talks about the company on the eve of its 65th anniversary.