Stephen J. White has held the position of president and CEO of Westerly Community Credit Union for the last 19 of his 39 years in the credit union industry. Aside from his leadership position at the credit union, he serves as treasurer of the Ocean Community YMCA, treasurer of the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center, and as vice president of the Westerly Education Endowment Fund.
White has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Rhode Island. His other educational credentials include: completion of the University of Wisconsin’s Graduate School of Business’ Credit Union National Association Management School program; the Credit Union Executive Society’s Executive Operations Institute, sponsored by the University of Missouri; and the Credit Union Executive Society’s CEO Institute, a three-year program sponsored by the Wharton, Johnson, and Darden schools of business.
PBN: Do you feel the Rhode Island market for credit unions is saturated with competition?
WHITE: Yes, but not just for credit unions. I believe the Rhode Island market in general is saturated with financial institutions. Credit unions, like all other financial institutions, need to grow in order to be relevant in the financial lives of their members. By relevant, I mean being able to generate the resources necessary to invest in the products, services and technologies that their members are expecting them to provide.
Unfortunately, the state’s population is not growing and, therefore, we see community-based financial institutions branching out of their historical markets to generate the growth numbers they need to remain relevant. Of course, the consumer benefits from the additional competition in the form of better rates and lower fees.
PBN: Do you feel credit unions generally are more resilient to recessions than banks?
WHITE: I feel that even though the business models of credit unions and banks are different, credit unions being not-for-profit cooperatives, that in general all federally insured depositories are well-regulated and resilient to recession. With that said, there may be outliers in each industry that may struggle some during a recession, but … both industries appear to be pretty solid. I am confident that the credit union industry is.
PBN: Where did your credit union’s 3.5% growth in membership last year come from?
WHITE: The Westerly Community Credit Union’s growth in membership last year came primarily through our branch network, with an assist from our online services. There was no magic bullet. Our growth came from mortgages, auto loans, checking accounts, referrals and individuals seeking assistance to help manage their finances. It took a great deal of work, which included a coordinated community outreach and marketing effort and the commitment of our staff to always provide a high level of service.
When we ask the question “Why did you come to WCCU?”, I am always pleased when I see that “Referred by a friend or a family member” is at the top of the list. I believe that it validates what we do and that community institutions can still thrive. Our growth strategy for the future is more of the same. I am a big believer in growth.
PBN: Is the investment in your credit union’s new Operations Center paying off yet?
WHITE: Yes. I am very pleased with the results of our new operations center and branch. The Wakefield facility was built with several goals in mind: to replace two leased facilities without substantially increasing overhead, to create a working environment that would be attractive to a modern workforce, to increase WCCU’s visibility south of Route 138, and to support future expansion throughout southern Rhode Island.
PBN: When did your credit union start offering online and mobile banking, and what types of upgrades are in the works?
WHITE: Westerly Community Credit Union began offering online banking and e-statements around 2004 and mobile banking in 2010. We added the ability to deposit checks through our mobile-banking app in 2015. These systems have all been very reliable, very functional and meet the needs of most of our members.
However, we believe we can deliver a better user experience and will be making the necessary investments to give our members as good an online experience as they receive when visiting one of our offices. In addition to a modern look and easy-to-use intuitive user interface, the systems will allow for account aggregation, better person-to-person payment processing, financial-management utilities, and streamlined deposit and loan account application processes, to name just some features we plan to deploy in 2020.
Scott Blake is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Blake@PBN.com.