ST. LOUIS, Mo. (12/29/10)--David Barton, CEO of Gateway Metro FCU (GMFCU), St. Louis, will retire Monday after 35 years at the credit union, which accredits him with helping put the philosophy back into its operations.
* The credit union expanded its hours. It began opening at 7 a.m. on weekdays and added Saturday morning hours--"an immediate hit with members." * It stepped up its marketing efforts. "We made mortgage loans. Unfortunately none of our members knew about them. It was the same with many of our other services. Members were not aware of the benefits available to them." * It weathered a fundamental change in focus when Southwestern Bell/AT&T moved its headquarters to Texas. Thousands of members were transferred or downsized, including several members of the credit union's board. The credit union changed its name to Gateway Metro CU in 1995 and expanded its field of membership to area communities. * It became a leader in shared branching. Barton approached longtime friend Don Berra, CEO of First Community CU, about sharing offices and expenses. As a result, four credit unions began operating out of the shared branch. Today, it has one of the highest percentages of loan and deposit growth among all Gateway Metro Federal offices. The credit union now has 10 branches and is part of the Credit Union Shared Branch Network. * Through training, Barton convinced employees to take ownership of member problems and inquiries. The credit union emphasizes to employees "that they are empowered to make decisions and take a leadership role, even if they are not managers," Barton said. "To members, the employee they're talking to on the phone, or that teller who's handling their transaction at the branch, IS the credit union. More than 90% of our transactions are automated. So when a member interacts with our staff directly, the contact carries even more importance."
Larry Pixley, senior vice president, will succeed Barton in January as president/CEO. He was formerly president of St. Louis FCU when his credit union merged with Gateway Metro Federal in 1999. "We take time to train employees to see the whole picture of the credit union, not just their individual jobs," he said. The credit union dedicates two full days to training employees on all levels. "We have an informed, intelligent and caring board," said Barton, adding that "they have made history." The credit union was the first in the area to offer new services such as health savings accounts and a payday loan alternative that Barton estimates saves members more than $1 million a year in fees. The payday loan alternative is so successful that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. asked Barton to speak at a seminar for community banks about developing such a service. "None of this would have happened if our board members hadn't approved our initiatives," he said. Barton has seen changes in the economy and increased regulations that led Gateway Metro Federal to adopt new growth strategies two years ago. The biggest change is in the relationship between a credit union and its members, he said. When credit unions served employee groups, there was commitment on both sides--by the credit union and the member--but some of that has been lost as credit unions expanded into the community. He tries to bring the commitment full circle by rewarding members with multiple account relationships with the credit union. For example, if members commit to checking with direct deposit, they get advantages such as 6.02% annual percentage yield on checking accounts and other privileges. "Bigger is not better if members don't fully participate," he said. Total membership has fallen to 18,000 from 22,000 since the new strategy was implemented. However, checking account penetration rose to 50% from 33% . Loans grew substantially; assets grew despite membership loss. It also has taken measures to attract younger members through consolidating with small parish credit unions --such as Guadalupan CU, a small credit union in a Catholic elementary school in a less-than-prosperous neighborhood in North St. Louis County. It had financial issues and up to 10 credit unions passed on the merger, but Gateway Metro Federal saw an opportunity to serve a largely Hispanic membership and to provide elementary school children with financial education. "Most institutions wait until kids are out of college before they contact them. That's too late," said Barton. "High school is probably too late. We need to start educating them in elementary school so they can grow up to be responsible money managers." The credit union now has branches in three elementary schools and two high schools, the only such credit union branches in the state. The credit union translates materials into Spanish and has a Spanish-language website. Members of the Hispanic community have embraced the credit union as their financial institution--an example of how the credit union has spread its philosophy, "We are here to change members' lives."