A Long-Time Learning Opportunity

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When Chris Yarnell was first asked to join his credit union's board of directors in 1979, he saw it as an opportunity to learn. Sure, he was young, but as an IBM employee with a background in sales-and some of that experience in the banking industry-he believed he had something to contribute.

Two decades years later, Yarnell holds titles as both youngest and longest serving director of YOUR Federal Credit Union, which has assets of just under $150 million.

"I was asked to join the board 22 years ago," he said. "At the time, the credit union was fairly small with only $12 million in assets. I saw it as a chance to get involved and do something related to the people I work with."

'Ready To Listen'

After his first year, Yarnell became the board treasurer, a position he holds today and one that has earned him recognition from the National Association of Federal Credit Unions as Volunteer of the Year 2004 for credit unions with assets of less than $150 million.

Co-workers who nominated Yarnell for the prestigious title described him as "mild" and "calm" and "always ready to listen to projections with an understanding of true potential." They said he is conscious of the marketplace and progressive in his approach to giving members the best services.

Yarnell has participated in his credit union's growth from a single-sponsor organization serving employees of IBM to a community-chartered credit union that now boasts nearly $150 million in assets and six branch locations.

"There were a couple of periods in the middle to the late 80s where we grew quite a bit," he said, adding that the nature of the sponsor organization demanded it stay progressive.

Getting Polished

"At one time, credit unions could offer services that were not quite as good as other financial institutions," he said. "But (as technology improved), our members expected us to be just as polished as the banks. We had to become very customer-service oriented and keep the products and services that we offered extremely competitive."

YOUR FCU, formerly Southwest IBM Federal Credit Union, was fortunate because it was located in the Dallas area where the sponsor group was able to thrive. "That gave us ready marketing," Yarnell said.

He said he saw the CU really take off as it carefully selected products and services to satisfy its members while also hiring and training the "right" people to deliver them using the highest credit union industry standards.

"I think one of our biggest successes comes from the investment we made in training our staff," Yarnell said.

The Value of a Name Change

One of the biggest-albeit smooth-transitions came when the board decided it was time to change the CU's name. While IBM had a strong brand identity, they agreed that it hindered attempts to expand, particularly in underserved areas where residents thought they had to be employed by IBM to join.

"Changing the name has really allowed us to do more," he said, adding that IBM continues to be a vital player in the CU with its employees and members who live and work all over the world.

Yarnell attributes YOUR FCU's success to the fact that CEO, Judy Kelley-who was also the CU's first employee-and the board of directors work well together and stay true to their mission.

"I think one of the roles I've played is to keep us focused on the mission statement," he said, adding that it hasn't been a difficult task.

"Many of our board members are focused on bringing change to companies (in their paying jobs) making it easier for us to do the same for our credit union," Yarnell said.

He said the board also understands that its role is to be "hands on in terms of strategy and direction" and "hands off in terms of operations because we would make a mess of things."

Yarnell said the board has empowered its CU staff to do a lot without its intervention. At the same time, "We expect management to bring us new ideas."

Seeing The Difference

He said he is proud of the fact that credit unions are and have remained not-for-profit financial institutions.

"We've had budgets for an entire year with no profit because we didn't need to make any money," he said. "That's something clearly that a bank could not do. Our loyalty is solely to our membership."

Yarnell said he plans to serve his credit union "as long as the members want to keep me around. I've enjoyed the time I've spent here," he said. "I can see that we make a difference to most of our members. That gives me some sense of accomplishment."

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