Collector Works Way Up To CEO, Wins NAFCU Award

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ROCHESTER, N.Y.-Over his nearly 20-year career with Advantage FCU here, Jeffrey Bocach has filled nearly every role imaginable at a mid-sized credit union.

This past year he oversaw a merger with Highland Hospital CU that grew its membership by 1,200, opened the credit union's fifth branch, kept employee satisfaction to 100% and raised member satisfaction to 99%. For his efforts, Bocach was tapped as NAFCU's CEO of the Year for credit unions under $150 million.

Credit Union Journal: You've done basically every job there is to do at Advantage FCU. Talk a little about that.
Jeffrey Bocach: I started in September of 1992 as the one and only "collector" for Advantage. We had some issues, so this position kept me very busy. After a few years we noticed a need to invest in some technology. We had three PCs and two laser printers. Everything else was a dumb terminal. I read "Networking for Dummies" and eventually hired a company to install a network and a new phone system. This lead to expanded responsibilities that included managing collections, back-office operations and a call center. I was promoted to manager of member services, then chief operating officer, then in 2002, CEO.

CUJ: How have you been able to keep members and employees so satisfied?
: Keeping members happy is a constant struggle. We are not large enough to have a branch on every corner, so we have taken advantage of a shared branching network and a shared surcharge-free ATM network. Whenever we are planning, we make sure we know what our competition is doing, as well as what they're not doing. This has allowed us to create some elements of differentiation such as making debit cards in our branches, allowing members to choose their due dates and payment frequency with loans, creating special loan and deposit products for teachers, etc. The other element that leads to high levels of member satisfaction is making sure we all try to do the right thing for our members. I believe in this, our staff believes in this, and it translates into happy members. It sounds simple, but it really works.

I think we do a great job for our staff members and we let them know it. We have great benefits and have been able to provide some new health insurance options each year to keep the credit union's expense down as well as maintain a low level of employee contribution. We have been fortunate enough to not have to look to cut benefits as a way to save money. We emphasize that it is good to have fun at work. We have really fun company events (hockey games, lacrosse games, soccer games, themed holiday events) that everyone seems to enjoy. We have monthly "all staff" meetings where we keep everyone up to date on our business and we always recognize a number of staff members with gift cards based on their recent performance. I will read letters from members or other employees that highlight the efforts of our staff. The staff appreciates this recognition. The other thing is that we are doing very well financially. We are proud of our accomplishments and people are generally happier when they are part of a successful team.

CUJ: What do you think the CU's biggest accomplishments have been since you became CEO and what goals are you most focused on today?
: Our biggest accomplishment was learning how to grow and do it safely. We were stuck in the $75 to $80 million asset range for years and couldn't quite figure out how to effectively grow. We strategized and developed a new deposit product, "Smart Money Checking," which has been the main source of our deposit growth over the last four years. We are now nearly $150 million and have slowed our rate of growth in an effort to maintain a strong capital ratio. Even though we had extremely strong loan growth, we still needed to increase our investment portfolio significantly. We learned about mortgage backed securities, agencies, and CMOs. We remained very conservative by buying only government issued investments, yet we were able to increase our investment yields significantly by learning about these other types of investments. We have accomplished a great deal while maintaining very strong ratings from the NCUA throughout.

Today we are focused on managing our growth, maintaining a strong capital ratio, maintaining a high level of staff and member satisfaction and focusing on ALM to manage through today's economic issues.

CUJ: And finally, what is your reaction to being named CEO of the year?
: I was surprised. I just do what I think is right and don't really give it much thought. Our entire staff has done a great job and has come a long way from where we were eight years ago. I am proud of all of them and proud to work for Advantage.

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