From spreadsheets to video tellers: How one CU leader stayed ahead

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It’s safe to contradict Chuck Purvis because he likes to be challenged.

“He respects us when we disagree with him,” said Jim Pack, chief member service officer of Raleigh, N.C.-based Coastal Federal Credit Union.

Purvis has been president and CEO of the $2.9 billion Coastal FCU for more than five years, prior to which he spent 11 years as the credit union’s chief operating officer. Earlier this year, he was recognized by the Credit Union Executives Society for professional achievement, motivating employees and dedicating himself to his community with the outstanding chief executive award.

When Purvis joined came to the credit union movement in 1981, however, he had no idea what a CU actually was.

The North Carolina CU League, he said, was “looking for someone with a finance degree.” Purvis had a bachelor’s degree in business and economics from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and when Congress deregulated interest rates in 1980, the league hired him to develop financial models that could be used to do loan and deposit pricing, and new branch expansion planning, using some of the first electronic spreadsheet software.
The experience gave Purvis a crash course in CU operations.

“For three years, I spent probably four days a week, sitting in a credit union office somewhere, interacting with the manager and many times the board of directors or the treasurer, working on ideas about how to better serve members and make it work financially,” he said.

Seeing the dedication first-hand
During this time, Purvis realized the dedication credit union members had to the movement. “I got to participate in board meetings with an industrial plant company where the board comes off the production line at five in the afternoon and makes decisions about how to serve the employees,” he recalled.

Coastal FCU, formerly IBM Credit Union, is known for being one of the first financial institutions to launch video tellers in all of its branches in 2011 —a venture Purvis pioneered.

At the time, Coastal was working on a remote teller system—a arrangement that involved a teller behind a wall handling two members at a time—which Purvis thought was “loud, noisy and inefficient.” The CEO asked his colleagues why these systems were the most popular when they were so ineffective.

Purvis hashed out the idea with Gene Pranger, founder and formerly CEO of the firm uGenius and now the CEO and founder of Financial Town, on the back of a napkin in 2002.

“Chuck’s very inquisitive,” Pack said. “If something doesn’t make sense, he’ll dig in.”

Purvis also enjoys collaborating with CU leaders. “I’ve never had another CEO say, ‘No, I can’t share that or talk about that with you,” Purvis said. “We have credit union leaders visiting here all the time, looking at our video tellering.”

Coffee with Chuck
Every month, Purvis has a lunch for new employees – usually between eight and 10 new staffers. To improve communication between the C-suite and all credit union employees, Purvis began a “Coffee with Chuck” series this year which gives him the opportunity to sit down with employees for a cup of coffee and a discussion about the organization.

Pack worked with Purvis recently to build a risk and loyalty score that allowed the credit union to deliver faster service to loyal members who don’t pose as much risk. “He’s willing to listen to different ideas and try something new,” Pack said.

Willard Ross, the CU’s chief strategy and talent officer, worked with Purvis on the CU’s first significant merger last year, when Coastal FCU joined forces with $53.3 million-asset Freedom Credit Union in Rocky Mount, N.C. The deal was a great example of Purvis’s leadership style, Ross said.

“He laid out the expectations and asked me to lead it,” Ross said. “He did not have to get involved a lot in the day-to-day … but he gave us the overall direction support when we needed it.”

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