January Loan Volume Soars More Than 300% At One Minnesota Credit Union

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Recession? Not at Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union here, which saw its January loan volume surge some 300% over the same period one year earlier.

And, said President and CEO Kyle Markland, February is showing promise of a repeat performance.

"January is typically one of the slowest months in the financial services industry, particularly for loans,'' he noted. "Couple that with the gloomy economic picture and it makes the results all the more amazing."

Markland said he was actually surprised when the credit union posted a whopping 367% increase in loan volume compared to the same time period last year, considering the poor economic conditions and the no increased amount of marketing by Affinity Plus. He noted there had been no loan campaign push, no special rate advertisements and no cross selling-only good service.

"The results support our core belief that relationships are recession-proof,'' he said. "We believe that if we take care of our members, the financials will follow.''

Melissa Holtan, director of marketing, said much of the credit goes to Markland for creating an environment in which employees provide enthusiastic service that makes members want to do business there.

"It's not a program, it's an expectation,'' she said, adding that people who don't have that spark for member service don't cut it with Affinity Plus.

Holtan said the CU has a very rigorous hiring process to ensure the best fits possible. Once an application is submitted, a potential employee has to pass through several hoops - one phone interview and two live interviews - before being considered for a job.

After that comes a computer-generated personality assessment test "to see if they fit" and "to see if they fit within the team,'' Holtan said.

Since the more intense hiring process was put in place last year, turnover has been low, she said.

Once in the door, technical training is secondary to hands-on people skills and culture training. Their number one priority-listen to the member. Employees probe to discover what effects members today? Do they have kids going off to college? Are they close to retirement?

Markland downplayed the lower loan APRs as the key reason for the improved loan volume.

"Our pricing strategy is that we do not need to be the industry leader, but we need to be competitive,'' he said. "Those people who are looking for the rate are not looking for a financial institution.''

Among the loan products that drew members were home equities for consolidation of bills or remodeling projects, second mortgages, direct auto loans for new and used vehicles, and refinanced loans from dealers.

Vehicle loans have been on the rise - nearly doubling-since a December campaign to educate consumers about the 0% financing lures of auto dealers and how few people really qualify for them.

Markland was recently named one of the top 30 people to watch in 2003 by Tri-Cities Business Monthly. He was recognized for his part in doubling the CU's asset size in less than five years, which recently passed $800 million.

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