New CUNA Mutual CEO Gets Earful From Credit Union Policyholders

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Jeff Post is trying to do his best impersonation of a sponge.

"I don't think anyone with a whopping four weeks of experience can come into a totally new business and make many intelligent observations," the new CEO of CUNA Mutual Group told The Credit Union Journal. "My favorite saying right now is that it's like drinking from a fire hose-there's just so much information to take in. CUNA Mutual Group is a very complex business, we have our tentacles into a lot of different things. I'm doing a lot of listening right now. I'm trying to look like a sponge."

And Post will have much to absorb as he takes the reins of CUNA Mutual Group. As the former CEO of the Firemen's Fund, Post brings both insurance and executive experience to the table, but he is quickly learning that credit union land is like no other industry he's ever seen.

"I'm trying to understand where the credit union movement is and where it's going," Post related. "Over the last four weeks I've met a lot of interesting and key folks in the movement: (CUNA CEO) Dan Mica, members of his board, credit union CEOs. I've heard input from (NAFCU CEO) Fred Becker, input from internal CUNA Mutual folks. And what I would tell you is I've been getting a lot of consistent messages about what we do well and what we need to do well."

Given his use of the word "movement" instead of "industry," it's clear Post is learning a little something about the credit union difference-in fact, it was his wife, Peggy, who really pointed it out to him.

"Peggy went with me to Washington. She was a senior leader in the insurance business, but she had some serious health issues that have caused her to look at life a little differently," he explained, noting that his wife recently underwent chemotherapy. "When we were coming back from Washington, she said to me, 'I don't think you've joined a company, you joined a family.' What I've learned is that CUNA Mutual Group is a powerful piece of the total, an important cog in the credit union movement. And we can make it better."

Among the lessons learned so far: Post believes his own need to listen reflects an area in which CUNA Mutual needs to improve. "People have said, 'You like to think you are customer-centric, but you need to be better at actually being customer centric,'" Post related. "And 'You are always telling credit unions what we need instead of letting us tell you what we need.'"

But he's learned a lot of positive things, too. "I'm dumbfounded at how aligned everyone is. I didn't think that could happen," he observed. "Dan Mica has done a great job at putting out what's best for credit unions. The credit union movement is much more aligned and therefore more functionally capable than any other industry I've seen, and that's very powerful."

Post is in no hurry to make any major changes, unlike the last time he became a CEO. "That was a real turnaround situation. The company was broken and had really spiraled down. CUNA Mutual is not broken," he offered. "I met [former CUNA Mutual CEO] Mike Kitchen once at an AIG meeting a year ago, and we talked and had a few laughs. If you had told me a year ago that I would be running CUNA Mutual Group, I'd have said you need to see a psychiatrist. The incident [that lead to Kitchen's departure] was unfortunate for both Mike and the organization, but the organization is not broken, and that's a tribute to Mike's leadership."

From that standpoint, Post said taking the reins at CUNA Mutual will be easier than when he took over at Firemen's Fund, where he was picked from inside a troubled organization that needed a major overhaul, but he added, "I suppose you could make the argument that in some ways, this will be harder."

While Post said it's too soon for him to have the depth of knowledge necessary to determine if there are lines of business CMG should pull out of or new lines of business it should get into, he has seen one area in need of change: the overall structure of the company itself.

"I haven't gotten to the point where I have any details, but I can say that the organizational structure didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. CUNA Mutual is a very siloed organization. I have 15 direct reports. The result of that is that we are not very quick on our feet, and that's dangerous for us and for our customers," Post suggested. "Generally, I want a tighter span of control than having 15 direct reports. And in fact, that will mean a wider span of control for them. I think the first and foremost reason that the board determined it had to hire someone from the outside was because they didn't feel they had any internal options, and that's because of the way this company was structured. When you have all those silos, you don't have anyone who has the bigger picture."

But don't look for any immediate, major changes. "Maybe after I've been here 100 days, I'll have a better idea of our direction, but right now, I'm still concentrating on doing a lot of listening," he offered.

And he'll have plenty of opportunity to do so at CUNA's GAC, where Post hopes to meet more of the credit union faithful and get a deeper understanding of credit union culture.

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