Recession Has Brought Out The Good & The Bad In Members

Register now

TAMPA-The recession has shown Debbie Lawson the resiliency of members-as well as their shortcomings.

Lawson is branch manager for the east Tampa location of the $5.3-billion Suncoast Schools FCU. She's witnessed first-hand how people can change their lives and dig themselves out of financial trouble, or refuse to make adjustments and lose their home. Those experiences make her job both challenging and rewarding.

Working in a "sand state," Lawson has seen her share of hard cases. But what makes her want to come to work each day are those members who turn around their financial situation. She told Credit Union Journal about a couple who improved their financial condition after the husband lost his job.

"They both were working and he lost his job and got part-time work," Lawson said. "I worked with them to do a new budget and figure out how they can survive on less income. They have improved their credit score and now are in the process of purchasing a home. Before they were renting. This is a great story."

But what has made her role challenging over the last two years are members who fail to make the necessary lifestyle adjustments-such as eliminating needless expenses and implementing a budget-and falter. Lawson cited an example of a man who lives in an upscale community and despite having his salary reduced, he refuses to reduce expenses, fearing friends and neighbors will realize he is not doing as well.

"It is unfortunate when I see cases like this," Lawson said. "I tell this man to stop playing golf every Friday, but he won't. He's now at the point where he's close to losing his home. He is making decisions, like playing golf, to maintain appearances, and he has a wife and kids at home to think about."

Lawson believes it is simply tough for some members to change. "It can be from stubbornness or a lack of perception of the seriousness of their situation, or it can be because someone has never been on a budget. They just never put things on paper to see where their money is going. One tip I give in my financial counseling seminars is to keep lunch receipts for a week. Add those up and see how much you save in a month. That money could go toward a car payment or toward paying down credit cards."

The Challenge From Different Hats

In her role at the credit union Lawson is heavily involved in the community, so she sees many of her members at local functions. She said knowing them outside the credit union can make it difficult, if not awkward, when she has to put on her CU manager hat and talk to them about failing to meet a loan obligation. "I have to talk to them on a different level, telling them things they need to do or they will lose their home."

The last few years have been turbulent, Lawson concluded. But the tough times bring rewards, she reminded-like when members come running to the credit union after banks mistreat them. "We are located across the street from a Bank of America branch and almost every day we have people come in and say they are moving all their accounts to us because they feel the bank does not care about them. It's all about fees and money BofA can make off them."

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
Growth strategies