Sketching out the future for a bigger, better credit union movement

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All Chuck Purvis needs to build a better credit union movement is a napkin. Whether it’s a technology model, video teller system or some other integration, the Coastal Credit Union CEO has a history of crafting big ideas with a small start.

“He literally just started sketching out solutions on a napkin,” said Joe Mecca, assistant vice president at Coastal. “In doing that, he started to figure out what types of components might need to exist in this machine.”

That was in 2002 when Purvis was hashing out an idea with Gene Pranger, founder and formerly CEO of the firm uGenius and now the CEO and founder of Financial Town, about how to bring video teller systems to Coastal Federal Credit Union, the $2.9 billion credit union Purvis leads in Raleigh, N.C.

In 2011, Coastal became one of the first financial institutions in the country to launch video tellers in all of its branches.

Similarly, when Purvis was on an airplane during a work trip with just a laptop and a notebook, he began to think about what it might look like for credit unions to have an app store.

“It was right after our core conversion,” said Jim Pack, chief member service officer at Coastal. “He pulled us into the board room and asked ‘How do we create an app store for Coastal?’ Then he displayed on the overhead a piece of notebook paper that he had been sketching on in an airplane.”

From that sketch, former Coastal chief information officer Kris Kovacs went on to develop Constellation Digital Partners LLC, the credit union service organization he now leads, an open development platform where financial services from a variety of providers can coexist and have a homogenous appearance.

Forward-thinking projects like these are part of why Purvis has been recognized with a 2018 Herb Wegner Memorial Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement by the National Credit Union Foundation.

“From the time Chuck joined Coastal, he has driven innovation,” Coastal Board Chair Joan A. Nelson said in a press release. “[H]e has used Coastal as a showcase so that credit unions and other financial institutions around the world could explore and leverage this technology themselves.”

Both of these innovations are an example of how Purvis plans for the future. When Purvis is strategizing—“eyebrows raised and you can see the wheels spinning,” according to Mecca—he’ll either work through every stage of a project or create the spark for a new venture and allow one or a team of his employees to carry the torch.

In setting up the launch of the CU’s Personal Teller Machines, Purvis spent hours working through the design, prototyping, testing and refining of the technology, and members now enjoy the cost savings that come out an efficient teller model.

Purvis’ idea for a credit union app store was the kernel that developed into Constellation. After Kovacs took over the project, he and other CUSO employees carried it to its first software release, called Aquarius.

Loved and respected
One recent Thursday night, with 400 employees present at a town hall, Purvis unveiled a new mission for Coastal.

“Our vision over time is to be the most loved and respected financial partner,” he said.

Over the course of around 10 months, Coastal partnered with the Filene Research Institute to survey the board, frontline staff, members and nonmembers about how they thought about the credit union.

“Every time I run into a member that I know at a social event or a stranger that is using the Coastal card in the line at the grocery store, I ask them about their relationship with Coastal,” Purvis said. “The response 90 percent of the time is ‘I just love the bank of Coastal.’ Why not embrace it?”

Purvis has already been moving the credit union to this new vision by recreating the member experience. In 2008, he created a member assistance program after the financial crisis, which allowed members to remain current with their obligations.

He also oversaw the reevaluation of fee structures, eliminating 20 account fees and forgoing more than $600,000 in fee income while establishing a new company minimum wage of $12.50 per hour, which went into effect last year. He also helped develop Coastal’s patronage dividend program which has returned more than $11.7 million to members since it began in 2012.

Purvis was also instrumental in the creation of the Coastal Credit Union Foundation, formed in 2011, which focuses on helping the financially vulnerable, increasing financial literacy and alleviating food insecurity in Coastal’s community. Since its beginning, the Foundation has made more than $700,000 in grants.

Teaching future leaders
Purvis was also recognized for his support of the National Credit Union Foundation’s Credit Union Development Education Program.

He spurred the creation of a two-day Principles and Philosophy Workshop designed for non-management employees and facilitated by Coastal Credit Union Development Educators.

He is also a “top supporter” of the Carolinas Credit Union League’s mentor program called CU Protégé, said John Radebaugh, president and CEO of the league, in the release. The program is designed to mentor young credit union employees, and Coastal’s mentors are large part of the program’s success.

A different focus
The new Coastal mission Purvis helped launch moves beyond just defining the credit union as an institution that provides financial services, and helps employees connect those financial services to members’ lives.

With Coastal’s new vision of “Bank Better to Live Better,” Purvis wants employees to understand the purpose of why they do what they do.

“People don’t want a mortgage, they want a house,” Mecca said. “They don’t want an auto loan, they want a car to get to work. They don’t want a savings account, they want a way to buy the things they want … Chuck truly wants us to be a loved and respected financial partner.”

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