WESC Credits 'Positives' For Driving 12% Growth

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CASPER, Wyo.-There may not be a way to illustrate how a positive member experience impacts growth and the bottom line, but one CEO claims that is precisely what has helped to drive her CU's growth over the past half decade.

WESC FCU has been a peer group leader with its 12.38% annual average growth rate, and CEO Elizabeth Stetz observed that much of the CU's success over the last several years can also be credited to switching to a community charter and an aggressive marketing campaign.

Prior to the charter conversion, she said, "we did very little or no marketing. So although we'd been in existence for well over 50 years, a lot of the public in our area didn't know we existed."

Along with a new marketing strategy that includdes TV, newspaper and radio, WESC also moved into its own building, and since then has included its headquarters' image in some of its ad materials.

"My challenge at that point was to get us recognized as something different - a different entity than was in the building before," said Stetz, noting the coincidence that the CU's immediate predecessor in that space was another credit union whose name also began with a "W."

Today WESC serves more than 2,800 members with more than $23-million in assets.

Like many credit union CEOs, Stetz credited a loyal, satisfied member base as providing the best marketing available - even in the midst of an economic downturn. Loan balances have steadily grown 3%-4% over the last three years, she said, and did not decline during the downturn.

"We don't have the best rates in town, but we're probably in the top three, and we've always strived to keep it there," said Stetz, noting that a similarly loyal staff - zero changes to the front line in more than two years - has helped keep members happy.

WESC's growth, she said, is the result of "the quality of my staff and other members telling people they know that 'These guys are wonderful - you need to go see them.'"

Part of what has kept members coming back to WESC is the warm atmosphere, said Stetz. "People walk in the door and it feels like they're walking into a home," she said. "It's very comfortable and calming, and the way we've decorated our branches is very inviting-warm colors and no cold, tile floors, no marble countertops. It's not a typical cold bank structure."

One of the best ways for credit unions of any size to emulate WESC's success, she said, is to remain focused on the credit union difference. "I really, honestly believe that keeping that focus on the credit union philosophy as it was always meant to be has helped us as far as my staff and myself keeping that right frame of mind in how we deal with our members. Keeping that frame of mind that we're here for them and that we never want to get too big and that we want to be as personal and as caring as we need to be with our members."

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Growth strategies