Ask a CEO – Volume 17

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Mark Jones | Former CEO of Union Bay Credit Union

As part of our 2021 “Ask a CEO” relaunch, each quarter BCYL members will be asked to submit questions to our featured CEO. Questions will be compiled and one random BCYL member’s questions will be highlighted on our website.

Questions submitted:

  1. What has been the most challenging aspect of leading your credit union through a merger? 
  2. What has been your most rewarding experience leading Union Bay Credit Union?
  3. What piece of advice/insight do you wish you’d received when you became CEO?

What has been the most challenging aspect of leading your credit union through a merger? 

The most challenging aspect has been establishing trust and relationships in the context of the pandemic. Mergers are a big deal, particularly in a small credit union where the personal connection of employees to the organization is extremely strong. Change can be difficult at the best of times; mergers create fear of the unknown and general anxiety of what the future will bring. The best antidote for this is trust, which comes from relationship-building between the two organizations.

Our merger discussions formally began in January of 2020, and within two months of our first meeting, the world was turned upside down by COVID. Due to various restrictions, none of our employees were able to meet face to face with any of the team at First Credit Union until after the member vote. Despite having video calls and other electronic forms of communication, there’s simply no replacement for the kind of relationship building which happens face to face.

Fortunately, shortly after the positive vote from our membership, restrictions began to ease and our employees were able to meet their new teammates at First Credit Union. I’m happy to say that relationships and trust are forming quickly, however I would have loved to have had the opportunity to do this at the onset of the process.

What has been your most rewarding experience leading Union Bay Credit Union?

It may sound odd given how challenging the pandemic has been for everyone, but I would say that leading Union Bay Credit Union through the pandemic was one of the most rewarding experiences I had. I am unbelievably grateful and proud of our team for how they responded to undoubtedly one of the greatest personal and professional tests of our time. The pandemic brought us together in spirit and purpose, to show up in service of our membership no matter how great the challenge.

In March of 2020, our organization showed its true colors, and I say with great pride that Union Bay Credit Union remained open for our members when they needed us the most. In fact, our organization didn’t experience a single service disruption, maintained all of our hours, and didn’t reduce or eliminate employment for anyone. Employees banded together, and as a team we maintained a safe working environment with virtually no sick time. We pivoted quickly to provide CEBA loans for businesses and all mortgage deferral requests were handled in a 24-hour turnaround. As a result, our organization had 7% membership growth and over 7% loan growth—a phenomenal result given the circumstances.

What piece of advice/insight do you wish you’d received when you became CEO? 

One of things that is unique in the CEO position is reporting to a Board. If I could turn back time, I would have had an even closer working relationship with my Board Chair and the Board as a whole. I was extremely fortunate to have a great Board of Directors—they trusted me and gave me the room to lead. However, it’s still critical to maintain a highly engaged relationship between the Board and CEO, and that takes time on its own. It’s difficult to prepare for this working relationship as it’s unique to the CEO position.

In the early days, I spent the vast majority of my effort and time leading the organization through a period of significant change. The role of governance in any organization is something I now have a deepened understanding and respect for, and it’s something I didn’t fully understand or appreciate on Day 1 as CEO. If I were to pass on advice to others taking a CEO role for their first time, I would say regardless of the Board and Chair’s level of trust and autonomy, ensure you maintain a highly communicative and engaging relationship.