Chris Hendry is the first to admit he’s taken a non-traditional path to running a credit union.
But he just as quickly adds that even with an unusual past, he can still be the right guy in the right place at the right time.
The IC Federal Credit Union, with assets of $ 571 million, in Fitchburg, Mass., In January appointed Hendry its new President and CEO.
Hendry most recently served as senior director of external affairs for the UMass Memorial Health Alliance-Clinton Hospital, but had been a member of the credit union’s board of directors and oversight committee since 2014. Prior to his time in the healthcare industry, he headed the Fitchburg Foundation Board. State University.
The CEO of the credit union has always been a member of the university board or the foundation board.
Tony Emerson, former CEO of IC, worked with Hendry while he was employed by the university and encouraged him to join the credit union oversight committee.
“And then six years later, here we are,” Hendry said.
In this Q&A, Hendry discusses his new role with the credit union, his career path and the challenges he faces as a new CEO, IC’s growth opportunities and more.
Answers have been edited for clarity and style.
How does your background and experience in the healthcare industry translate into the credit union space?
CHRIS HENDRY: I’ve been a member of the board of directors of the credit union for six years. I started in an oversight role and then moved on to the full board. It took about six months to figure out what we were looking for [in a new CEO after Emerson left]. Much of the experience we were looking for in a new leader – marketing, engagement, all things that are more frontal – was exactly what I do. I was in higher education philanthropy for almost 17 years before moving on to health care. And in those two roles, my position was forward-oriented, where I had full or partial responsibility for marketing, PR and being the face of the community. It’s something that we really embrace here with IC Federal Credit Union. We want to resume our role in the community. So there are really a lot of transferable skills. And with six years of board knowledge behind me – admittedly not what people who have worked with a credit union their entire careers have – it’s a pretty solid record of executive leadership. It doesn’t look like normal because, quite frankly, it’s not the normal way to get here.
Are you at a disadvantage, however? Is there a steeper learning curve for you because you haven’t come into the industry?
I think the challenge there is that without the years of experience I don’t have the story behind me. I will therefore have to rely on my team, which is very strong. And the learning curve for me has already started and will be steep. But I’m not concerned with it. I’ve always been someone who took on new challenges and I like to learn continuously, so that doesn’t scare me. But I don’t have the experience of day-to-day operations and I don’t have the ability to look at the different divisions and say, “Well I did this job quite recently so I know how it should go. pass. There are definitely things that I’m going to have to work on.
Do you see any similarities between the healthcare and credit union sectors?
My roles between the two are very similar. You build those relationships and it boils down to that same kind of trust. If I’m into philanthropy and ask someone to trust me enough with their funds to want to donate to the hospital or university, it’s the same sort of thing. Now I’m talking to people who want to trust us with things like small business loans as a partner. You want to have confidence in the organization where you put your salary.
How do you see IC finding strategic growth in the coming years? Are you interested in mergers?
It will certainly be a challenge. I think we have over 120 credit unions in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and we’re in the top 25.[Ed. The National Credit Union Administration lists 152 credit unions in Massachusetts, and IC was the 27th largest at the end of the third quarter of 2020, the most recent data available.] We would certainly like to be higher than that. So we need to strategize together to see what the growth will be, because it’s not just about attracting more members. The only way to grow is not to rob members of other credit unions or other financial institutions. For me, this is not a successful strategy. We have to look at a lot of things. For example, we have a relatively new [member business lending] program and involving more people in this program will certainly help us to grow. We haven’t gotten to the point of talking about mergers and acquisitions yet, so I can’t tell you what that future will be. I haven’t met many other CEOs of credit unions yet, so I’m not sure what merger possibilities there might be. These are things we need to consider, but we don’t have a strategy in place yet. But we’re going to look at it all.
You mentioned the new MBL program. Historically, commercial loans were the responsibility of banks. How do you compete with them in this space?
It’s that old-fashioned credit union mentality. It’s always about price. If we can provide the same level of service and better prices, people will come to us for business loans. We need to consider a strategy that will ensure constant growth over the next few years.
What other lines of credit are you optimistic about and which might require more attention?
Time will tell, and we need to see what the Fed does with interest rates, but the housing market is mature here in New England. Our first-time home ownership program is something that really interests me. And we will consider offering loans through [potential certification as a community development financial institution] for housing. Can we be a part of it? I’m not sure yet, but I want to kick the tires on things other credit unions are doing and see what works for us.
The pandemic has obviously pushed customers towards digital offerings more than ever before, so how do you seek to balance that with brick and mortar going forward?
It will be interesting to see what happens when we open the doors again. I don’t expect everyone to come back. There will be people who want to come back because they enjoy face to face interactions. But digital was growing anyway, and people were already getting used to doing everything on their phones and online. So we need to embrace this technology and see what more we can offer our members. If they want the old-fashioned style of coming to a branch to cash a check, we’ll be there for them. And if they just want to be able to do everything on their phone, we have to give them the ability to do that as well.
How can a credit union like IC compete with the big banks when it comes to technology?
We need to gamble a lot more than what our net assets look like. Is it about wanting to do business in your backyard? We need to make sure our community knows we’re here. But, that said, there is an ever-expanding investment in the IT side of the home to make sure we keep pace.
Looking at the call reports, IC made around $ 2.5 million in 2020, up from $ 3.4 million in 2019. That’s not too bad compared to the success other UCs have had. Will 2021 be the year in which profits will be more negatively impacted for IC?
I think 2021 will definitely be a challenge for us. There is no way around it. I think part of it ultimately comes down to when do you want to take the brunt of the pandemic. Some credit unions have taken the brunt of the financial blow in 2020 while others, like IC, will feel it in a more difficult 2021. I do not see us having the income that we have had in the last two years.