“Is This Heaven?” … “No, It’s A Small Credit Union.”

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I’m fresh off the road from a 340-mile round trip trek from Greensboro to Kinston, where I had the great privilege of meeting Jennifer Howard, the CEO of Greater Kinston Credit Union. What an awesome woman she is! Jennifer is very passionate about helping credit union members who have had a hard time gaining access to affordable financial services. She’s also passionate about making a difference in people’s lives.

She’s been an employee of the credit union for 35 years, and became the CEO a few years ago. Over that time, she’s gotten to know many (if not most) of the members by name. Her full-time tellers Kecia Torrencee and Cassandra Simmons also make sure to add that personal touch to their service to the membership.

That personal service isn’t lip service – Jennifer knows her members, what their struggles are … where they are and where they want to be in the future.

But Jennifer and the Greater Kinston team are not pushovers – they’re tough. They’ll tell members who aren’t ready to get a loan for a car or house the specific steps they need to take to get there – and in a low-income designated credit union, those steps can take years for some members.

So what’s the result of this tough-love approach? The credit union almost never has a loan go bad (once again, character trumps FICO – go figure!), and 4,800 members love their credit union.

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Jennifer was able to recall countless stories of how the credit union has met needs – like the 70 year old woman who always wanted to own a home and with the credit union’s partnership realized that dream … or the single mother who needed a mini van, and the steps it took for her to get there.

The $8 million-asset Greater Kinston has some real challenges to be sure … the three full time and three part time staffers are stretched to the max meeting member’s needs plus doing the compliance and regulatory drill … the credit union still doesn’t have a web site, let alone Online banking (they’re hoping to get both next year) … and their member base is aging, so they’re going to have to grow the credit union if they’re going to be able to put more money to work and help more people. All these challenges are taking place in a community where good job opportunities are hard to come by – it’s a tough environment to navigate.

But they aren’t about to quit – they’re optimistic about the future and what it holds for the credit union and the community it serves. They’re hoping to add business lending to the mix soon, which will help entrepreneurs create job opportunities in the area.  

Linda, a retired school teacher who is Jennifer’s volunteer assistant, probably summed the credit union up best by saying, “When you’ve had so many doors shut in your face and then you find someone who opens the door and gives you a chance, you start to figure out that you can do it – you can make it.”

Now that’s people helping people in action, and a sure sign that small credit unions are a little slice of Heaven on earth. It will be a privilege to share some of the credit union’s success stories in the months to come.

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4 Responses

  1. Hi Jeff – Thanks for sharing this story. It’s people like this that make the credit union movement great. – Morriss

  2. Jeff,

    I love this story because it reminds us of where we ALL were. Even the billion-dollar CUs of today started out with one branch. They knew their members intimately – shared in their life moments – listened to their stories AND character always trumped credit score. Their loan quality is tied to a true value of people helping people. Someone gave me a chance, I’m not going to blow it.

    Good stuff man.
    D.

  3. Hi Jeff,
    I’m so glad you accepted my invitation to meet with Jennifer and her staff yesterday. It was a great opportunity for you to see the dedication they have to their community and witness the relationships they have with their members. Mrs. Howard exemplifies the type of people we work with everyday at the Support Center. Community Development Credit Unions (CDCUs)still play a vital role in serving the underserved. Greater Kinston along with all of our other affiliate CDCUs make our work at the Support Center worhtwile and its an honor to serve them. Their hard work should be applauded.

    Thanks for driving! :~)

    -Kim

  4. Thanks everyone for your feedback. It’s been a long week, and this trip was the definite highlight. It reminds me why I enjoy my job so much – and it fires me up to work even harder.

    @Kim – no problem, thanks for the invite … and I know the NCMSC is going to help GKCU serve their members even better! Thanks for what you all are doing.

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