It's been a little over three months since Steve Gilman took the position of President and CEO of Houston Texas Fire Fighters Federal Credit Union. What has he done so far? What are his goals? What does he like about his new job? Let’s find out!
You joined HTFFFCU 3 months ago to replace our retiring CEO, Clint Hartmann. How do you feel about the past few months?
My first three months have been an opportunity for me to become familiar with the operation of the credit union, including the focus by the Board, management and staff on taking great care of our members and being responsive to their financial needs.
When it comes to credit unions you’re not a novice. You serve as a member for the Texas Credit Union Commission, CCUL’s governmental affairs committee and as Chairman of the Houston Chapter of Credit Unions. And you served in the past as the President of the Credit Union Managers Association of Southeast Texas (CUMASET), as well as the Cinco Ranch Rotary Club in Katy. Why credit unions? What has drawn you to them?
My career in the financial services industry didn`t start at a credit union. It started in a big bank right out of college. Although I enjoyed the experience, it wasn’t until I moved to a small community bank when I noticed what the difference between corporate and community means to a customer. And once I realized how important that difference was, moving to a credit union felt like the next step. And the right step. Credit unions operate differently from banks on a very basic, structural level. They are member-owned organizations so their executives don’t have to satisfy external investors’ and shareholders’ appetite for higher and higher profits. Credit unions make income in order to give it back to the members in the form of dividends and lower loan rates. We don’t respond to anyone other than our members and we are very transparent about all of our decisions. Plus, members can actively influence what is going on at the credit union because they are our shareholders. To me this feels right and this is the environment where I want to make an impact.
And you certainly have. Over the course of your presidency at Members Choice Credit Union you grew assets from $200 to $500 million. Which makes people wonder why you decided to leave and start afresh at Houston Texas Fire Fighters Federal Credit Union?
Many reasons came into play here. First of all, over the years serving at the Houston Chapter of Credit Unions I had a chance to meet some of the HTFFFCU executives, including the previous CEO, Clint Hartmann, Julirey Velasquez (VP HR/Operations), Tom Rowlands (VP Lending) and Pam McIver (VP Finance). Apart from the substantial and work-related discussions we’ve had, I always felt a good vibe around them. That’s why, when Clint told me about his upcoming retirement, I thought that I would fit in well with the HTFFFCU team. Then there was this whole mission that HTFFFCU was founded to serve the firefighters, the heroes of the community. It appealed to me. And finally, moving to HTFFFCU meant that I would move to a single segment credit union* and that would be a whole new experience for me. I have never worked in a single segment CU. It felt like a challenge. So I sent my application, had an interview and here I am.
(*single segment credit unions serve only one specific employment group, as opposed to multiple segment or community credit unions)
Here you are! So what are your plans for HTFFFCU? What can members expect?
I want to continue a high tech and high touch member experience...
High tech and high touch?
Yes. High tech relates to all the situations where members conduct their business with us online, either via online banking, mobile apps or through our website. There are more and more members who prefer to handle their affairs this way as it’s more convenient. They don’t need to physically be at the credit union.
High touch relates to all the situations where members deal with our staff directly, face to face. The Call Center is a mixture of both the high tech and high touch experience.
How would you like to continue this approach?
We’re getting continuous feedback from our members about what we do right, and where we need to improve. While we are scoring well with our high touch approach, we need to work on the high tech side of things, as recent data revealed. I’d like to take this opportunity to let our members know that we listen to their comments and thanks to them we are aware of some issues and glitches within the apps and online banking. While we are working toward resolving them as they appear, we are also taking a more proactive approach to making permanent changes which will make the whole high tech experience smooth and pleasant. It’s not going to happen overnight, but we’re convinced that the members will be happy with the changes.
The other thing is that we are in the process of redesigning our website to make visiting our site a lot more pleasant and user friendly.
That’s a lot of tech! And what about people? Are you planning to expand membership?
That’s not really a question for the CEO. It’s the Board of Directors who make the ultimate decision on expanding membership or not. Given our current charter, my goal is that every Houston firefighter chooses HTFFFCU as their primary financial institution and if asked where he or she banks, they answer: “At HTFFFCU.”
How are you planning to achieve this? Why should firefighters choose HTFFFCU over a bank or another credit union?
HTFFFCU was created to serve the needs of Houston firefighters and their families. No other bank or a credit union has the same purpose. Plus, at HTFFFCU firefighters have a say. Our Board of Directors consists of democratically elected retired firefighters who have firefighters’ best interest at heart. And, at HTFFFCU, we are committed to exceed your expectations in terms of member service, saving you money and providing convenience.
What do you consider your biggest challenge to overcome at HTFFFCU?
I believe the biggest challenges may well be caused by external factors, such as changes in the economy or technology that we will have to respond to quickly. In today’s world, credit unions are faced by increased competition from non-bank financial providers who are entering our business through the use of technology.
What would you consider a success in your first year as CEO?
My first year goal is to become an effective leader of the management team and implement the visions and strategies necessary for our continued success in the future. I want us to all work toward continuing to improve on our success in providing service and convenience to our members, and I want the employees of the credit union to feel free to come to me with any ideas, suggestions or recommendations for improvement.
Steve Gilman is a seasoned credit union executive with 39 years of financial institution experience. He has served as president/CEO of Members Choice Credit Union in Houston, Texas, since 2007 and moved to Houston Texas Fire Fighters Federal Credit Union in 2016. Gilman received a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from California State University.