When BMI Federal Credit Union ($456M, Dublin, OH) faced the challenge of how to make the most out of board vacancies, it developed two programs geared toward facilitating a smooth succession and retaining the invaluable experience of long-time board members. The first program — an associate board member position — gives newcomers the opportunity to learn about credit union operations and board responsibilities before becoming a full-fledged board member while the second program — an emeritus board member position — allows experienced board members to stay involved and pass on important knowledge.
The $456 million credit union serves more than 28,000 members through its five branch locations, shared branch network, and online services. Originally founded in 1936 by 15 employees of the Batelle Memorial Institute, a nonprofit science and technology company, membership in BMI FCU is now open to anyone who lives, works, worships, or attends school in the Columbus metropolitan area. In this Q&A, current board member and past associate board member Melita Garrett Abbey discusses how the credit union facilitates a smooth transition for all directors.
How did BMI FCU recruit you to serve as an associate board member?
Melita Garrett Abbey: I was already a member of BMI FCU so I was aware of the credit union’s services, but I had never thought about serving on the board. One of my co-workers was a board member for the credit union; that’s how I found out about the opportunity to serve as an associate board member. I went through a word-of-mouth process before I formally declared my interest. The current board then elected me to serve as an associate member. The credit union still relies largely on word-of-mouth, as I know many credit unions do. If one of the current board members knows of someone they believe will enhance the group, they will recommend that person. However, we have also had some success with open invitations or general announcements to the membership to recruit new associate members.
How long has the associate program been in place? Is there a limit to how long associate members can serve?
MGA: The credit union started the program in 2007. I served as an associate director from 2007 until late 2013. In November 2013, I was nominated and elected to succeed a voting director who resigned the position. I was nominated and elected again as a full director in April 2014.
Once I became a full board member, I was ready to hit the ground running.
What are the primary differences between an associate and a full board member?
MGA: The biggest difference is associate board members cannot vote. The purpose of the associate program is to learn about the credit union’s operations and prepare to become a full, voting board member. Therefore, we are invited to attend all of the monthly board meetings and participate in the same educational sessions and conferences as full board members. We are also invited to attend the credit union’s annual strategic planning sessions so we can fully understand all facets of the organization.
The other major difference is that we might or might not be invited to attend executive sessions. This is up to the discretion of the board chairman and depends on the topic being discussed. Even though associates cannot vote, we are still encouraged to voice concerns and raise questions during board meetings. The credit union wants board decisions to be fully vetted.
CU QUICK FACTS
HQ: Dublin, OH
Data as of 03.31.17
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 5.2%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 13.9%
How many associate board members are there at any given time?
MGA: We can have up to three associate members at a time. We currently have only two because I just moved to full director and my spot as an associate is open. We are currently looking to fill that open position. Our full board of directors includes nine positions total, including the chairman. We also have two emeritus directors.
Can you tell me more about the emeritus positions?
MGA: Yes, we've had some long-tenured board members who have a lot of knowledge. The emeritus program allows them to continue to provide input and direction. It is similar to the associate program in that it is not a voting position, but emeritus members are invited to attend monthly board meetings. The emeritus position is a three-year term for which directors are nominated.
What was most beneficial about participating in the associate board member program?
MGA: One of the most beneficial things is having the time to learn about the credit union without the pressure of voting. When you’re voting on something, you want to understand the impact of your decision, and that can be difficult as a newcomer. Being an associate gives you ample opportunity to listen to the dialogue, become educated on specific issues, and get up to speed.
This was important and made it a lot easier for me to participate as a full director when the time came. As an associate, I was already accustomed to actively participating in discussions and I knew the ins and outs of the credit union because I’d been included in everything except the voting. Once I became a full board member, I was ready to hit the ground running.
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