A Big Product List From A Small Credit Union

How Riverways FCU is making a growing impact in its mid-Missouri market while listening to members and limiting risk.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Riverways FCU offers 30 different savings, checking, loan, and business accounts. Each product has to carry its own weight but might be used by only a few members.
  • The competition has reacted by adjusting their own products.

Riverways Federal Credit Union ($74.6M, Rolla, MO) shows you can be a jack of all trades and a master of many by successfully providing an array of products and services atypical for a cooperative its size.

The “Products & Services” tab on the Show Me State cooperative’s home page shows just how broad the selection is, including 10 savings and 11 loan options, five checking accounts, four business accounts, and even investment services. Riverways also offers online and mobile banking, deposits, and bill pay.

The one notable absence is credit cards, which the credit union stopped offering about 10 years ago, its president says, since loan demand has been strong, profitable, and growing enough without that additional risk.

Scott Shults, President, Riverways FCU

“We try to offer a very attractive suite of products and services. The challenge is communicating what we offer to our member-owners,” says Scott Shults, who took the helm at Riverways in 2013 after nearly 10 years at a community bank.

Member education is paramount to the success of such a lineup, he says. “You need to keep all the products in front of the members who need them. I’ve seen closed account surveys stating they moved because we didn’t have a service when, in actuality, we did offer that in a very robust way. It’s also a challenge to keep all staff educated in the different products.”

Show-Me State Cooperative Shows Out In The Metrics

The mid-Missouri cooperative has met that challenge well, according to metrics drawn from the Callahan & Associates Peer-to-Peer database. For instance, according to Search & Analyze data on CreditUnions.com, Riverways outpaces or holds up well amongst its peers in the following 10 categories.

As the bottom two items on this list show, it’s not cheap to offer so much to relatively few members. “With such a large list of offerings, we do have a higher employee count and related expenses compared with our peers,” Shults says.

But as the rest of the table shows, the results are positive and profitable, and it’s those employees who provide some of the critical intel needed to identify and refine the offerings that members say they want and would be likely to use. And that then helps the institution compete.

Give And Get: Teller Talk Leads To Deposits Coming From Other FIs

A good example of the result of that feedback is the Give and Get money market account, which pays above-market rates to members willing to make at least half their deposit directly from another financial institution.

“Our tellers were the catalyst to this account,” Shults says. “They’d often tell us of a member who brought us part of their deposits from a bank to open a CD (back when we needed deposits).

“The conversation became, how do we get all the deposits from them? After a brainstorming session or two, we decided to offer a better than average rates (but below borrowing rates) and only for those members who were bringing in half from another financial institution. This allowed us to have a product that attracted business looking for rates without cannibalizing our own deposits.”

Products and services have been added one by one in a very intentional process, Shults says, that also has been driven by the experience of having to refer members to other financial institutions for products it doesn’t offer.

That can easily happen in a small but competitive market with a diverse and savvy populace. Rolla itself is about 100 miles southwest of St. Louis and is home to about 20,000 people and to the 8,000-student Missouri University of Science and Technology, as well as a large regional medical facility. The surrounding area is primarily rural with a sprinkling of small towns.

Riverways FCU opened for business in 1959 as Rolla FCU, housed in a federal building for federal employees, who still form its core membership. The cooperative now has its home branch in Rolla, another in Salem, and a drive-thru location in the town of Cuba.

“In all of our areas there is a great abundance of community banks, but access to credit unions is limited with only one other, much larger, cooperative, in the area,” Shults says.

10 Tips For Thinking Big For Your Members

Riverways FCU offers its 8,300 or so members a product lineup that rivals that of other financial institutions much larger than this mid-Missouri cooperative. Here’s some advice from its president of the past eight years, Scott Shults, on how others can do the same.

  • Listen to your members. They’re the owners. Treat them as such.

  • Listen to your front-line employees. They’re your best source of information.

  • Don’t be afraid to try something new.

  • Don’t be afraid to try something a second time. Just figure out why it didn’t work the first time and make changes.

  • Actively create a network of other credit unions you can trust for great ideas. And contribute to their ideas. Make each other better.

  • Figure out what your competitors are doing great, and do it better.

  • Avoid letting a product or service cost the membership money.

  • Fees are OK if there’s a service that provides value to the member paying that fee.

  • Take care of your board. They’re the first link in the chain.

  • Take care of your staff. They’re the biggest key to your success.

Meeting Diverse Needs While Not Losing Money

Competing in ways that serve and grow membership while protecting the bottom line is a continuing imperative. “Our member base is very diverse and we focus on keeping a product for everyone’s needs and stages in life,” Shults says.

“We don’t have one that really is the most favored by the membership. We’ve seen uniform growth in all of them from different segments of the membership,” the veteran credit union executive says.

What each of those products has in common is that they were created because members asked for them, and that don’t lose money or cause other undue risk to the institution.

“Our goal, as we evaluate each item, is to be able to offer it in a break-even launch so it doesn’t negatively impact the credit union and other members who may not utilize that product,” Shults says, adding, “Once launched the goal is to have it contribute to the overall financial health of the organization.”

Even products of limited appeal are welcome, as long as they pay their own way. “Our call as a credit union is one of service, so we take the approach that if we can launch a product at a break-even point, even if it’s only for a few of our members, we will,” Shults says.

Leaving Participations Behind While Growing Commercial

One of those areas that started out small and has been growing steadily is Riverways’ commercial work.

“We stepped very slowly into this arena seven years ago, and there have been some learning curves. But now we originate $7 million to $10 million a year there with very minimal delinquencies or losses,” Shults says.

That trend fits a pattern and has now been accompanied by a strategic change in loan portfolio management during the pandemic. Shults says his credit union’s loan demand has always exceeded its ability to grow deposits and that it has typically sold about $4 million in participations a year to keep its loans-to-deposits ratio at around 95%.

CU QUICK FACTS

Riverways FCU
Data as of 03.31.21

HQ: Rolla, MO
ASSETS: $74.6M
MEMBERS: 8,291
BRANCHES: 2
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 37.57%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 25.44%
ROA: 1.23%

But deposits surged 30% last year, allowing Riverways to keep all its loans at home. “While we did participate in the Payroll Protection Program for our commercial members the big change was liquidity,” Shults says. “There were no new lending initiatives, just a change in the participation practices. We also saw Zoom calls and DocuSign utilization become the delivery methods of choice.”

Impact For The Member And Beyond

Riverways currently has a score of 94.51 out of 100 in Callahan’s proprietary ROM (Return of the Member) index that quantifies return to savers and borrowers and member usage. That high score is not typical for an institution whose size could seem to limit its ability to offer a wide range of products.

But Shults says he’s not particularly surprised. “We always hope that we’re offering a great value to our members. We spend a lot of time and money to do so. It’s really a testament to the board and staff to have the vision and ability to execute the mission statement. We have a group, top to bottom, that gives 100% to make sure the members’ needs are met.”

The credit union also works to spread its impact and value in other ways — including through event and team sponsorships, reality fairs, and hundreds of hours a year in “counseling our members, which may never be publicized but is at the heart of our mission statement,” Shults says.

That community impact even extends to the competition, Shults says. “By being aggressive, we’ve impacted local banks to compete with rate and fee structures much closer to that of a credit union.”

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