What Has The Pandemic Taught Credit Unions About Branching?

Senior branch managers from five credit unions share how COVID-19 challenges yielded opportunities to deepen member connections and broaden staff skills through cross-training.

In August 2020, after spending 13 years at Leominster Credit Union ($815.9M, Leominster, MA), John O’Brien announced he would end his nearly eight-year-stint as CEO on Nov. 30. To take the helm after O’Brien’s departure, the board of the Bay State credit union selected Barbara Mahoney, a 17-year employee of Leominster who joined the cooperative in 2003 as vice president of human resources.

In her time at Leominster, Mahoney has overseen HR, training, and facilities. When she became the senior vice president and chief operating officer in January 2019, she added IT, risk, operations, and strategic oversight to her responsibilities. Given her experience, Mahoney was a natural fit for the chief executive role.

Here, Mahoney talks about her path to position of CEO, how her HR background influences her today, her leadership style, and more.

Barbara Mahoney, CEO, Leominster Credit Union

On the opportunity to become CEO

When I took the COO role, John O’Brien would regularly say his retirement was only a few years away. He felt I had the qualities and the experience to move into the CEO position, but I wasn’t 100% convinced it was what I wanted. We kept talking about it and what came with the role, and at some point, my thinking changed. I am passionate about the organization and the credit union philosophy. I want to be the CEO, and I have the confidence to be successful.

On preparing to lead the credit union

I loved HR, learning, and development. I joined the credit union as a part of the senior team, and I’ve always had a voice in the significant decisions we’ve made as an organization. My opinion mattered during strategic planning and budgeting, when we were workshopping new initiatives, and more.

But my responsibilities continued to broaden, and I picked up operations among other functions. I felt like I had attained the knowledge and the experience to make a difference. I’ve proven myself as a good leader and when the opportunity arose, it just felt right.

On becoming CEO during the year of COVID-19

Before I knew I had the role, I felt it was important for the organization to maintain some stability and familiarity not only for our employees but also for our members. I had proven myself and was a well-respected leader. I collaborate and communicate well, and people were comfortable with me. In a remote environment, I helped build upon the foundation that already existed rather than add complications.

On the value of an HR background

We’ve built an excellent foundation and the organization has been stable for a number of years. But with my experience in HR, learning, and development, I can help the credit union look at things differently. I want us to see what opportunities are ahead of us to grow and become more profitable.

As far as my HR experience, it’s critical to consider the employee side of our operations. That means more coaching, mentoring, and training for our people because that leads to a higher performing and more engaged team. HR requires a great deal of communication and collaboration, and my willingness to engage on both fronts has impacted the way I interact with our team. It’s important that I’m accessible to all levels of employee. We’re all part of one team, and staying in tune with employee ideas and thoughts will help us be more effective.


Leominster Credit Union
DATA AS OF 03.31.21

HQ: Leominster, MA
ASSETS: $815.9M
MEMBERS: 46,940
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: -0.1%
ROA: 0.20%

On new things to learn as a CEO

I’ve experienced a number of different areas within the credit union, but I didn’t have as much experience on the financial side of the house. I was part of the ALCO committee for a time, and I made sure I educated myself to the extent necessary to contribute.

It’s a different skillset to be CEO, but I worked closely with our outgoing CEO and our CFO to inject myself into conversations they were having around finances, balance sheet management, products, services, and rates. I made that a focus and learned from our experts to hit the ground running when the time came.

On leadership style

I’m trustworthy, accountable, responsible, fair, and honest. I’m empathetic, which comes from my HR training. I have the ability to influence and motivate individuals to reach the goals we’ve set in our strategic plans. I bring positivity to the role. I’m a glass-half-full individual. Even when dealing with difficult situations, I work to identify positive solutions.

I am the face of the credit union, which makes me want to be someone who employees and members look up to and want to emulate.

On expectations as a new CEO

I was the credit union’s first female CEO, and my background is not typical for the role, so I was interested to see how employees and members would receive me. I’ve been in this role for several months, and the reaction has been positive. People are confident in my ability and are pleased with the decisions I’ve made so far.

I am the face of the credit union, which makes me want to be someone who employees and members look up to and want to emulate.

Barbara Mahoney, CEO, Leominster Credit Union

On advice for others

Be as engaged as possible. Meet people. Have conversations. Let people get to know you both as a leader and as a person. That’s critical for gaining their trust and having them believe in what you can contribute to the organization.

Also, communicate effectively. Share information often, and don’t hold anything back when you do. Welcome different perspectives. I tell our team I want their input. We might not agree, and I might make a decision they don’t agree with, but I’ll always be able to explain the decision using rationale and logic and hopefully they’ll understand.


May 17, 2021

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