MODESTO, Calif.–After 39 years in credit unions, Hank Barrett, CEO of the $620-million Valley First Credit Union, is retiring May 20. In this CUToday.info Exit Interview, Barrett shares thoughts and lessons from his career, as well as concerns over what might lie ahead for credit unions..
CUToday.info: How did you come to be involved in credit unions?
Barrett:I began my career in credit unions by being in the right place at the right time. I worked in the business office of a local newspaper in Los Angeles when the position of “manager” came up in a very small credit union. It was comprised of two part-time employees and the manager. One of the employees, the spouse of a CEO at another credit union, sought me out to take over the position. Thirty-nine years and two credit unions later here we are.
CUToday.info: What have you learned about driving growth during your career, and how has that changed?
Barrett:Over my entire career I have always felt that by providing a level of service that causes our members to sit up and take notice is what makes a credit union, and it’s growth, successful. We have done our share of mergers over the years, but even these would not have been possible if we did not have a good reputation in the community and industry.
CUToday.info: What have you learned about managing people during your career, and has that evolved?
Barrett:As we have become larger I realize that we need to be very structured in our approach with staff to ensure policies and procedures are in place and followed. Positive feedback and staff development are a must for the growth of the individual and the credit union.
CUToday.info: If you could go back and talk to yourself on day one as CEO, what management advice might you offer yourself now?
Barrett:I would simply say, pay attention to the details. We have become a heavily regulated industry, and as such every detail of our business is under scrutiny, in going back I would encourage my yesterday self to make sure that all issues are resolved timely and completely.
CUToday.info: What is your view on the future of credit unions, if there is to be one?
Barrett:I have to say, I feel that unless something changes, the credit union industry is in jeopardy. We are overregulated and under-resourced to compete with the major banks. Take credit cards as an example. Most of the CEOs I know have their Chase rewards card at the top of their wallet. The fact that we rarely need talk to someone makes carrying a “bank card” even easier. We are trying to compete in the bank world, and if we forget our roots, a commitment to the benefit of our members and making their lives easier, we will not succeed.
Note: As CUToday.info reported earlier, Valley First Credit Union has selected Kathryn Davis, who has most recently served as the CEO of BALANCE, to succeed Barrett.