Wichitan’s retirement highlights growing trend in the credit union industry

03/06/2013 5:45 PM

03/06/2013 5:47 PM

After 38 years in the credit union industry – 19 of them as president of Wichita Federal Credit Union – Wayne Warfel will retire May 31.

“At this stage, I don’t have any thoughts about consulting or that sort of thing, but I kind of have to have something to do,” Warfel said this week of his retirement plans.

Warfel will be the third top executive of a Wichita credit union to retire within the past six months.

And industry officials said the retirements of Warfel, Marilyn Wells of Catholic Family Federal Credit Union and Tim Straub of Equishare Credit Union are likely the beginning of a wave of retirements of top credit union executives across the city, the state and the country as baby boomers reach retirement age.

“We are already seeing many upper management retirements in our member credit unions, as well as in credit unions throughout the country,” said Haley DaVee, vice president of governmental and public affairs for the Kansas Credit Union Association. “We expect it to continue for several years.”

While the pace of top credit union executive retirements is primed for an upswing, officials said the departures are unlikely to put many – if any – credit unions in a state of upheaval.

Warfel’s credit union career began in Illinois and included a three-year stint as Kansas’ top credit union regulator before he took the president’s job at Wichita Federal. He said that credit union presidents and chief executives generally don’t initiate wholesale change after taking on a new post. That’s because their influence is typically tempered by their bosses, the all-volunteer credit union boards.

“That really depends both on the new CEO and the board,” Warfel said of a new executive initiating major change. “Our board has been very supportive to me over the years. Once they develop a relationship with the new CEO, I expect that to continue.”

He said that since he joined Wichita Federal, the changes he has led have been mainly operational, such as cutting how much interest the credit union was paying on certificates of deposit. He said the move probably “drove (assets) down to $22 million” from $32 million when he started. But that was “one of the tricks to improve your bottom line,” Warfel said. Wichita Federal’s assets today are $77 million.

He also initiated the credit union’s first expansion, a second, $1.8 million, 10,000-square-foot branch that is under construction near 21st and Webb. But Warfel won’t be at the credit union to witness the opening of its second office, because he doesn’t think the opening will be until late July.

He doesn’t think his leadership changed the culture of Wichita Federal, though.

“The main things that I changed were just the addition of services,” Warfel said. “I don’t think the culture is really any different than it was nearly 20 years ago.”

As the new president of Equishare Credit Union, Gary Torres said he doesn’t plan any major changes at the $28 million credit union. Torres said he did create a second vice president position after he became Equishare’s president on Jan. 1, replacing Straub, who retired Dec. 31 after 23 years as its president.

Torres has been at Equishare for 15 years, and the changes he will drive will mostly be centered around how the credit union delivers services to its members. “It’s all technology,” he said. “We’re trying to stay competitive.”

Those technology improvements would include things such as mobile banking and remote capture, allowing members to deposit checks remotely by uploading a photo of a check.

He said any significant changes he would propose would first go through Equishare’s seven-member board. “The board is my boss, if you would,” Torres said. “There wouldn’t be any radical changes without the board supporting them.”

Like his peers, Mike Taylor doesn’t plan dramatic internal changes at Catholic Family.

Taylor began his job as Catholic Family’s CEO on Jan. 1, the day after Marilyn Wells retired as CEO of the $27 million credit union.

At 60, Taylor said he’s “bucking the trend” of being a baby boomer and retiring. “When I found this credit union, I said this is just what I want to do,” he said.

Taylor was most recently executive vice president at Northwest United Federal Credit Union, an $80 million credit union headquartered in the Denver area.

Like Catholic Family, Northwest United is a closed-field membership credit union serving members who are of the Catholic faith. Taylor said that was the appeal to him for taking the job at Catholic Family.

He said his primary goal is to increase Catholic Family’s membership from 4,700 to 6,000 members in four years. Taylor estimates there are between 70,000 and 90,000 Catholics in the Wichita area, so “we have a huge potential to grow.”

Local credit union officials aren’t sounding an alarm about the coming spate of executive retirements. They think there are plenty of younger staff members available to fill leadership posts.

“There’s a lot of young talent within the credit union movement that is coming up through the ranks that is going to be very good,” Taylor said.

The state’s credit union industry also has launched a couple of initiatives to prepare its junior credit union executives for higher leadership positions.

DaVee, of the credit union association, said the group started a CUnext Young Professionals Council and is offering more leadership training and other opportunities for younger staff members.

Those efforts are a “way that we are acknowledging this change,” DaVee said.

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