Until 2008, Bob Corwin had never lived or worked far from home.
Born and raised in the Portland, Ore., suburb of Beaverton, the Meritrust Credit Union CEO attended Portland State University for his bachelor’s degree in business and went to work for Tektronix Credit Union after he graduated in 1977.
Corwin, 58, stayed at the credit union, later renamed First Tech, until he was hired to be Meritrust’s top executive in late 2008.
“I lived within a five-mile radius of where I was born until I moved here,” said Corwin, who worked his way from a teller to chief operating officer of the then $1.9 billion, 16-branch credit union.
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At Meritrust, Corwin oversees an $820 million, 14-branch credit union with 230 employees. It is the largest credit union chartered in Kansas.
Corwin is married to Patti, and they have three sons who range in age from 29 to 32.
How did it come to be that your life’s work has been spent almost exclusively in credit unions?
I got married right out of high school, and I worked in a restaurant throughout college, and I got to know the CEO – they were called general managers at time – of Tektronix Credit Union. He asked me to come over and interview when I graduated. It was only going to be a job that I would take until I decided what I really wanted to do. Thirty-three years later, I am still here. It was a credit union associated with the high-tech industry, which was just beginning to flourish. As the industry grew, we were able to grow along with it. Tektronix, they were the major competitor to Hewlett-Packard at the time, for test and measurement equipment. They were up until about 1995. (Tektronix Credit Union) then expanded its field of membership to serve other high-tech companies that were moving into Portland. It eventually expanded up to Seattle and served Microsoft.
What about the business keeps you engaged, interested?
I think for me the fact that I know every single day we are helping at least one member either achieve one financial dream or help at least one member facing a financial hurdle. That probably is the thing that today, I miss the most. I don’t deal as much directly with members in my position. You don’t get the satisfaction of helping them directly. But I do get a lot of indirect pleasure from helping them.
Did you ever consider taking a job outside the credit union industry?
No, because I felt like I got into this industry at a fortunate time. I was able to fulfill my need for challenge without having to go outside to another company.
What are some of the challenges of running a credit union today?
I think staying up with the rapidly changing expectations of the consumer. That’s probably primarily driven by new technologies and ways of accomplishing banking. And dealing with the increased complexity of the regulatory environment. We all (banks and credit unions) fall under the same umbrella as far as financial regulations are concerned.
What are some of the ways your business has changed during your career?
It’s almost beyond comprehension. When I started in the credit union we had three services: passbook savings, auto loans and small unsecured loans. As the financial industry became deregulated under (President) Reagan, we were able to start offering services such as checking accounts. To go from that environment to where we are today, it’s sometimes kind of hard for me to comprehend. People would actually call us when they needed to withdraw money from their savings. Being a teller at the time, I was typing in those checks so they could pick them up (and cash them at a bank).
What are your expectations for Meritrust in 2012, financially and growth wise?
I think we’re going to continue to have very steady growth. I know a lot of people look at metrics such as loans and deposits but our major goal … is creating awareness of our credit union so more people can take advantage of the services a credit union provides. So our goal is to grow membership, retail households.
What would be one piece of advice that you would give to a young person looking to become a credit union executive?
Maybe two, because I think to be successful in the credit union industry an individual needs to be motivated by and have a true desire to help others, maybe over personal gain. The other thing would be to never stop learning.
What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
When our kids were in junior high we took them out of school and made a trip around the United States in a little motor home and we took two months. The kids still talk about this even though they were pretty young.