By Martha Conway
As AmeriCU’s Ron Belle approaches his fifth anniversary with the financial institution, there’s even more to celebrate than the milestone. In his second year as president and chief executive officer, Belle has had the honor of overseeing robust industry-leading growth in membership, assets, loans and more since he began.
He says it’s a continued trajectory that started before him, thanks to the foresight of past leaders who implemented a mission and vision that embraced a set of core values that would culminate unprecedented growth for more than 10 years…a foundation and trend AmeriCU continues to build upon as it rapidly approaches its 75th birthday.
When we spoke to Belle in April last year, AmeriCU was fine-tuning its strategic plan to better support that mission and vision.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is the opportunity to take a look at the credit union from the inside out,” Belle said. “We started to reevaluate and reassess our organization and really, our culture itself, to determine what is best for teammates and members. We took a look at everything from our hiring practices and training to our promotions and products and services, all with the aim to create a better member experience.”
Belle said it was important to lay the groundwork for that change as AmeriCU looked to continue growing responsibly and sustainably, and since becoming CEO, Belle said AmeriCU has expanded on the financial institution’s plan for continued success.
Belle said organizations need to realize that a strategic plan is never complete – it’s a fluid concept that AmeriCU continually reviews and revises to provide the best possible member experience and team environment, and he said the buy-in has been tremendous.
“People like to have a plan,” Belle said. “The strategic plan is the basis of where we want to go. It lays out our focus and direction for teammates and members, and it’s something we expand on every year. When you can articulate that plan and your vision to your teammates, and tie that back to how it benefits our members and our communities, it’s easy to get everyone on board.”
Taking care of its teammates is key to the success of AmeriCU’s overall vision. At AmeriCU, a happy team makes for happy members, so they have placed intense focus on the team environment.
“Our vision is to be the most admired organization in every community we serve,” Belle said. “To be a good citizen in those communities, to give back, to be an organization whose people are sitting on boards, committees and providing community service through a host of volunteer efforts, that directly supports that vision.”
“Our mission to provide our members the right financial services to live life, dream big and achieve financial success means that every day, for every member walking into one of our financial centers or calling or visiting us online, we are making sure they have all they need in every interaction.”
The strategic plan, vision, mission, and organizational culture are four areas AmeriCU teammates talk about, practice, and train in every day.
Digital-first business model
Belle said member demand in recent years for more online services encouraged AmeriCU to adopt a digital-first business model.
“Digital-first is not digital-exclusive,” he said, explaining that technology is very important as AmeriCU looks to the future and what may be coming down the pike in three to five years that may ultimately benefit the member banking experience. “Tech is very important, but it has to be the right tech, and we have to have an idea of how it might evolve with the next generation of that technology.
“Not only must it make sense logistically and for the future, but it also has to make life easier for members and teammates. We’re always going to balance personal interactions with member conveniences, so the value of any technology must be evaluated by the impact it will have. It has to be fast, easy and convenient – it has to be beneficial to all involved.”
A growing footprint
AmeriCU is enjoying its position above the industry standard for credit unions, and Belle said he credits executing the strategic plan to recruit, hire and train the right teammates and provide them with the right tools for success.
“The increased growth across all measures is building upon all past years’ successes,” he said. “Making sure that you’re executing on your strategic plan and the necessary training involved for all teammates to support that. I have to credit our team for embracing the strategic plan, mission, vision, and reflecting the culture we’ve built.”
AmeriCU boasts 19 financial centers in nine counties in Upstate New York. Based in Rome, Oneida County, AmeriCU is also accessible across the globe through a number of other membership avenues, including military affiliations. They recently surpassed an impressive 155,000 members.
The employer of choice
Belle graduated from Utica College of Syracuse University and earned executive management certifications from University of Wisconsin at Madison and Case Western Reserve University. After graduation, he entered the world of financial services before accepting a job at a Syracuse-area bank as a branch manager. From there, he worked his way up, securing increasingly responsible positions and managing greater numbers of people and teams.
That experience has taught him what works and what doesn’t.
Added to the strategic plan for 2022 is the goal of being the employer of choice. Execution of the mission and vision are pivotal to recruiting and training excellent teammates. Interviewing is the place to begin with strong articulation of those concepts and the importance of contributing to the organizational culture for all teammates.
From the first job interview, AmeriCU starts underscoring its passion for its mission, vision, and team culture.
“We don’t want to just be a great place to work,” Belle said. “We want to be the employer of choice. When people come in for interviews, they don’t know about our culture, and when we first talk about it, they might not fully understand it, but they always become interested and start asking a lot of questions about it.”
He said it sets the tone even before they are hired.
“It’s not just something AmeriCU covers at a new hire orientation,” he said. “Teammates are constantly trained in our strategic plan, mission, vision, and culture.”
The employer of choice goal has AmeriCU now asking themselves how they can improve other areas of teammates’ lives, too.
“Some of the questions we’re asking are, ‘How can we improve the lives of our teammates?’ ‘What external trainings and wellness can we provide outside the building and during non-work hours?’” Belle said.
AmeriCU is committed to taking a holistic approach to culture and seeing teammates not just as part of the organization but seeing each of them as a whole person with individual goals and needs.
“It’s been one of AmeriCU’s best retention measures,” Belle said. “The culture of the organization is its heartbeat. If the culture is strong you’re going to see strong retention, and a commitment to the organization and the AmeriCU brand. This really helps us recruit and retain teammates.”
And the efforts have built a team that provides excellent member service.
Aligning team members to improve efficiency
Belle has also been working to restructure the leadership team to better support the evolving needs of the organization, creating new promotional opportunities for teammates that expand their roles, and improving efficiency and decision-making that supports the strategic plan and the entire credit union.
“These expanded assistant vice president and vice president positions provide promotional opportunities for teammates and better align with the strategic plan,” Belle said. “All of these things – the strategic plan, vision and mission statements – support AmeriCU’s core values. The strategic plan asks who we are and who we want to be – all of these pieces align nicely.”
Each year, AmeriCU increases its community giveback efforts. Not only fiscally, but also through volunteer hours and participating on volunteer boards and committees. Among those causes are the American Cancer Society, the Children’s Miracle Network, the Baldwin Fund for Breast Cancer Research, and the American Heart Association, where Belle has been selected as the Chairman for the Syracuse Heart Run and Walk in 2023.
AmeriCU has also bolstered its support of veteran and military organizations through efforts like Military Saves Month and Wreaths Across America, finding new ways to give back to U.S. army members and their families.
“We are always looking to expand our community outreach efforts, our community support, and we want to make sure we are giving back to our communities what they have given to us,” Belle said.
AmeriCU will continue to shape its strategic plan to continue its unprecedented growth and plans to expand financial wellness and training opportunities for its teammates and members.
“We’re really planning for continued growth in all areas,” Belle said.
“We are a fantastic financial institution, yes, but we want people to know we are so much more than that. Of course, we want you to become a member of AmeriCU, but we also are passionate about being a positive presence in your community beyond being just another financial institution. We want to help our communities, and you, to flourish and grow, and that’s part of our strategic direction.
“I hope people see us as more than a credit union; I hope they see us as a neighbor.”
For more information on AmeriCU, visit AmeriCU.org or call 800.388.2000.