While some financial institutions may be stuck in the realm of the man in a gray suit, replete with a striped tie, the race to earn your business in today’s world is increasingly being won by those who are capable of putting a smile on your face by taking the time to establish real-life connections. In that regard, the trifecta goes to the team at Honor Credit Union for putting smiles on the faces of not only the members they serve, but the communities they live in, and the team that makes it all happen in the first place.
Honor Credit Union didn’t adopt their symbolic smiley face, which exemplifies everything about them, in some willy-nilly, feel-good brainstorming session. That smiley face strategically portrays the full-court press that they employ every day to keep everyone happy. Members, through the innovative services they provide… Communities, through community events, sponsorships, and other initiatives…and, yes, even teammates, through their myriad perks, benefits, and recognition.
Inasmuch as members of a credit union are also the actual owners of the organization, the members always come first. Tanya Urias is the Member Center Manager for the St. Joseph location, and a perfect spokesperson to address putting smiles on Honor members. She will be the first to tell you, “At the member center, we just love getting to know our members. There are a lot of members who come in on a regular basis – daily or weekly — because they love to see us, and we love to see them.”
Keep in mind, there’s far more than just getting to know one another. Tanya adds, “Once we do get to know our members, providing solutions for their financial success is so important to us. What can we do to save them money? When addressing a loan situation, we work to find ways to offer a lower interest rate, or help them in making changes, perhaps through refinancing, to lower payments.” Essentially, Team Honor is always looking for creative solutions to see what they can do by looking at the big picture of how to save a member money, and generally make their member’s lives easier.
It’s always about putting the members first. That’s Honor’s number one motivation. If there’s an exception that can be made, they are always willing to look at every avenue to see what can be done to help in every situation. Just having that caring attitude allows members to realize that the focus is really totally on them. As Tanya tells it, “We always want to know what we can do to make it a great experience and I think that members really appreciate that, and oftentimes, that’s what we hear is that they’ve had other experiences and coming to Honor is just so much better. They really love it here and they can tell the difference in our more member-first approach, and they learn quickly that we really want to get to know them on a personal level and that they’re not just a number. They are our members and they are our owners, so that’s really important to us.”
Member success stories happen on a regular basis. An Honor CU Member Specialist recently shared that a new member had come in and through the account opening process ended up discussing her existing auto loan. Recognizing that interest rates had really fallen over the last several years, the Member Specialist was able to make a huge difference in the woman’s life by lowering her monthly payment. Additionally, thanks to an ongoing promotion at that time, she was able to skip making a payment for several months. The Member Specialist described it as “A very emotional situation,” when the woman realized that Honor was going to defer her first payment for three months on top of the fact that her monthly payment was going to go down. She’s a new member and was just totally blown away at the experience of coming in, not knowing that was even going to happen.
Nate Springer, Director of Marketing adds, “Simply listening to the full story is a major focal point of our entire team. We don’t leave it at ‘no,’ rather we want to work to get our members into a solution to see it through. An example would be with GreenPath Financial Wellness, which allows members to work one-on-one with a financial expert on things like credit counseling, budgeting and just generally getting themselves into a better financial situation to where we can say ‘yes,’ and it really is a collaborative effort between the credit union and the member.” Philosophically, Nate suggests, “People don’t want loans…they want things, and a loan is just a vehicle for them to be able to purchase the things in life that they want. So, how can we find a way to say yes and keep the member smiling.”
On the business side of things, Community Assistant Vice President, Janie Reifenberg, reports working with a woman who acquired a business two years ago, and was struggling through the financial impacts of COVID, with her own personal finances, low credit score and more. Honor’s team coached with her, did some advising and Janie says she’s a “Very happy business member of ours now, and it just came to fruition that we were able to get a business credit card into her hands, and she was thrilled about that. We’ve also increased her credit score from probably the low-fives to the mid-sixes. So, that’s a huge step for her in a relatively short period of time. Now she’s talking more about her future with Honor, and what that means, which is one of the most rewarding parts. It’s all about those relationships.”
On a broader level, Honor Credit Union’s focus is giving back to the communities they serve, and Janie Reifenberg says, “They give us all the tools to do that and do it very well. We focus on community and how we can enhance the quality of life for many groups of individuals. I feel like my passion is people and I feel that that aligns perfectly with Honor because our passion is people. Not only our internal people, but also the people and communities that we serve. I am so fortunate to be able to be on that end where I can deliver those nice size checks and host people at community events.”
By way of explanation, Janie says, “I’ll be doing a partnership with our local Ascension Hospital board in sponsoring the Tree of Love, which provides free mammograms to men and women in the Cass County area who are either under-insured or not insured at all. That’s huge to be able to do that. We also partner with our local VFW in sponsoring a dinner for the veterans at that post on Veterans Day for about 200 vets and their families. That’s really giving back to our communities, and of course, you already know about what we do for our teachers and our educators, which really is where our passion lies from our early roots. Everything that we do for the schools and local scholarships that we provide to support the athletic departments, the boosters, the PTO’s stems from those roots.”
The reason Honor team members love to give back to the communities they serve stems from the culture that they’ve built. Janie says, “I think that we as employees need to love what we do and do what we love and that’s kind of the whole basis for my position as Community Assistant Vice President, and I think if it weren’t for Honor treating me so well, and doing so many random acts of kindness all throughout the entire year, which just blows me away, that energizes me, and that makes my heart happy and then I’m able to then exude that into the communities that I serve.”
Nate Springer says, “Those are all great examples of how Honor strives to support the community initiatives that our team members are passionate about, and I think that goes a long way from a team member culture standpoint.” Springer reports that just going back to last year — and obviously last year was a little bit of an odd year in a lot of different ways — “But we were able to support 359 community organizations totaling just over $475,000 dollars.”
The third winner in this trifecta, is the collective team operating day to day to fulfill the mission of Honor Credit Union. Katie Berry, Chief People Officer, says that team member smiles are just as critical to the success of the institution as are the smiles on the faces of members and the community-at-large. In fact, she tells us, “Our culture is one of the biggest things that we work to remain focused on, to the degree that one of the positions that we added last year is Vice President of Culture.” By way of explanation, Katie says, “We want to make sure that we’re standing behind what we say, and we’re going to do so by keeping people first over process or profit. One of our commitments is to cultivate peace and love, where diversity is celebrated, kindness is contagious and everyone belongs. We want people to feel welcome when they come in, no matter what their situation is, and that doesn’t stop with members. We want that same thing for team members.”
The culture is remarkable in many ways, as Katie points out, “The way in which we talk to our team is more casual than you’ll traditionally see at some organizations, but it’s because we want to create a truly welcoming environment and we want to then recognize whenever someone needs to be recognized. I think that commitment to the people — especially team mates and members — they are equally important because if your team is not happy, your members won’t be happy either, and it just extends from there.”
The plan is working. Honor Credit Union was recognized recently by United Way of Southwest Michigan for their Best Community Leadership award. Nate Springer notes, “We have internal initiatives to support the United Way and other similar community programs, but as Janie said we could go on and on from a community support standpoint. We are ingrained in our local communities and that will always remain a focal point to us. It’s important.”
The multi-faceted approach is not just a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants notion. Springer says, “We talk with our member centers and ask them what their personal passions are regarding events they would like to see us play a part in. We engage and survey our members to find out the different community organizations that are most important to them, so that we’re making sure that we’re aligning our sponsorship dollars. But, we don’t just cut checks. We have our people out there, often times volunteering and that’s the wonderful part about it as that, in turn, builds camaraderie on our teams.”
It all goes back to tying everything together, because even as the people that are giving Honor’s great service are also being looked after, they’re going to always go that extra mile. It’s very genuine, and when the organization is able to give back to local communities because they feel the love themselves, it reverberates throughout the region. Janie Reifenberg adds, “It’s so genuine and easy for us to give back to our communities because it’s what our entire teams across the board are passionate about and what they want to do. It’s just a no-brainer and it just fits so well, that we are able to do it so flawlessly and so easily, while Honor gives us the funds and the means to do it.” She concludes, “Obviously we’re not a one man show, so we need our full team support, and we’re able to bring that. I think it’s because we all love what we do and do what we love and we all feel that love from Honor while Honor is empowering us to go out there and be ambassadors in the community and change lives and our communities, not only internally but externally as well.”
Halee Niemi, Public Relations Manager, wraps a big bow on the Honor story by telling us, “We’re always looking for a way to say ‘yes,’ not just to our members, but also to our team members and the community. We want to put that smile on our community members’ faces and that’s why we slap a smiley face on everything that we do. It is strategic and it is intentional because at the end of the day, that is what we’re here to do. We’re here to make everyone smile and it will always start with our team members.”
Always remember, a smile is universal in any language.