By TERRENCE DWYER
The new chief executive officer at Fort Dodge-based Citizens Community Credit Union spent much of his career in Chicago, but is no stranger to life in the smaller towns that dot CCCU's 33-county service area.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Citizens Community Credit Union CEO Sean Hanley, shown working in his office recently, succeeded Paul Becker following Becker’s retirement in April. Hanley joined Citizens in 2007, leaving metropolitan Chicago to return to his smaller-town Midwestern roots. Professionally and personally, he said, the move has lived up to his expectations.
"I actually grew up in central Illinois in a town about half the size of Fort Dodge," Sean Hanley said. It is those roots in Lincoln, Ill., that attracted him to CCCU five years ago for both professional and personal reasons.
"I really wanted to get into a smaller institution," Hanley said. "Working in a large corporate environment - while it does have its rewards - can also be unfulfilling."
He said growing up in a small Midwestern town made him well aware of the advantages communities such as Fort Dodge provide to families. Hanley said he and his wife wanted that type of environment for their three children.
The shift from metropolitan Chicago to rural Iowa has lived up to Hanley's expectations.
"The thing that was the biggest change for us coming here was just how open the people were," he said. "When you live in an urban environment, people have their guard up. Even walking down the street, people don't say 'hi' to each other. The safety of the community is huge for us."
Professionally, the move has also lived up to expectations. Hanley is enthusiastic about Citizens Community Credit Union and bullish about its future.
"There are a lot of communities in northwest Iowa that are not receiving financial services - the smaller communities," he said. "We need to find a way to make sure we can bring all financial services to all or those smaller communities as well."
When Hanley joined the management team at a CCCU, longtime Chief Executive Officer Paul Becker had led the financial institution for three decades. As Becker's retirement loomed, the board began a transition process that culminated in Hanley succeeding Becker as CEO on April 9.
"The board did a very good job of getting Paul and I together to create a transition plan so everything would go smoothly," Hanley said. "We've been working on that transition for well over a year, closer to two. It was a seamless transition. ... Very few organizations have the luxury of being able to do it the way we did. We feel very lucky."
About credit unions
As the financial services world has evolved over the last several decades, the various categories of institutions have developed products that are similar. There are, however, significant differences in the structure and focus of the assorted entities.
"Basically, banks and credit unions are both financial institutions. A lot of investment houses have a lot of the same kind of banking products," Hanley explained. "Functionally, the biggest difference is that we are consumer-oriented."
The major difference between a bank and a credit union is that the latter is member-owned. The concept is that a group of people pool their resources for the benefit of the group. Credit union advocates argue that benefits come back to the members in the form of better, more economical services, higher interest rates on CDs and other accounts, lower interest rates on loans and more economical fee structures.
Additionally, credit unions such as CCCU are democratically controlled. Since the members are its owners, serving their interests is the central focus for the board and management. The board of directors is elected by the membership. A credit union, such as CCCU, has members rather than stockholders.
Many credit unions draw members from a particular employer or some other defined group. CCCU has a long history in Fort Dodge. It started in 1940 as an employer-sponsored credit union for workers at Tobin Packing Co. and remained that type of entity when Hormel bought Tobin in 1955. Hormel closed its Fort Dodge operation in 1980. Its credit union was transformed in 1981 into a community credit union. The current name was adopted to reflect this changed role.
As a community chartered credit union, membership is open to anyone who lives or works in the entity's service area. Consequently, CCCU evolved into a financial institution that serves a 33-county geographic area rather than just people who work for a particular employer or industry.
Hanley said CCCU currently has approximately 16,000 members, about 70 percent of whom are in Webster County, and assets of $155 million. Headquartered at 2012 First Ave. S., CCCU has a second Fort Dodge location at the Hy-Vee grocery store and branches in Algona, Belmond, Estherville, Lake Mills, Spirit Lake and Storm Lake. The CCCU work force numbers 65, with 40 of those employees based in Fort Dodge.
The centrality of member goals to CCCU's mission is of critical importance, Hanley said.
"Citizens really has a member focus," he said. "When we sit down and do a planning session, it's all about coming up with products, services that we can provide to our members to satisfy their needs. And then at the same time, how can we give back to the community?"
Hanley said having the financial products and services people want is the key to gaining members. He stressed that what CCCU offers in that regard is both extensive and comprehensive.
"Every financial institution, be it a bank or a credit union, tries to differentiate itself," Hanley said. "People want to bank where they are comfortable. Our goal is to not only provide them with the products and services they want, but to provide a comfortable environment both physically and from a personnel standpoint. ... You can have all your financial products at the lowest cost possible in a most convenient and comfortable way."
He pointed to the CCCU location at Hy-Vee in Fort Dodge as an example of the commitment to customer service.
"It provides the convenience of seven-day banking," Hanley said. "We have full-service banking hours at Hy-Vee on Saturday and Sunday. You can take out a loan. You can open an account."
The importance CCCU attaches to consumer loans that address diverse needs is another example of the organization's member focus.
"We pride ourselves on making consumer loans," Hanley said. "Not just car loans. There's not a week that goes by that I don't finance somebody's washer and dryer, water heater, those types of things. ... Sometimes those types of loans can be a struggle to find."
Meet Sean Hanley
Hanley grew up in Lincoln, Ill., and graduated from Lincoln Community High School in 1983. He continued his studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield where he received a bachelor of science degree in economics in 1988. Later, he completed a specialized banking program at the Graduate School of Banking of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Hanley entered the banking world soon after graduating from UI. He spent 19 years at two Chicago-area banks before his move to CCCU in April 2007.
After nearly a quarter century in banking, Hanley said it has proved an immensely satisfying career choice. Asked what he finds especially rewarding, his answer is very much in line with CCCU's mission.
"It's when you can help people," Hanley said. "Not just individuals, but at this point in my career being able to steer the credit union to help communities. ... Those are the most rewarding aspects."
As of October, Hanley and his wife, Kathleen Hanley, will have been married 20 years. She is a speech pathologist at Trinity Regional Medical Center.
They have three children. Conor, 16, will be a junior this fall. Brigid, 15, will be a sophomore. Meghan, 12, will be in seventh grade. All three are St. Edmond students.
Hanley is on the board of Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance and the board of directors of the Fort Dodge Country Club.