“I am always ready to learn although I don’t like being taught.” – Winston Churchill
I will sum up 2013 as a year of learning – some hard lessons to be sure, but also some affirming ones. The year 2013 ended in deficit for North Side, continuing a pattern we have been fighting to reverse. On the other hand, we made major changes in our management team and structure and are better positioned for those “slings and arrows” undoubtedly still headed our way.
In 2013 we had to say good-bye to our Manager of three years, Jennifer Sierecki Weitzel, who was given an opportunity she couldn’t refuse. As hard as it was to say that good-bye, we realized that it was also an opportunity to think differently about the leadership of North Side. In the process, we moved to a “management team” structure to increase efficiency and improve operational processes. We were fortunate to identify former bank president Chet Ward to lead the credit union as CEO. We discovered that we had outstanding internal candidates for Department Managers in Maria Montoya, Jennifer Pallas, and Sarah Marshall. We are still evolving this new structure, but we are excited by the new resources it presents.
Despite the red ink of 2013, there were also many positive moments for us. Here are the important highlights of our success last year:
- We received financial support from The Private Bank, North Shore Community Bank, The National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, the City of Chicago’s Department of Housing and Economic Development, and the Illinois Housing Development Authority. Many thanks to all of them for their ongoing belief in our work.
- We received support through an NCUA grant to introduce a realtime debit card to be released in 2014, which is an important product that improves both our internal technology and external ability to be competitive.
- Our North Side staff Sarah Marshall, spoke at the Opportunity Finance Network Conference.
- Our HUD-certified Housing Counseling Program, led by Jennifer Pallas, continued with a strong team and worked with over 250 members and non-members through First-Time Homebuyer’s, Foreclosure Prevention and Credit Building Workshops. We funded 41 applications for our “Hardest Hit Funds” program. We experienced some turnover with our counselors, but have added new staff and the program is stronger than ever. We are one of only 15 HUD affiliates in the country.
- We were accepted as a member of the Opportunity Finance Network, a trade association of CDFI lenders across the country. It is an honor to become a member because the application process is selective.
As always, our loan portfolio continued to grow, and we ended 2013 with a 6.9% increase. We had another good year for loans with over 1,000 loans written for over $2.3 million. This was the year that we loaned our $45 millionth dollar since organization! As is always our experience, many of these were for our smaller credit builder and emergency loans, a fact that demonstrates the need in our community and the importance of our work. We held our capital ratio above 7%, slightly over 2012, and an acceptable, although not ideal ratio. Our charge-offs also decreased in 2013 from the prior year, and we believe this demonstrates North Side is on a path to stability.
As we settle into 2014, some things will change and some things will not. Certainly the enormity of our task remains. However, we still have many friends and the need is much too great for us to go away any time soon. Communities are made up of people, and their ability to access the economy is our institutional mission. After all, the credit union way is “People helping people.” Credit union members understand that even as individuals, we are all called to put people before payments, cooperation before cash. We learned that many years ago and no amount of economic hardship can teach us to see it any differently.