Kevin J. Ralofsky
Meet the Board: Kevin J. Ralofsky says collaborate to grow
Kevin J. Ralofsky, who represents credit
unions in Region 4 on The League's Board of Directors, followed a winding path to
credit unions. He began his career by working his way up through branch
operations for what is now a big national bank, where he gained
experience in retail banking, business lending and corporate finance
He also played a role in
syndicated finance, where a group of banks participates in very large
credit deals. It was exciting but left him devoid of meaning. So shortly
after the birth of his first child, he says he left, leaving his stock
His education – which includes an MBA
and post-graduate studies at two east coast business schools –
honed his abilities for strategic planning, leadership and change
management. Therefore, he launched a business – a series of urgent
care/MRI centers that he sold within a few years to an Ohio hospital
That led to a stint in management consulting
where he guided others in the health care field who wanted to merge or
open new facilities. But by then he had three children and wanted to be
home with his family instead of traveling to see clients. A friend said
an Ohio Credit Union was looking for a CEO, so he applied and was
selected to run the organization.
"I knew from the interview that credit unions
were really different, but I was skeptical," he says. That is, until six
months into the job, when he confronted financials that were close to
"My chairman said, 'look, we're doing this
because we're doing something important for members and our community,"
he said. "Someone can tell you credit unions operate differently because
of their mission of putting people ahead of
profits, but that concept in practice speaks
Kevin was recruited in May 2012 to become CEO
for CitizensFirst Credit Union in
Oshkosh. And in less than a year's time in that role, he copied every
employee on the organization's strategic plan.
"We take great pride in serving members, but
we all need to see past just a day's work, for example, what's looming
in the regulatory
environment or the challenges that we
face in our local and regional economies that will ultimately impact
members," Kevin says.
Though some employees expressed concerns about
the future of their jobs in light of long-range details, Kevin says the
move has opened up dialog that's building trust and buy-in. "They know
where we're going so they know what they need to do. They really want to
be part of achieving our credit union's purpose."
Kevin doesn't fear other financials one-upping
his credit union by being too transparent. "I don't care if competitors
see our plans. None of it is simply duplicated," he says." We're in it
for the long haul."
In fact, Kevin wants all 30,000 of the credit
unions' members to appreciate what it is that sets their credit union
apart from other choices; he believes strongly that it will yield
loyalty and growth. Kevin believes that creating greater awareness about the value credit unions offer is rightly part our
movement's internal plan for growth, "Unite for Good."
Credit unions can help one another grow, but
he says they need to stop trading "war stories" and instead look to one
another for resources with specifics they've identified as next steps.
He believes that collaboration is key.
"I get discouraged when I hear someone say
'we're only a small credit union,'" Kevin says. "We're working with a
couple smaller credit unions right now where we're benefiting
tremendously from their expertise and insights. There is always
something we can learn from each other, regardless of size or
complexity. I came from a credit union that was $100 million in assets
but grew quickly in just five years. The challenges are incredibly
similar whether you're at $25 million or $150 million. And at $400
million, we face the same challenges as many do under $1 billion. I like
to think that we are on the same side of the fence as we all struggle
with margins, loan volume, expense management and regulatory
Kevin suggests managers sit down as a team to
envision what the credit union of the future can and should look like.
"That process will identify what you already have but expose what you
don't, and from there, you can seek help, resources and alliances from
other credit unions. For example, you may have really strong training
capabilities but lack expertise in back office resources," he said.
"We've worked with others to offer a concept
to carve-out our core processing at a third of the cost they would have
paid another provider," he added.
Credit unions that are concerned about
revealing strategy can collaborate with a credit union that is outside
their marketplace. Just do it, he urges, and resist the urge to complain
about all the issues that our movement faces. Instead, see the
possibilities of a collaborative enterprise.
"Every other business is reinventing itself
constantly. The grass is not greener elsewhere. The medical field is one
of the most highly regulated and they are told how much they can receive
for services through Medicare reform. You have to have a board that
expects executives to be entrepreneurial – someone who looks at
the rules of engagement as they are and says 'ok, now how will we win
this game,'" he said.
He urges credit unions to involve more
employees in a review of the "removing barriers" section of
the Unite for Good campaign.
"Advocating for credit unions' tax status, shaping the regulatory
environment, and contributing to support pro-credit union
lawmakers and candidates are all ways of
removing barriers. Just help team members understand the value of what
your credit union can do as a result," he emphasized.
Kevin also urges credit unions
to factor their next generation and youth outreach into a broader plan
of remaining relevant and serving members for life. A credit union
service organization (CUSO) that Kevin co-founded in Ohio and
CitizensFirst Credit Union recently purchased, called Chatter Yak!, takes that into
account when consulting with credit unions.
"Show your team the financials
that reveal the need for a mix of members from every life stage for
growth and income," he noted. Fostering service excellence is another key action area of the Unite for Good effort because
care for all members is so critical, he says.
Kevin has come a long way around the block to
find credit unions, but says he loves the movement because it fits so
well within his priorities, which he cites as God, family and work
– in that order.
And his family is glad he's found a good life
balance. Kevin and his wife spend a lot of time with their three
children enjoying the outdoors. He also loves music, from his favorite
bands – Blink 182 and Fallout Boy – to legends such as the
Grateful Dead and James Taylor.
"Working for credit unions, I can do my job with conviction and live
the kind of life that aligns with my priorities," he says.
The Unite for Good effort is an
internal growth strategy developed by CUNA in conjunction with its
Board, state leagues, credit unions and system partners. The
plan's action steps – to remove barriers, increase awareness and foster
service excellence–are aimed at helping more credit unions become
their members' primary financial institution by compelling members to
see credit unions as their best financial partner. Read more articles in our Unite for Good