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WRAPPING UP: TelComm Credit Union President and CEO Don Ackerman, left, pictured with Lori Johnson Murawski, chief experience officer, is set to retire at year's end after 23 years at the helm.
SBJ photo by Jessica Rosa
WRAPPING UP: TelComm Credit Union President and CEO Don Ackerman, left, pictured with Lori Johnson Murawski, chief experience officer, is set to retire at year's end after 23 years at the helm.

Business Spotlight: Financial Firsts

TelComm Credit Union exceeds $200M in assets for the first time in its 80-year history

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Eighty years after it was first chartered, TelComm Credit Union is reaching new financial heights in 2020.

All-time highs in assets and membership – $203.6 million and over 21,000, respectively – were accomplished this year. That’s amid the coronavirus pandemic that resulted in the lobbies of the credit union’s combined six branches in Springfield, Nixa and Republic to close for two months. The lobbies reopened to customers June 1.

“The stimulus money that the government awarded to individuals – a lot of that was deposited into accounts,” says President and CEO Don Ackerman. “We’ve had a lot of growth from that over the last few months.”

TelComm’s assets in the first quarter were up over 13% from the end of 2019. Deposits grew by roughly 14% to $172 million and loans increased nearly 8% to $114 million during the same period, according to credit union officials.

Lori Johnson Murawski, chief experience officer, says the membership levels were on the rise even with lobbies closed.

“In May, we actually opened almost 65 new accounts than an average month,” she says, noting TelComm averages around 200 new accounts monthly. “That was through the drive-thru, so that was kind of unusual.”

As consumers were under stay-at-home orders, Murawski says the credit union was active on radio and television advertisements. Staff also focused on promoting mobile banking services, including online bill pay, remote deposit and 24/7 phone teller access, she says.

Healthy growth
TelComm’s staff of nearly 50 remained employed during the lobby closures, and Ackerman says the institution is well positioned with finances and member services to continue its growth once the pandemic dissipates.

Declining to disclose 2019 figures, Murawski says revenue grew over 24% from 2018. A nearly 17% increase was budgeted for 2020. Loan income was nearly 60% of revenue for 2019, followed by investments at 15% and fees at 11%, she says, with miscellaneous operations making up the remainder.

“Our goal has been to try and grow in a healthy manner,” Ackerman says. “It’s pretty easy to grow just for the sake of growing. All you have to do is raise your deposit rates and bring more deposits in, and you can grow pretty fast.

“It should be more planned out to make sure that the growth is in line with profitability and asset growth as well. They have to go hand in hand.”

A key move recently was TelComm’s 2018 merger with Springfield Catholic Credit Union, a transaction that closed in less than four months. TelComm gained around $4 million in assets and roughly 1,200 members in the deal.

“It was a pretty quick turnaround. It was a lot of work internally for our staff to be able to take all the information that they had and get it transitioned over to us,” he says. “But it went very smooth.”

Originally formed in 1940 as Springfield Telephone Employees Credit Union, the company became TelComm in 2001. According to the National Credit Union Association, there are 5,300 federally insured credit unions nationwide, but Ackerman says at one time that number was as high as 10,000.

“As financial institutions evolve, sometimes mergers become a lot more prevalent,” he says.

Tim Loveless, regional director of Heartland Credit Union Association, says TelComm is one of 175 credit unions the Overland Park, Kansas-based agency serves in Missouri and Kansas.

TelComm is among 60 Missouri credit unions Loveless communicates with regarding advocacy, compliance and professional development issues.

“I visit with TelComm regularly, and they are a great example of the ‘people helping people’ philosophy our industry is built on,” he says.

Eye on the future
Once 2020 ends, so too will the 23-year career at TelComm for Ackerman. He plans to retire in December.

Under his leadership, credit union assets have grown sevenfold from the $29 million at his hiring in 1997, and membership has well more than doubled during his tenure.

“It was steady growth, very strong from a capital standpoint and profitability has been reasonable,” he says.

No additional mergers or new branches are in the works at this time. But TelComm in February purchased over 2 acres for an undisclosed price from Don Bracy with Debco Properties on East Sunshine Street.

“We’ll look at some point in the future building some kind of operational center for us that will be right next to our main facility here,” Ackerman says of its 2155 E. Sunshine St. headquarters.

As retirement nears, Ackerman says he’s leaving the credit union in good hands. The process to find a successor hasn’t started yet, but it ideally will be complete by November, he says.

“I’m optimistic about the future of our credit union for many, many years to come,” Ackerman says.

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