Zeal Credit Union
Built on character
Business View Magazine interviews representatives of Zeal Credit Union for our focus on Michigan Credit Unions
Zeal Credit Union believes in creating a truly meaningful impact on the lives of their members, and in the communities they live in. That’s why they’re dedicated to giving members support to be confident at every stage of their life, and to take control of their financial future. Beyond the exclusive products, services, and perks of a Zeal membership, the committed staff at the Credit Union’s 13 Michigan locations truly care and are there for their members every step of the way, from buying a new home to sending their kids to college, to investing in a business and saving for retirement. Membership is open to anyone in a community within 25 miles of a branch location.
Zeal began as CO-OP Services Credit Union in 1952 with a group of folks getting together to provide services at an affordable cost; they set out to be different than a bank. The fundamental difference between credit unions and banks is that a credit union is not for profit and exists to help members achieve their long-term financial goals. Banks have shareholders who own substantial portions of stock and much of the decision-making goes to increasing that profit. Credit Union shareholders are made up solely of members and decisions are based on positively impacting those members. Zeal Credit Union exemplifies the overall credit union spirit of people helping people and truly making a difference.
Zeal Credit Union officially changed its name from CO-OP Services to Zeal Credit Union in 2016. And through it all, they carry on the founding mission of being a credit union that serves members who are hardworking citizens in the community. Julie Kreinbring, CEO of Zeal CU, recounts, “Throughout our history, we’ve had at least 15 to 20 mergers to get where we’re at today. They were often small homegrown entities with 12, 50, or even 200 members – located in smaller facilities. An example might be a branch within a church building. But all of the members were part of the community that we already served, so for them it was just like coming home.”
As much as COVID-19 disrupted the world, it didn’t present a big challenge for Zeal in terms of accessibility for members. Chief Experience Officer, Coretta Wallace, explains, “We’ve made sure our locations are still available in-person, or in some cases on an appointment basis. We’re trying to provide all of our services to members in any way that they prefer access to us, to ensure that their experience remains uninterrupted and to help them further if they are experiencing financial challenges due to COVID. We’ve tried to take what could be a challenge and create an opportunity for our members to achieve what they need during these difficult times.”
From an administrative perspective, to accommodate local mandates and government orders, the majority of Zeal’s staff had to start working remotely. Thankfully, the Credit Union adjusted quickly to address member needs and concerns. According to Kreinbring, “We have about 220 team members and COVID let us help them navigate more fluidly. It was more focused on being open and flexible, as opposed to thinking, this is what a financial institution does, and follow that path. That was a unique way of looking at the challenge COVID presented, as an organization. It was really cool, being in the empathy business, that you could actually see it and feel it from our team and our members.”
Zeal had the necessary technology in place when the pandemic hit to keep things running smoothly, but for members who didn’t want to use technology, or weren’t familiar with it, Zeal employees had conversations with them, or even walked out to their car to complete their transaction and showed them how to download an app on their phone, or how to do a transfer. “Members even came into the branch lobbies that were by appointment and brought their tablet,” says Kreinbring, “and we helped set it up for them. For folks that were concerned they couldn’t come into a location, we were able to walk through the processes by phone or in person. We even had some family members help each other. Everybody banded together and made it easier to help people transition to the technology.”
Wallace adds, “We’ve tried to be really conscious about listening to our members and how to help them evolve with the new technology but at a pace that works best for them. A lot of our members have really bonded to our service representatives over time. So even if they’re using the new technologies, they still want to come in to see how everybody’s doing and talk about what’s new in their world and share their stories. Those member relationships are key and it’s why folks continue to come back.”
Zeal’s culture is all about collaboration – about teamwork and coming together to help others, and they always have their members’ best interest at heart. “There’s a true passion for making a difference,” says Wallace. “You can feel it when you walk in the door and with every conversation you have. Everyone operates with a sense of empathy and understanding. We’re built on character and that instills trust.” Zeal has done a great job maintaining the important ‘people’ connection across technology platforms with virtual team meetings and leadership meetings. And Kreinbring holds a CEO townhall meeting on a regular basis with all the staff as a virtual conference. So in spite of being located in different places, they still very much feel like a community and a family.
Kreinbring shares, “I worked at CO-OP about 12 years ago and then left, and when I came back about three years ago, we talked about shaping our culture and where it needed to go and how we wanted to get there. So two years ago we started the journey of what that looks like at Zeal. We constantly have conversations about where we want to be, who we want on our team, and it’s been amazing. We’ve continued to evolve and we want our employees to enjoy working here and be part of shaping the culture of Zeal.”
Looking ahead, Zeal leadership is considering what the next few years will look like – what the future needs of members are going to be. And how to formulate a seamless experience where a member can do transactions at any time, anywhere, but still experience the credit union culture and personal connection, whether a member is doing that from a device or at a branch location. And they’re also considering how delivery strategies will change in the future.
“We’ve talked about how we can become a trusted household name in Michigan,” says Kreinbring, “and we’ve built all our strategies around that. We talk about innovation and whether that is simply changing a process or new technology. Our board has always said, “We don’t want to be on the bleeding edge but we certainly want to be a fast follower.” So to us, it could mean more mini locations popping up around Michigan where you can use an interactive teller machine (ITM); or pure technology where the entire interaction is completely digital. Will we look into crypto currency? How will we continue to stay relevant for our members? Those are the questions we ask ourselves during our strategy meetings.”
As for how we can continue to meet the needs of local businesses, Wallace notes, “There will be a lot of opportunity for businesses to realign, redesign, or even renew their existing connection to the community to maintain growth and retention. For us, we recognize that we need to be just as accessible to businesses in our local communities as we are to individual members. That’s something we’ll be focusing on this year and in the years to come – how to be an even greater resource to local businesses in our area.” To help small businesses, Zeal has a CUSO (Credit Union Service Organization) that handles commercial lending and they provide PPP loans to those that need it.
Given that community events and gatherings didn’t happen in 2020 and might not happen in 2021, the importance of still getting out and being part of the community is stronger than ever. As Kreinbring shares, “We need to be there for our members and their families, so we’re discussing whether we’ll do this through grants or donations or additional means. Throughout the last few months, we asked our staff to visit local businesses and have a ‘meal on Zeal’ (lunch or dinner) on us – as a way of supporting small businesses. And for the hospitals and police and all the frontline workers, we donated lunches and made sure we were giving back to the community to help lessen the burden. We even started offering a special discount on mortgage loans for our first responders to make things easier for them. We are continuously trying to do everything we can to help those who are helping us in our communities.”
AT A GLANCE
Zeal Credit Union
What: Progressive, 13 branch credit union
Where: Headquarters in Livonia, Michigan
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