When most people get a new job, they give two weeks' notice at the old job and are thrown into the fire of the new position almost immediately.
Swatara Township-based Belco Community Credit Union, with its 50,145 members and $401 million in assets, is doing it a little differently when it comes to new president and CEO Amey R. Sgrignoli. She was named to the top position in February, took over officially in July and is now working with former CEO Lonny Maurer until he retires next May after 42 years with Belco.
“He’s my training wheels,” Sgrignoli said of Maurer. “You don’t see this long of a transition period that’s coming to fruition now after several years in the making. It’s fantastic to have that opportunity.”
Sgrignoli recently spoke with the Business Journal about her new job, credit unions versus banks, and reaching the top as a woman:
Q: How has the adjustment been going?
A: I would say our adjustment period is going very well because of the intentional way our board of directors approached the succession planning process. It started three years ago so that there would be an extended period for coaching and mentoring from the outgoing CEO and the outgoing (executive vice president). They wanted to make sure we had a proper amount of time for the transition. Today, I’m working directly with (Maurer). That intentional mentoring and coaching is integral to Belco’s success for future continuity. Rather than a radical change, it creates an easier one.
How hard is it for a credit union to compete with a bank?
I do think it’s difficult. Until the consumer knows and experiences a credit union, most people just see it as a bank. It’s hard for them to differentiate what is a credit union and what is a bank. With a credit union, there is no profit motive. We’re here for our members. We’re a cooperative institution here to help people achieve financial success. There is still a need to educate the public about that. With a credit union, people have the opportunity to achieve financial success a little quicker and a little easier.
Will there be more mergers coming between credit unions?
I don’t think there will be as many mergers as much as there will be finding ways to consolidate back-office operations and using shared resources. Ultimately, there have been merger opportunities that some credit unions have taken advantage of, but most of them are much smaller credit unions (than Belco). I think there is more of an approach now to band together to use our shared resources and to utilize shared buying power to control expenses.
Do you feel you have a responsibility as a female CEO to set an example for other young female executives?
Absolutely. You have to set an example there to be the best possible leader you can be, and that includes always being cognizant of the people around you. I’m a big proponent of coaching and mentoring young women along their career path.
Since the financial services industry is often thought of as an “old boys’ network” at the highest leadership levels, do you feel like you had to prove yourself more than a man would to reach your position?
No, not necessarily. I think a lot of it for me was just hard work, continual education and listening to the people around you. I do feel like there is a trend in credit unions, though, to hire more women executives than in the banking industry. We’re definitely starting to see more females in leadership roles. It’s another differentiator between credit unions and banks.
Why is it happening in credit unions but not banks?
I don’t know what the answer is to that. I think credit unions tend to concentrate more on growing future leaders than looking externally for talent, so that could be it. It fits our culture of education.
What is the biggest thing you want to do for Belco in your new role?
I really want to focus on making our employee experience the most positive it could be, to know that they have a career, a future and opportunity here. They can achieve financial success and job satisfaction. If we do that, then member service will follow. If you have satisfied employees, then we’ll have the best service for our members as well. Keeping that focus to the people of Belco, that’s my primary responsibility.
Credit unions preach that collaborative relationship between different institutions, but at the end of the day, you’re still competitors. How hard is it to walk that line?
We still share collaborative relationships with Members 1st (Federal Credit Union) and (the Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union, or PSECU). We work together in sharing best practices and policy procedure. That’s something I never experienced in the banking industry, and I think we work well with them. We’re typically a credit union that tries to help out other credit unions. I feel like there is a lot of information sharing between local credit unions even though we’re in a very competitive market. The PSECU model is different (no branches), but Members 1st looks a lot more like Belco, so there is competition there. But I think we both can coexist in the marketplace and collaborate. When I was in the banking industry, there wasn’t communication or collaboration between banks at all, which makes this a refreshing kind of world to live in.
Position: President and CEO, Belco Community Credit Union
Family: Husband, Michael
Education: Shippensburg University, graduated 1990. Master’s degree in organizational development and leadership from Shippensburg in 2012.
Experience: Worked in the banking industry at Harris Savings Bank, which became Waypoint Bank (now Sovereign), and also at M&T Bank. Joined Belco in 2004.