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New CEO could mean more branches, mergers for Members 1st Federal Credit Union

A similar but slightly more progressive strategic philosophy could emerge at Members 1st FCU if the credit union's board makes its acting CEO the permanent replacement.

At about $3.60 billion as of June 30, Mechanicsburg, Pa.-based Members 1st FCU is the third-largest credit union in Pennsylvania by assets.

In early July, it named George Nahodil Acting President and CEO after the death of its leader, Robert Marquette.

In an interview, Nahodil said a national search for Marquette's replacement is underway, and he is currently the only internal candidate. He said the hiring process could take up to six months with the new CEO possibly not appointed until early 2018.

Nahodil was previously vice president of retail delivery, public relations and marketing. He also ran the credit union's retail space with all of its branches reporting directly to him. Additionally, the investment services group, insurance services team, call center and commercial lenders reported to Nahodil. He also previously worked for an affiliate of TransUnion in an operations capacity.

So even though his background is slightly different than many credit union CEOs, Nahodil feels he was involved in the operations side of the business to a degree that would make for a smooth transition. "I love the sales and business development side," he said. "I think it's important for executives to be out in the marketplace and understand what their members and communities want. You can't do that sitting in your office."

So how would Nahodil's philosophy differ from Marquette's? One area could be in regard to mergers. Marquette was not a fan of growth by mergers, telling S&P Global during an interview in May, "why would we want to take on someone's problems?" But Nahodil said he has a slightly different take. He said there are circumstances in which a merger can make sense for both parties. "I've seen it work, even in our market," he said.

Smaller credit unions that are challenged by regulatory and technology issues often look for merger opportunities as a way to keep their workers employed and have their members better served. At the same time, a larger institution may gain access to a new market or two. In such situations, a merger can make sense for both parties, he said.

Marquette was also not a believer in the idea that building brick-and-mortar branches is a dated strategy. Nahodil said he agrees that branching is critical to the credit union's success, but he stressed that it is important to pay attention to what members want. That could mean that while more branches are needed, they may feature more self-service technologies and be used partly as a branding mechanism and a way to attract members.

Members 1st will also have to decide whether or not to embrace the idea of universal employees that are charged with wearing more hats than a traditional teller does. "We're going to have an open mind to that," he said. The credit union will not continue to build branches and load them up with employees just for the sake of doing it. But Nahodil said that, in Members 1st's markets, it is clear that members want more physical locations.

"We will build branches," he said. "They may just not look like what they look like now. But more than ever, credit unions need to pay attention to what their members want."