Schoen Is Credit To Job

June 2, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Pat Schoen has to chuckle when she thinks about how she got to where she is today.

The senior vice president of LSI Credit Union majored in English and minored in business in college.

“I hated math but somehow I kept getting put into positions where I was managing money,” she recalled.

She started out working as a grant writer for the now-defunct Office of Criminal Justice Programs in Traverse City, and later as a Title 2 and Title 6 project coordinator for the Northwest Michigan Consortium, a consortium of 10 counties that received federal funding for various types of public improvements.

The consortium was eliminated during the Reagan administration, so Schoen relocated to Grand Rapids and worked as an accountant for Pierson Cook Realty while completing her MBA.

In 1992 she accepted a position at LSI Credit Union as accounting manager and worked as an internal auditor, as well. Five years later she was promoted to vice president of finance and operations, and more recently, to senior vice president.

“I’ve always liked mid-sized organizations because you can have more of an effect. I’ve always tried to stay with either a nonprofit or service organization because I want to be able to do something that makes a difference — and I know that sounds altruistic. But with a credit union, it is truly people helping people.”

Schoen’s friendly, open demeanor seems to reflect the overall environment at LSI — which stands for Lending, Savings and Investment.

The 52-year-old state-chartered institution serves more than 20,000 members in Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan counties. Membership is open to anyone who resides, is employed in, attends school in or worships within that four-county area.

LSI offers most of the same products and services as any full-service financial institutions and is quickly closing in on $100 million in assets, Schoen noted. It has three locations and plans to expand by two more branches within the next 18 months.

Like other credit unions, LSI operates under a volunteer, unpaid board of directors. Schoen said that means credit unions can generally offer loans and deposit products at better rates and dividends because they do not pay their directors.

LSI owns 100 percent of Rivertown Financial, a financial credit union service organization (CUSO) that offers investment and financial counseling, health, life and auto insurance and brokerage services

LSI and two other credit unions founded Member 1st Mortgage, which has seven credit union owners today. And LSI just partnered with five other credit unions to form a technology CUSO that operates a technology center for all six credit unions and has the capacity to serve twice that many.

“Most of it is one for economies of scale,” Schoen explained. “When you get the purchasing power of six credit unions that all have between $100 million and $200 million in assets, you all of a sudden have a large concern that can offer services and engage services that have some meat to them. We’re looking at a collections CUSO, too.”

Schoen is especially proud of LSI University, which offers members free classes and seminars on financial topics, such as buying a home, saving for college, investing in a mutual fund, enhancing credit and planning for retirement. More classes will be added as time goes on, she said.

LSI University also offers financial education to schools and organizations and designs classroom presentations customized by grade level.

LSI Credit Union’s goal is to hire from within.

“We really work at cross training and making sure that everyone is challenged enough,” Schoen said. “We’ll do anything that we can to help that person make the next step. As a result of that philosophy, it’s a good place to work.”

What Schoen enjoys most is the daily challenge. She also likes being second in command.

“I always look at the big picture. I like to work on projects. I have the flexibility to take on a variety of projects, and I have a variety of issues that I have to deal with every day. And I like that this is a service organization. I feel like I’m doing some good along the way, along with earning a paycheck.”

Overseeing projects is the primary focus for Schoen, noted President and CEO Kurt Thelen.

“And those projects are ever-changing. It’s never slow or dull,” he added. He said the organization’s corporate philosophy is to inform staff of upcoming projects to give everyone a chance to choose what projects they might like to get involved with.

As financial institutions, credit unions are more one-on-one when in comes to customer service, he added. The corporate philosophy at LSI is that every person coming through door is both an opportunity and a responsibility.

Unlike banks, credit unions don’t have the motivation to continue to create new fees because they just have to turn around and give it back to members anyway, Thelen said.

“We take a certain amount of income but anything over that ends up going back to the membership.”

LSI plans to continue expanding into the Holland, Grand Haven, Grandville and northeast Grand Rapids areas and to continue to seek partnership opportunities with other credit unions both around the state and, perhaps, around the country to facilitate other types of lending, Thelen said.

“With the era of CUSOs, we have the ability to do that and that has worked very well for us. But our primary focus will still always be West Michigan.”           

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