Name: Karen Church
Credit Union: ELGA CU
Asset size: $180 Million
CEO Since: 1992
First Employed in CU Movement: 1978
High school co-op student to CEO — that is the path Karen Church took at ELGA CU (FL) in Burton, Mich., just south of Flint.
Church began at ELGA CU more than 20 years ago during her senior year at Lakeville High School in Otisville. “In those days you did a little bit of several things,” says Church.“I was a teller and loved working for the members. It’s amazing how many account numbers I still remember from those days
.“I also stuffed and sorted quarterly statements for mailing and assisted those doing loans with filing and typing. I loved doing so many different duties and making our members smile.”
After leaving the credit union for a short time and getting married, she found her way back to the place she now calls her second home. “I got married in 1978. After I got back from my honeymoon, I got a call from the credit union saying they had lost a person and asked if I was interested,” says Church. “I went back and took my old job on a full-time basis.”
Since then, Church has served in a variety of positions, including teller, loan officer, bookkeeper and in collections. In 1987, she became assistant manager and was named CEO in 1992.
As CEO, she oversees the operation of ELGA CU, which has been serving its members since 1951. ELGA stands for
“ELectricity and GAs,” and was originally founded to serve
employees of Consumers Energy, which today is the credit union’s largest SEG.
Beginning her career as a co-op student affords Church a unique perspective of the benefits of credit unions working with educators to bring the life-skill of financial literacy to students.
“I think credit unions should be working in schools to show students what it’s like out in the real world,” she says. “Students today don’t realize the importance of handling their money and taking credit.
“They are inundated with offers, especially when they go off to college. The credit card companies are after them, on the street corners, on campuses and in the mail. And if our students don’t understand how credit cards work and how long it takes to pay them back, they can get themselves into a tight spot.”
ELGA CU has branches inside three area elementary schools and does frequent financial education presentations at other neighboring schools. “We offer services teaching classes in high school, however, it just doesn’t seem like there is enough time for all that could be done,” Church says.”
“Students need one-on-one coaching going through their finances, teaching them how much they need to earn in order to pay back ‘x’ amount of debt. I wish I could buy them all a book called The Richest Man in Babylon. It’s a very old book, but it has good advice on saving a little now for the future.
“I remember early on as a co-op student I learned to budget my earnings and save for future large bills, such as insurance. It was much easier to put a little away each week to pay big bills rather than using an entire check. I also learned essential skills such as how to balance a checkbook and the all-important value of compound interest.”
Church is also a big advocate of cooperative advertising and its potential for Michigan credit unions. “Cooperative advertising is the banding together of all credit unions to put out an important message to the consumer — that there is a better alternative to normal banking. If they don’t know about credit unions they need to learn, because it is the best way to do things.”
In addition to providing important value to members, credit unions also provide tremendous satisfaction to the professionals, staff and volunteers who make them work, too.
“I love the credit union,” Church says. “It’s a great place to make career. We help a lot of people who come through our doors. I am most proud of the terrific people that we hire to give our members a reason to do business with us. We have achieved many goals because of their commitment.”