He Leads or Gets Out of the Way

October 2017: Vol 40 No 10
by Diane Franklin

CUES’ 2017 Outstanding Chief Executive Chuck Purvis is an innovator and collaborator who knows when to let others on his team take the reins.

Chuck Purvis

Chuck Purvis has risen to the top executive position of a $2.9 billion credit union by focusing on innovation and collaboration. As president/CEO of Coastal Credit Union with headquarters in Raleigh, N.C., Purvis knows how to step up to implement an innovative solution, but he also knows when it’s appropriate to step back and give others a chance to lead.

“I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase ‘Lead, follow or get out of the way.’ CEOs have to be able to do all three,” says Purvis, CUDE, CCE, a long-time CUES member whose professional accomplishments, support of employee development and dedication to the community have earned him the title of CUES’ 2017 Outstanding Chief Executive. “Some CEOs might say, ‘I’m the leader, so I’m always going to lead.’ But there are times when someone else is better positioned to lead a particular effort. When my team has an idea that they all support and want to pursue, generally the smartest thing I can do is get out of the way.”

Purvis’ focus on collaboration has enabled Coastal CU to make maximum use of its organizational talent. “Too many people in organizations are siloed, even those at the top,” he says. “I’ve got six senior executives that work for me, and we meet every week for about an hour and a half. Every meaningful decision that affects the company is made by that group collectively.”

Thinking Big

During his five years as CEO and his 11 previous years as EVP/COO, Purvis has propelled Coastal CU forward through innovative decision making and creative problem solving.

“I tend to look for possibilities that other people don’t see,” he says. “I also am a pretty big thinker. I’m not one who reacts well to the phrase, ‘We can’t do that.’ It spurs me to figure out how we can do it.”

One of the best examples of Purvis’ innovative thinking resulted in a breakthrough in remote-teller technology that came about through a successful collaboration between Coastal CU and uGenius Technology, now part of NCR, Duluth, Ga.

“We invented and pioneered what is known today as video tellering,” Purvis explains. “It originated with an idea I had for improving an early cousin of this technology. We became the first financial institution in the world to go 100 percent to video tellers. We have no tellers in any of our branches, and we are able to deliver teller services from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week.”

Currently, video tellers are available in all 22 of Coastal CU’s branches. The resulting efficiencies enabled the CU to expand its service hours by 44 percent and reduce labor by 40 percent. With Coastal CU as part owner through its wholly owned CUSO, uGenius commercialized the remote personal teller machines so that other CUs could take advantage of this technology. “NCR Corp. purchased the company (and Coastal CU saw a return on its investment of about 400 percent) about five years ago and now has a large business worldwide taking that technology to other financial institutions,” Purvis reports.

More recently, Purvis has embarked on a new venture that brings a revolutionary digital banking software platform to the CU space. “My CIO and I have been working on this idea for about four years,” Purvis says. “Rather than having a single mobile banking app, which can be expensive and hard to maintain, our idea was to create a platform that would include apps from different financial services providers and put them in a single app store.”

After developing a proof of concept and raising the necessary funds to determine feasibility, Coastal CU formed a credit union service organization called Constellation Digital Partners LLC (“coming soon” website at constellation.coop) to bring this platform to market. The CUSO, jointly owned by eight credit unions and three credit union organizations, was launched in May as the first and only suite of digital financial services dedicated solely to CUs.

These innovation endeavors provide validation that Coastal CU’s board of directors made a wise decision in selecting Purvis to succeed the previous CEO of 38 years.

“We just adore Chuck and have for a very long time,” says Chair Joan Nelson. “We groomed him to be the successor for Larry Wilson, and it has paid off dividends. Internally, what sets Chuck apart is the fact that he is a very innovative spirit. He comes up with great ideas that help not only Coastal but also the industry as a whole. If it’s something we agree we should move forward with, Chuck brings in the right expert to flesh it out for feasibility and then implementation.”

A 35-Year Journey

Purvis’ ability to think big has been evident from the very first job he took in the CU sector 35 years ago. He had just graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a bachelor’s degree in business and economics with an accounting concentration. Those credentials landed him a consulting position with what at the time was known as the North Carolina Credit Union League. The position was necessitated in reaction to the Monetary Control Act of 1980, which deregulated interest rates and created an environment in which CUs needed to make pricing decisions on their deposits.

“I didn’t know a thing about credit unions when I applied for the job but I thought it seemed interesting,” Purvis says. “In 1982, I built what was probably one of the first electronic asset liability models and spent a number of years working with several hundred credit unions around the state, doing financial forecasts and modeling and helping them make financial decisions.”

Purvis felt an affinity with the movement. Two key factors resonated: “The first was that the 1980s were an incredible time of innovation for credit unions,” he recalls. “The S&L [savings and loan] industry was melting down … and many people who wanted to bank with a local institution migrated over to credit unions. That was a period when shared draft accounts emerged, ... followed by IRA accounts and then debit cards and credit cards. All of this innovation ... has been pretty exciting.”

The second, equally important factor is the sense of shared responsibility that exists among credit unions. “I found it be a very collegial and collaborative movement,” Purvis says. “I like the fact that we do things together with other credit unions. It isn’t, ‘Gee, I’m competing with these other guys, so I better not tell them what I’m doing.’ At the end of the day, it’s all about how we can provide more value to the folks who are joining credit unions.”

A Continuing CU Career

Purvis spent 11 years with the North Carolina Credit Union League in various roles, including serving as COO in charge of the organization’s service corporation. “I spent my last two years running the First Carolina Corporate Credit Union, which at the time was affiliated with the League,” he reports. “I decided it might be interesting to learn about corporates, investments, liquidity and so forth.”

Purvis’ next move was to U.S. Central Credit Union in Kansas, where he spent nine years in a variety of senior positions before making his move to Coastal CU.

In all, Purvis estimates that he’s had about 25 senior level roles at the three credit union organizations he has served. “I get bored easily,” he concedes. “When I take on a role, whether it’s fixing a broken operation or bringing a new business on line, I love doing it for a couple years but then I determine that I’m ready to do something else.”

As CEO, Purvis rarely experiences the boredom problem anymore. When you’re a CEO, he says, “There’s never a dull day.”

During his tenure at Coastal CU, Purvis has helped the CU achieve new heights even after experiencing the worst recession of the last 80 years. “We lost a third of our capital during the financial crisis, primarily due to loan losses,” Purvis reports. “North Carolina was hit pretty hard. I led a team that turned around our financial performance over a three-year period. We went from the two worst years in our history to a break-even year to three record years following that. Today, we’re very healthy financially.”

In addition to growing its assets to around $3 billion, Coastal CU has expanded membership to a total of 230,000 encompassing a 16-county area that includes Raleigh-Durham and Chapel Hill. The organization keeps its membership numbers climbing through such innovative programs as a generous loyalty bonus program launched about five years ago.

“This is essentially a patronage dividend program,” Purvis explains. “We paid out $2.3 million in bonus dividends to our members in January and a total of about $12 million over the past five years.”

Employees are Key

Purvis insists this growth in assets and membership would not be possible without the hard work and dedication exhibited by those who work at the CU. “Our business model starts with our employees. We pay well and have a strong benefit program. We put a lot of effort into developing and supporting our employees, and that has translated into high service levels and Net Promoter Scores from our members. Our viewpoint is if our employees don’t enjoy what they’re doing and aren’t engaged in their work, they aren’t going to do a good job of serving our members.”

As a result of this emphasis on employee engagement and satisfaction, the CU enjoys top rankings by area business journals. Triangle Business Journal named Coastal CU one of the best places to work in the Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill), while Business North Carolina ranked the CU as one of the 50 best places to work in North Carolina. Both publications use employee surveys to determine those rankings.

The collaborative environment that Purvis supports is another reason that Coastal CU is such a desirable place for employees. “We all are working with the same set of goals, which gives everyone an incentive to support each other,” he says.

However, improving an organization sometimes requires a critical eye. “I am the biggest cheerleader and the biggest critic of the organization. You have to be both.”

Purvis has put himself in a position to evaluate the CU by being not only the CEO but also one of its most discerning members. “I do all of my personal financial business with Coastal,” he explains. “I experience what our members experience, and if I discover something that are employees are not doing well, they are going to hear about it.”

A way that Purvis puts team members in a position to succeed is by giving them different roles at the CU. “Let’s say you’re a really good CFO and you aspire to be a CEO,” Purvis says. “One of the things I want to know is: Can you run a part of the organization that’s not finance? Can you run operations? Can you run technology? That’s why one aspect of our development model is to move our future leaders around the organization and see how they perform.”

Purvis also believes in taking advantage of educational opportunities.

“I am a graduate of CUES’ CEO Institute, which is a fabulous program, and I’ll be rotating some of my key execs through that program within the next couple years,” he reports.

Additionally, Purvis uses the Credit Union Development Educator program as a means of helping key staff members understand the principles that bolster the CU movement.

“I think it’s important that our future leaders fully understand the CU philosophy and the cooperative principles we’re built on,” he says. “Without that, it’s too easy to get focused on our business goals and forget about our social mission, and if we’re not careful, at some point in the future, we’ll wake up and credit unions will look like banks. I think a big part of my role at Coastal is to make sure that never happens here.”

From her vantage point as board chair, Nelson has found Purvis to be excellent at talent development. “He has just truly raised the bar in terms of making sure that our employees, especially those who are being groomed for leadership roles, have the right experiences to excel.”

Nelson cites Purvis’ transparency as a key reason employees perform so well. “He has made himself accessible and makes sure that the entire staff feels comfortable approaching him if they have issues or concerns. I think this gives all employees a sense of engagement with our strategy and mission.”

Giving Back

Another important leadership characteristic that Purvis exhibits is his generosity in giving back to the larger credit union community through serving on various boards and committees. He was on the board of the National Credit Union Foundation for 12 years, including a two-year term as chair. He is currently treasurer for CUES Supplier member CO-OP Financial Services, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.; a board member of CUES Supplier member CU Direct, Ontario, Calif.; and chairman of Members Development Corp., Madison, Wis., a collaboration of 45-plus CUs who are working together on meaningful research and development projects.

Purvis also dedicates time to the local community by serving as vice chair of the United Way of the Greater Triangle. In addition, he recently joined the board of a local business-sponsored organization that focuses on improving public education in North Carolina.

While participating in these endeavors helps the community, Purvis sees a secondary benefit in that it helps broaden awareness of the Coastal CU brand. It also helps him gain a vantage point that is helpful in his duties as CEO. “I work for a board, so sitting on other boards gives me appreciation and insight into how my board may think or react,” he says. “It’s a great learning experience.”

When he’s not busy with his career or professional obligations, Purvis enjoys spending time with his family. He has been married to Gail (whom he met on a blind date) for 31 years. They have two adult sons and two grandsons.

“We have a lake house, so we’re very much into boating and the lake life,” Purvis says. “I also enjoy golf and traveling. I’m a bit of a NASCAR junkie and a diehard UNC basketball fan.”

Though he came upon his credit union career by happenstance, Purvis couldn’t be happier with the direction his career path has taken him. “When I took my first job at the North Carolina Credit Union League, I had no idea where my credit union experience would take me,” he says. “Thirty-five years later, I couldn’t imagine a more rewarding career.”

Diane Franklin is a freelance writer based in Missouri.