Business

Financing the small business community through tranformational leadership

BY DENNISE WILLIAMS
Contributor

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

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The average credit union member would most likely consider themselves hardworking and purpose-driven. A sense of community is the hallmark of the credit union movement and has driven this subsector of the financial services industry for decades. However, times are changing.

The financial landscape is more competitive and the cost of business must be lowered and productivity must be increased.

Enter Roxanne Linton, chief executive officer, First Heritage Co-operative Credit Union (FHC), who has the mandate to lead 250 employees and over 200,000 credit union members into a new dispensation in which personal development is the hallmark of the FHC experience.

Linton sat down with the Business Observer to share how personal development takes many facets in the credit union. Her first priority is to develop her staff to serve the diverse needs of the members. Acknowledging that the products in the financial services are now a commodity, the only competitive advantage is the service level.

“I want a group of smart, well-skilled people with a large soul. That is the vision for my team.”

A soul? When was the last time anyone heard of a CEO concerned about the souls of the staff? Yet Linton is clear. “Yes, I want my staff to have soul because that allows us to keep the member at the centre and understand what is in the best interest for the member. That leads to empathy in banking.”

Again, another foreign concept. However, Linton is undeterred by my scepitism.

“Of course! During the course of the day we hear of our members losing family members, businesses not progressing and many other personal issues. If we are not empathetic, how can we solve problems and keep our members satisfied? Even at the team level, we do training to build competency around kindness. It is my view that building softer skills in my team will help them to connect with clients and, in doing so through coversations, get buy-in.”

During the course of the interview, Linton introduced Kadian Dyke, manager of the Micro & Small Business Loans division. In recognising the change in the Jamaican economy where small business is the driver of employment, Linton explained, “We know that we have to leverage relationships with members and team members because we want to retain our team. Therefore, the goal is to have an environment that is enabling, fun, backed by continuous learning. We have each other backs and we are holding our team accountable and not letting them off the hook.”

Having hard-working parents with her mom being a nurse allowed Linton to see the compassionate side of life. However, as a chartered accountant with 20 years working experience in the financial sector, Linton also see that results matter. So her caring for her team has a purpose.

When asked how one cares about people and hit sales targets at same time, Linton explained that, “I do have an appreciation of the process of how we meet our targets, and that is what I enable my team to do. I help them understand what my expectations are and help them with coaching.”

Now Linton has been the head of FHC since January 2017 and she explained that the first six to seven months were about laying the groundwork for finding the right balance of compassion and meeting targets set by the board.

“Last year we did shifts at the branch level to get the results and we did other shifts internally. As a leader I am interested in that process and I believe that the outcome will flow with the right activities.”

That said, Linton shared that Dyke was groomed to take over the Business Loans Division which Linton sees as an important driver of growth.

“From the credit union perspective, we see small business as the process of growing from a sole trader to someone who takes on employees. And we are there for that growth in a way that is very member-centric. For example, in the St Thomas region our business loan porfolio is agriculture- based. Yet over in May Pen, the bulk of our loans is related to transportation. In Kingston, we have clients who graduate from owning a small haberdashery to a larger supermarket.”

Dyke explained that their approach is not only to go into the field and do a needs analysis, but to also partner with organsations such as the Jamaica Business Development Corporation to host seminars around the island. And in partnership with the Development Bank of Jamaica, the technical voucher programme can direct clients to get their business plans written and find other business coaching support.

Linton adds, “You will find that with our credit union, we have a higher diversation in our portfolio than a commercial bank and business ideas that are diverse as our customers. For us its more than just collateral. Once we establish the viability of the business we will support you, we don't just cherry pick the business with the highest return. We are going support potato growers, bee producers and the like. We recognise the need to support the producers and services entities in Jamaica. We touch in excess of 10,000 lives per month and we plan to have the best team to do so.”

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