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typeballs1I loved being a teller. Not only interacting with the members but that wonderful sense of completion you have at the end of the day – balancing. Validation of your greatness. Locking your cash drawer, placing it in the vault, and whoosh. You take nothing home but the memories. BUT, as a teller, I wasn’t even ON the organizational chart. And I had goals.

Word on the row (teller row, which is suspiciously close to death row) was you HAD to become a loan officer if you ever wanted to a) make decent money and b) become a manager. This is what prompted me to leave my first credit union. You see, there were only three loan officer positions and I could tell these ladies weren’t going anywhere.

I was taking a night class at Portland Community College and met a gal from a tiny grocery store co-op credit union that said they were hiring. Not ONLY was I going to be a loan officer, I would still have a teller drawer, open new accounts AND do collections! WOW! I WAS the organizational chart!

I interviewed on my lunch hour. The credit union occupied the living, dining room, kitchen and one bathroom of an old house. The sponsor, United Grocers, was right across the street. It was, how should I say “cozy” and so it was important that we all got along. I’ll never forget Lois, the Manager, asking me if I smoked. You see, NO one in this officer smoked and she wasn’t about to hire one now. Yahooooo!!!! I found my new home.

I hate to say this, but learning consumer loans was not that hard. The hardest part was using the Burroughs machine to calculate their payment. Oh, and not making mistakes as you typed up their documents on an IBM selectric typewriter on triplicate carbon paper! Liquid Paper was my best friend. My record – I typed 25 loan docs in one work day! This was before open-ended lending and lines of credit. So we did a lot of $300 one pay loans. BUT, we also would deny members for their “purpose.”

The original charter of a credit union was to make loans for “provident and productive purposes” so if someone came in and asked for a loan to go to Vegas, we would say “No.”

Character, capacity, collateral. It wasn’t unusual for us to call a loan applicant’s supervisor and ask how they were doing at work – what was the likelihood they would be employed for the length of this loan. The greatest collateral we had was their payroll deduction.

To pull a credit bureau on a member involved perfection in typing. You dialed into the bureau using a directional coupler. Oh yes. So if you made a mistake, there was no backspace, no liquid paper, you had to disconnect, redial, wait for the screachy noise and try again. I remember the first time I did it my hands were shaking.

There were no scores back then – you had to learn to read the line items quickly to mentally determine a score. Good, not-so-good, and oops – credit committee.

Credit committee met every Thursday. Back in the day (which according to Dane Cook was a Wednesday) WE didn’t turn down members, their co-workers did. The committee consisted of volunteers who were there to protect the credit union. They really should’ve been called the “character committee” because the decisions were based less on credit worthiness and more about this person’s reputation.

This also created a built in “shame” of non-repayment. Members understood that they were truly borrowing their co-workers money (just in a less awkward way) and not repaying was not cool. We made a practice of parking repo cars in front of the credit union. Everyone knew that “Joe” defaulted.

I’ll never forget the day when I saw my first notice of bankruptcy. WHAT? Some lawyer is telling me that the member I trusted is not going to pay us back. Ever? That’s when I realized it was hard to be a collector AND a loan officer at the same time. For days, all my loans went to credit committee – no one was worthy. I had issues I needed to work through.

I’m amazed today when I see that credit committees are basically gone, members inputing their own data and a big giant computer brain scores and approves the loan. Wow.

After awhile, the loan officer title lost its luster for me. Take application, pull credit, calculate debt ratio, type docs, input data, cut check. Next. I needed a new challenge.

Next up: Compliance? Seriously.

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June 2023