Graves takes top spot at Ent Credit Union

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On Oct. 1, Chad Graves took the helm at Ent Credit Union. The financial institution recently celebrated its 60th anniversary and finished 2017 with more than $5 billion in assets and more than 300,000 members. Ent is building three new locations in town (near UCCS, on Interquest Parkway, and at Powers Boulevard and Woodmen Road) and closing two: the Woodmen location (near their headquarters), which was recently purchased by ViewHouse, a Denver restaurant, and its Briargate location at Woodmen Road and Lexington Drive.

Originally from northern Idaho, Graves has always been interested in the business aspect of things, and from an early age he had a goal of becoming a CEO. (Though in college he did spend a few Idaho summers working for the U.S. Forest Service — serving as a fire lookout, as well as on the helicopter crew.)

He majored in management information systems at the University of Idaho and eventually found his way to Colorado Springs, with a stop in Portland, Ore. Graves enjoys the outdoors, which includes camping with his wife and three children (ages 10, 12 and 14) and, of course, fulfilling his childhood goal of being a CEO.

How are you getting the ball rolling as CEO?

We’re spending a lot of time looking at what the next 15 years will look like -— making sure we are planning and spending our resources in the best way to make sure services will be meeting and exceeding expectations. In financial services in general, we’re looking more into autonomous cars — that certainly can change the economics of car ownership. We’ll also see [continuing] trends toward mobilization — anything you can do currently has to be done on some kind of mobile platform. … [We’re trying to anticipate] our members’ needs before they even realize they have that need — trying to understand where people are at in their stage of life. If we have a family with young kiddos, let’s help them plan for college and different life events. With our members’ help, we can in turn help them manage their finances.

What did you learn from former CEO, Randy Bernstein?

Randy was a great mentor. The 18 years I’ve been at Ent, I reported to Randy all 18 of them. He was a great advocate for the fact that we’re a member-owned financial cooperative and the importance of excellent member service — always making sure we keep the member first and foremost in everything we do. … A few years ago, Randy led the credit union down the road in doing some expansion in other counties. [Our focus] in the next couple of years, is to realize that direction. We opened up two locations in Castle Rock late last year, we’ll be opening up two locations in Parker in 2018 and we’re looking for other areas in the Jefferson, Douglas, Arapahoe areas.

What has your journey at Ent looked like?

My wife and I moved here from Oregon back in 1999. At the time, Ent didn’t have online banking … and my first duty was as a manager of e-commerce. Online banking [at Ent] at that time was 30 modems answering at a computer. Our team’s responsibility was to implement web-based online banking. Along the way at Ent, I’ve had various roles within technology — director of information systems, vice president of information technology — and then a few years ago, I crossed over into being responsible for operations technology and marketing.

Any challenges you expect to face?

As great as the economy is doing, the overnight borrowing rate [Federal Reserve] is starting to tick up a bit. That will ultimately result in higher borrowing costs for consumers. As that happens, that puts a little more pressure on earnings for financial institutions. I think we’re well suited to manage that at Ent, but it’s certainly a challenge. There are always challenges regarding security. We’re fortunate we have technology, but the more members want to use all these devices … there’s always a security challenge. We need to make sure we stay on top of that to protect our members’ identities and financial information. … Unfortunately the bad guys are very sophisticated, so staying ahead of them is an ongoing challenge for any financial institution.

What has changed the most during your time at Ent?

What’s interesting is how much it hasn’t changed. In 1999 and 2000, all the trade publications within the credit union industry were predicting the demise of the service center of the branch. That hasn’t happened; in fact it’s grown. What we’ve found is that our members, and customers in general of financial institutions, want more of everything. Consumers want to access us in the way that’s most convenient for them at the time. It’s important for us to always be interacting with our members and watching other spaces, such as retail, to try to look for consumer trends and desires because there doesn’t seem to be one channel that dominates.

What will the new locations offer?

All three will have drive-up locations, biometric safe deposit boxes, video ITM [Interactive Teller Machines]. … We’re hoping these video teller machines will take off, just from a convenience aspect. We are already finding people love the ATM side of it, but we want to tell more of the story that you can actually have a friendly face on the other side of it. [A live video screen will reflect those friendly faces, who are based at the Ent headquarters on Campus Drive.]… It’s a better experience. It’s like you’re inside the service center, but in your car. It’s an exciting thing for us.