Growing a financial brand

LMCU is building on its West Michigan roots.

Sandy Jelinski has been the Lake Michigan Credit Union chief executive officer for more than two decades, helping the credit union grow into a major West Michigan financial institution.

Jelinski and LMCU have hit multiple milestones recently, including the 500,000th member, expanding to Florida and her induction into the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame. That all goes with GR Magazine readers voting LMCU best credit union and best bank in this very issue.

GR Mag caught up with Jelinski to get the scoop on what is new at LMCU.

Congratulations on your recent induction into the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame! What does it mean to you to be honored by your peers for your work in West Michigan?

That honor truly meant everything to me. It was nothing that I had expected and really came out of nowhere. We’ve always partnered with Junior Achievement through the credit union for many years because they do so much for our youth. When I received word that I had won this wonderful accolade, (I) really studied up on other people in our community that had been past winners. When I saw Doug DeVos, Rich DeVos, Hank Meijer, some of these people I never thought I would be on a page with, I was truly humbled.

What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned along the way at the helm of LMCU?

I learned a lot because I had worked there for quite a few years before the board gave me this opportunity. You learn what works and what doesn’t and what I believe is the best way to do business. For me, it is integrity and honesty and the golden rule, and that’s what we try to do here at Lake Michigan. Our members are always first, that’s basically our culture here.

How has LMCU been able to successfully grow here in West Michigan?

I think what really sustained and built the growth significantly was after the debacle of the housing crisis in 2008. At the end of 2008 our asset size was $1.4 billion and today we’re $11 billion. That’s significant in a credit union world because credit unions can’t raise capital, they only grow if earnings sustain growth. We had a number of members in 2009-10 reach out to ask why we didn’t do mortgages. That was when we hired people who worked in the mortgage industry and I think it’s one of those things where if you hire good people, you can get good products to our members and that has really generated a significant amount of our growth.

In May, LMCU opened a new branch in Grand Haven and shortly after celebrated your 500,000th member who happened to apply at that same branch. What does reaching that milestone say about the growth and longevity of the credit union in the region?

Wasn’t that great? And they lived a block from the new branch. I thought that was such a great story. Really along the lakeshore — Holland, Muskegon, Grand Haven — our business is becoming No. 1 in the industry. And that’s a great thing to see.

A couple years back LMCU made the decision to expand into Florida. What made Florida an attractive market for expansion for a Michigan-based credit union?

We did a member survey in 2012 and 25% of our members who had left Michigan had moved to Florida. Arizona was the next. But historically, credit unions are tied to occupations. So, I was attending a meeting in Naples with a credit union group, and we did some investigating and we drove around and tried to find a credit union. And I couldn’t. Because 20 years ago that area didn’t have large employer groups, so they didn’t have a home-grown credit union. So, we bought some bank buildings and now we have about $1.5 billion in business down there.

The pending acquisition of Pilot Bank will continue to further LMCU’s footprint in Florida. In addition to extending your reach, what further benefits will this acquisition bring to LMCU?

It’s really a great fit for Pilot as well as LMCU. They’re a bank serving their community and they’re more of a commercial bank with (Small Business Administration) and aircraft lending, so they don’t dabble much in mortgage and consumer. So put the two of us together and we’ll be a full-service institution. SBA and aircraft lending is something that Pilot has done for many years and they do it very, very well. We’ll be adding three or four service lines to our business that we’ve never been able to offer before. It’s really a perfect fit between the two organizations.

This past Whitecaps season was LMCU’s first as naming sponsor of the ballpark. What does that partnership do for you from a marketing perspective?

It’s achieved more than we had even imagined. I think, you know, we all love this ballpark, but my father after he retired ushered at the ballpark for a while and he would take all the grandkids to games there. They’ll say their favorite memories with him were the Whitecap days.

It must be quite a feeling for you to look at that stadium and see LMCU Ballpark” on the scoreboard.

Personally, it meant the world to me and when we heard the Whitecaps had chosen Lake Michigan it was truly a dream come true. So far, it’s exceeded every expectation that we had and what the Whitecaps had as well. We did member specials, member discounts and our members did come. And I think it’s going to continue to get better next year.

What sort of things can we look forward to at LMCU Ballpark over the next decade?

We will continue to do more; we had a number of member nights where our members would get a discount. We had staff nights where we would fill 200 seats, which is good for camaraderie, good for relationships and for the company. It’s just a really great partnership and I know we’ll do more with it every year.

In the wake of COVID-19, how do you see the future of banking and financial institutions evolving?
When this hit, none of us could have ever dreamed how hard it would hit. But as a team I was so proud of our staff here. No. 1, people’s concern is their money. But after a couple weeks of drive-thru only service, we remained open. We extended our hours and I think that’s why we’re one of the few financial organizations that did not close. Again, we do have the mobile app, we have home banking, we have online services, we have been improving them as we go, and we’ve improved a lot from where we were a year and a half ago. But our belief at Lake Michigan is when a member wants to do something on a machine or computer, they can do that at home. But when they need to talk to someone for advice or leadership, they need a branch. So, we’ll continue to expand and be able to talk to people and they can know that they’ll be taken care of.

This story can be found in the January/February 2022 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. To get more stories like this delivered to your mailbox, subscribe here

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