An interview with Robert Cashman

Chelsea based Metropolitan Credit Union (MCU) has grown to become the fifth largest credit union in the state with more than 100,000 account holders, $750 million in assets and a tenth location in South Bay on the way. Despite the recent economic downturns of many financial institutions during the last two years, MCU’s success could seem an anomaly. The major reason for this dramatic growth has been Robert Cashman, President and CEO of MCU for the last 11 years. Cashman is the third-generation leader of this financial institution following in the footsteps of his grandfather, George and father, Marvin. "The secret to our success is simple," Cashman says, "I’ve been doing this for 26 years, and learned from the best: my father and grandfather."

Q: You grew up in this bank. Can you tell me what it’s like to be a third-generation Metro Credit Union leader?

A: “It’s great to see the hard work my father and grandfather did in making a foundation for our expansion. It’s been wonderful to see all the things that they did  take hold. I have a great deal of enjoyment doing business with people in the credit union who did business with my grandfather and father, and doing business with the grandchildren and children of those who did business with my father and grandfather. 

Marvin, my father, has been here 50 years. He’s still involved with the organization, and is on the board of directors and chairman of the board.  I couldn’t ask for anything better – I’ve had  the best mentors and teachers available. I’m proud to say I’m able to carry on the philosophy and culture that my father and grandfather instilled in the organization.

Q: How do you hone your skills when you’ve been in the same job for 26 years?

A: I’ve had the opportunity to work with a great many people from a wide, diverse background even though I’ve been in same organization for a while. I do personal development, outside reading, meet people not only in the banking industry but outside the banking industry to give me different perspectives on the economy. The more people you meet of different backgrounds, you can use information to use in your day to day work.

Q: If you weren’t in the financial industry, what would you be doing for a living?

A: I’d be a coach or a manager of a professional sports team. The analogies are similar to what I do now on a day to day basis — you need to think strategically a day ahead, to take advantage of opportunities to be in different situations all the time. It would be great to work with the a same group of people on a day to day basis, like a team. That’s what I do now. 

Q: Lately, do you feel like George Bailey, from “It’s a Wonderful Life?”

A: From my perspective, our philosophy here is people helping people, and we’ve always had an adage “Not for profit, not for charity, but for service.” We truly live by that. My human nature is to help people. With this economy, the credit union has really stepped up. We’re helping them with savings, to get into their first house, to help them stay in their house in case of their financial difficulty, to help the people in the community with any situation, good or bad. We’ve always been there to help people, and that’s why we’re successful, I think. We get great referrals.

Q: How has the clientele and their needs changed over the years?

A: The need for financial services has always been there, the actual reason for our existence hasn’t changed. What has changed is the type of people from various backgrounds. In Chelsea, it’s always been a melting pot, an ethnic community. As we continue to expand we now have 9 different regions.  We have focused on certain products and services that are related to a specific group of people, which has transformed our operation. As an example, in terms of advertising, much of our literature is bilingual. As far as the clientele is concerned the age and demographics has expanded – as we like to say, our members are ‘8 to 80” so we teach financial literacy and education. We have two high school branches in Chelsea and Lawrence, run by high school students. 

Q: Why is a credit union better than a bank?

A: I think one of the reasons why is because of the philosophical approach to doing business. We truly care about our members. When too large you’re just a number. Here at Metro Credit Union, our employees very personalble, they know our members by our first name. We’re here to build longterm relationships. We’ve had the same customers 10-20-30-40 years, and now we’re onto the next generation. 

Q: What’s been your strategy in dealing with the economic downturn?

A: We’re very fortunate we had the forethought to stay away from certain business lines that have obviously created as much of an issue for many financial institutions  across the country. Asset quality and quality of loans for mortgages were exceptional. We have very little delinquency, we have a few members having trouble with their mortgages, which we’ve responded with rate reductions and workouts.    We’re weathering the storm and working our way through. While other institutions are cosing, we had a great 2009.

Q: What three top tips can you give to your customers on how to manage their money in this economy?

A: One is to save as much as you can, and pay yourself first, every time your paycheck put some money aside into a Christmas fund or a money market. You should save for the future and have some short and long-term goals.

Two, pay down as much debt as you can. Now is the time where everyone is hunkering down to pay down debt. Three, try to live within your means. Budget how much you have or income, pay down your debt and put money away.

Q: What are the best ways to prevent being scammed while using a credit or debit card?

A: Check your account statements regularly. By doing so, checking the statement monthly, you want to make sure there’s not a transaction that’s not yours. If so report it immediately. 

Q: What do you tell the average person looking to buy a home?

A: Right now is a fantastic time to buy a home — prices are obviously down, interest rates are down – It’s a perfect storm for an individual who has never owned a home or wants to trade up. In doing so, do your research and find the geographic area you want to live in, when you buy a home you’re not just making an investment, it’s something you’re revolving your life around a community. 

Q: What are some of the community programs you’re really proud of?

A: Much of our efforts focus on two things: housing and financial literacy. We’ve had the opportunity to provide a lot of credit counseling, various financial resource fairs, and we do a lot of work in partnering with community partners, such as ROCA, the The Collaborative, and Centro Latino. That gives us a great deal of satisfaction. We do what we can to give back to the community. We also have a program for employees to get involved — they all volunteer time in the various charities and schools after work.

Q: What’s the best thing that’s happened to the banking industry in the past 5 years, and what developments are you looking forward to?

A: I think the best thing is we’ve cleaned up the industry, and many of the players who took advantage of people have gone away. I think with increased regulations many of the financial institutions and mortgage brokers who truly did a disservice to the rest of the communities have gone away. There are fewer institutions in the marketplace now, but those who are left are good institutions.

Q: What are your goals for Metro Credit Union?

A: Looking forward, because of our strong financial position, we look forward to future growth and expansion, new locations, new products and services, and being able to service the communities we’re associated with.

Much of our success is attributed to the wonderful staff and employees. Many of our employees have been working here 25, 30 or even 40 years. That says a lot about our institution. We have service awards every year in December.

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