Rough and tumble turns to quieter waters for Williams

IAN Williams must have savoured the moment when he first met members of the United Credit Union at last week’s annual general meeting.

The formalities of the meeting went by without a murmur from the 50 or so members and staff who came to listen to Mr Williams, the recently appointed CEO.

The members were also there to reappoint Attorney-General Jim McGinty’s chief of staff, Daniel Cloghan, as chairman and Robe River Mining commercial general manager Daryl Calvin as director.

It was a far cry from the rough and tumble world Mr Williams experienced as chief general manager of personal insurance products at GIO and later as head of the combined Commercial Insurance operation of AMP/GIO across Australia until the sale of that operation to Suncorp Metway.

Mr Williams exited the AMP Group as the heat increased on the performance of the AMP board in the handling of the GIO purchase.

He told WA Business News that, while not directly involved in the problems to have surfaced in AMP, he was “close enough to the fire” to see what was happening.

Not liking what he saw, he decided to look for a friendlier organisation, with strong values and ethics, preferably in WA.

The sudden retirement of John Beattie on August 27, after an association with United spanning more than a decade, provided the opening for Mr Williams.

Members had good reason to remain subdued … and contented. The profit numbers were all pointing in positive territory.

During 2001-02, its 30th year in operation, United’s after tax profit jumped 17.6 per cent to reach $2.4 million. Assets under management also grew by a similar amount to reach $370 million.

And the growth is not expected to end there, with the credit union predicting similar growth in the current financial year.

Mr Williams told the members the healthy performance came despite strong competitive pressure from other credit unions, particularly on-line providers. And he re-committed United to opening new branches and expanding the services, as well as engaging with the media to get the whole story told.

It all falls within the Union’s new marketing strategy, which was released in May to target the areas in which the credit union felt banks were letting their customers down.

Besides the promise of new branches, after the AGM Mr Williams announced plans to introduce a United MasterCard within the next few months.

Mr Williams said he made no apology for the determined efforts to attract traditional bank customers.

“We believe customers want personal service and a useful range of products from their financial institutions,” he said.

“United Credit Union hasn’t offered a rewards credit card with interest-free days and the intro-duction of a new United MasterCard will fill a gap in our product range, making us more competitive.”

A study by financial services firm KPMG into credit unions and building societies found that the non-bank group was successfully making inroads on bank territory.

In it, KPMG warned that the key to survival for Australia’s credit unions was a combination of differentiation, product capability and cost structure.

“Institutions might choose to differentiate on geography, on customer origin or on service,” the report says.

“But if they differentiate without an adequate product set their ambitions may be short lived.

“Similarly, if they try to be all things to all customers in terms of product, but without any point of differentiation, they’ll just become one of the pack and fade behind the banks.

“Focusing on cost whilst pursuing strategy will also be essential,” the report says.

“With Building Societies and Credit Unions facing difficulties competing they will need to ensure they maintain their high level of customer focus.”

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