CEO Spotlight: Vicki O'Neill, ACMG FCU

ACMG FCU President/CEO Vicki O’Neill has led her credit union since 1989 and served as chair on the New York Credit Union Foundation (NYCUF) board of trustees since 2009. As the subject of this month’s CEO Spotlight, she recently answered a series of questions on her leadership approach, community involvement and more.

Q: How did you get started in the credit union movement, and what is your history at ACMG FCU?

A: April will mark my 35-year anniversary with ACMG FCU. One of my previous co-workers at Key Bank accepted a position at ACMG and recruited me as a member service representative shortly thereafter. I knew it would be a perfect fit because my personal values are so closely aligned with the values of the credit union movement: honesty, equal worth, participation, mutual respect and mutual self-help.

ACMG was small when I started, with $4 million in assets and three staff members, so I had the opportunity to learn every aspect of the business firsthand. I also worked under a leader who challenged me and encouraged me to prepare myself for the CEO position, which I assumed in 1989.

Q: How has ACMG FCU grown under your leadership?

A: In the 25 years that I have served as CEO, the credit union has grown from $18 million to $54 million in assets, and our membership has more than tripled. We have also built two new office locations and vastly expanded our products and services. However, I am proudest of: the addition of an underserved area in our charter, ACMG’s leadership role in several cooperative endeavors and our staff and board’s dedication to financial education, counseling and political action.

Q: How would you or your staff describe your leadership style?

A: I believe my staff would say that I have a participatory leadership style. I like to encourage discussion and the exchange of ideas at multiple levels, because I think it leads to more creative problem solving and vested interest in implementing solutions.

Q: What are the biggest opportunities and challenges facing credit unions today?

A: In the words of credit union pioneer Louise Herring, “We must remember what we started out to do and then find ways to do it with the modern techniques available.” New technology and communication channels offer incredible opportunities when it comes to raising awareness about the benefits of credit union membership. But our biggest challenge is remembering and, more importantly, staying true to what we started out to do.

Q: What are your credit union’s key goals/priorities for 2014?

A: We plan to enhance our mobile banking with an online lending component and remote deposit capture, continue the development of a formal relationship management culture, recruit young individuals to our board of directors, establish our first student branch at a high school, evaluate alternative financial services options and establish a presence on three social media sites.

Q: How and why did you get involved with NYCUF?

A: Our select employer groups (SEGs) and other groups within our community were requesting formal financial education sessions. Rather than spend precious resources to develop our own materials, we reached out to NYCUF for assistance and support. That reminded me of the power of operating in a cooperative fashion. I decided then that I wanted to help build awareness about NYCUF, and serving on the board seemed to present an opportunity to do just that.

Q: Are there any accomplishments or initiatives you are particularly proud of as chair/trustee of NYCUF?

A: There have been many. Recently, witnessing the way credit unions in the state banded together to provide support for other credit unions and members impacted by Hurricane Sandy was pretty awesome.

Q: How has cooperation—at both the regional and state levels—benefitted your credit union, as well as you personally?

A: Shared branching, shared ATM networks and local mortgage participation pools are great examples of cooperative efforts that have produced direct benefits for ACMG and our members. Meeting and working with other credit union leaders through initiatives at the Credit Union Association of New York and the corporate has energized me, challenged me and provided me with a broader knowledge base and a more creative approach to problem solving. 

Q: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not at work?

A: I enjoy reading, painting and spending time with my two grandchildren. I also ring in a local handbell choir.

Q: What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?

A: “Have the courage to admit when you’ve made a mistake and need to head in a different direction.”

About CEO Spotlight:
Each month, the CEO Spotlight column features credit union leaders from around the state, offering an inside look at their experiences and insights. Previous CEO Spotlight columns are available on the Credit Union Association of New York website.