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November 13, 2017 On the record

Maine Credit Union League's new CEO has upbeat outlook on his sector of state's economy

Photo / Jim Neuger Todd Mason, president and CEO of the Maine Credit Union League, says that credit unions are seeing growth in the youth market as college graduates go into their adult lives.

Michigan native Todd Mason succeeded John Murphy as president and CEO of the Maine Credit Union League in April and its technology affiliate Synergent, returning to an industry Mason says he fell into after college and then fell in love with. The Maine Credit Union League represents 57 credit unions and nearly 695,000 members.

Mason was previously chief strategy officer at RouteOne, a web-based credit application management system for car dealers. Six months into his new job, Mason sat down with Mainebiz at the organization's Westbrook headquarters.

Mainebiz: Where are all the new members coming from?

Todd Mason: They're coming from all over. We're seeing growth all over the state, predominantly in the population centers in Portland and so on. I think it's new residents coming in, but also the youth market. As kids graduate from high school and go on to college and then go into their adult lives, they're being increasingly attracted to credit unions.

MB: Credit unions have been around a long time, so how are they attracting young folks?

TM: I think it's the structure of credit unions and what we're all about. Credit unions got started in the early 1900s for mill workers, teachers, railroad workers, the unions and all of that. They didn't have access to financial services, so they rolled their sleeves up and they formed credit unions to help each other out. That sense of community, that sense of sharing, that sense of working together, is still alive today. I think that part of what's attractive to the young demographic is that credit union difference, the credit union philosophy, of people coming together to help each other out.

MB: How did you get into the credit union sector?

TM: I was going to be an English professor. My undergrad degree is in English lit, and so I was sending out applications to graduate school to go on and get my doctorate in English literature. At the same time I was sending out job applications, and so I landed at the Michigan Credit Union League doing mid-level technical support and have never looked back.

MB: What do you see as the biggest change in the industry since then?

TM: Technology is one of the biggest differences between now and then — this comes from a guy who cut his teeth growing up through technology. Back in the mid-'90s, when the web was still very new, I helped credit unions get into that arena. And so you see an evolution from having a website presence to home banking to mobile banking and now to banking on your phone, on your watch, and using Alexa with audio units. That's the evolution. None of the old channels have gone away, but it's just that you keep adding to it, and as a result I think that access to credit unions is greater.

MB: Do you see credit unions continuing to grow in Maine?

TM: I do see that continuing. Take a look at the way the numbers have been growing historically; the numbers are only going to continue to go up. I see with the way that the economy is, the way that employment is right now, I see a lot of positives about where credit unions are in the state of Maine and nationally.

MB: What's next for the Maine Credit Union League?

TM: Our focus on our statewide advertising campaign. Part of that will be reinforcing the benefit and the difference of credit unions, and using our awareness campaign to make sure that consumers not just know about credit unions, but also know that members have access to the full breadth of services.

MB: And your outlook for Maine's economy?

TM: I'm overall bullish about Maine's economy but I'm very concerned about the rural communities. When you start to get into northern Maine, I'm very concerned about the economies in those areas, but in Maine in general and specifically in southern Maine, I'm very bullish about it.

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