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Wright Plans Service Focus as Mission Fed CEO

FINANCE: Takes Top Exec Position After 8-Year Stint as CFO

SAN DIEGO – Doug Wright became Mission Federal Credit Union’s president and CEO at the beginning of last month, taking the leadership reins of the 61-year-old credit union from Debra Schwartz who retired this year after holding the position for 17 years.

Wright has a “deep passion” for serving people, he said, developed from the culture of service fostered by his pediatrician father and special education teacher mother in the small farm town of Twin Falls, Idaho, where he grew up.

Wright attended UC Berkeley, majoring in finance and marketing, in what he described as “quite a dramatic shift” from his farm town upbringing. After graduation, he moved to Boise, Idaho and began a career in banking, working first in the branch side for 14 years before moving to the operations side. After working for several banks across the Pacific Northwest region, he moved to San Diego to take a position as CFO of Silvergate Bank in 2015 – a role he said was not his “cup of tea.”

Looking for a position that better suited his passion for service and community banking, Wright landed at Mission Fed as CFO in 2016.

“It is the best career move I’ve made,” he said.

The San Diego Business Journal recently caught up with Wright to learn more about how he intends to lead Mission Fed and discuss the role of credit unions in today’s economy.

What are some of the lessons you learned from Debra Schwartz that you will take with you as CEO of Mission Fed?

Debra is an amazing leader and a wonderful friend and mentor. She was a very positive leader. She was always focused on – even in real challenging times – what the next steps were that we needed to take to continue to succeed and help our members and help San Diego. Regardless of COVID or inflation or whatever the challenges that were out there, she was out there focusing on the positive and the steps we needed to take to adapt to the situation. I think that’s something critical and key to the success of the organization and something I very much appreciated.

She was also really focused on accountability. She had no problems in asking questions if things were not going quite right or asking people to take a different path or do a little better. She had that nice balance of a having positive outlook and making sure things run smoothly and consistently looking toward improvement. That kind of balance is really critical for success, and she did that very well.

The final thing is Mission Fed has a great culture and part of that culture is focused on fun. We have an annual celebration for employees, we have about 650 employees, and almost everyone dresses up in costume to attend. You just have to be there to sense the excitement, energy and fun. She encouraged that and a lot of different things for our employees to get behind and have fun. Her approach was: We spend a lot of time at work and do really good things for our members and community, but we should also have a good time.

How do you see the role of credit unions in the broader scope of the economy?

The environment has only become more complex over the last few years and banks and credit unions are to some extent always a function of what is happening with the local economy. We serve the financial needs of people so as the economy goes through changes, we feel the impact of those changes because our members feel the impact of those changes.

Credit unions have been more of a stabilizing force than banks and I think it goes back to our mission, which is serving members – we’re owned by our members, so we’re really focused on serving those members, both short term and long term.

What is Mission Fed’s short- and long-term goals, for the credit union and its members?

Short-term, we serve the immediate needs of members, and we look to educate them and provide as much financial knowledge as we can, regardless of what life stage they’re in. As part of that education process, we provide solutions, whether those are loans or credit cards, savings accounts, certificates of deposits, investments, or insurance. Through that, we develop a strong commitment and bond with our members and as a result, our members roll along with us. I think that serves as a stabilizing force, not only for members but for the credit union as well.

Longer term, what we’re focused on is making sure we’re growing with our members and offering them different solutions as they go through their financial life – from opening a savings account as a kid, to applying for loans as a young adult, to a retiree looking to making their money last and potentially transferring wealth. We’re looking at the long-term health and growth of our members and it’s paid back in terms of a commitment to do well by the credit union. In general, our credit losses are lower than what you find in the banking industry – Mission Fed substantially.

We’ve been around for 61 years, and we want to be around at least another 61 years serving our members, so we’ve always maintained a pretty conservative financial position. We have a strong capital position – lots of money set aside in a rainy-day fund; lots of reserves for loan losses even though we’re relatively conservative on the credit side; and a really diversified deposit base. If you look at some of the challenges of banks over the last year, they were concentrated in a relatively small number of depositors. We have 300,000 depositors and no one depositor, or even no 10 depositors, makes up a significant amount of the funds that we have in the organization. We don’t have that risk of one or 10 or 100 people pulling their money and having a significant impact on us.

What areas of service, programs would you like to pursue or expand in the future?

For us, it’s our core banking services – checking and savings accounts, home and auto loans, credit cards and so on. Those are the needs that will continue in the future. What fewer of our members are aware of, and what we’d really like to expand is, we also offer noninsured investment services – stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other investments; as well as a whole suite of insurance services – home, auto, life insurance. We can offer those investment and insurance services. Our most immediate focus is on expanding our members’ use and awareness of those services.

We are also, like the rest of the world, focused on expanding and improving our digital offerings – what members can do on a phone or laptop. That’s a critical need and desire for us to do better. I think we have a good mobile offering right now but there is additional services members can take advantage of and additional education we can provide through the mobile offering for those people who are digitally-oriented.

Having said that, we think our branches are critical to our short- and long-term success at Mission Fed. We are seeing more and more members coming back into the branch. They’re not coming in to deposit a check or withdraw money anymore. What they’re coming in for is advice because they are getting overwhelmed by the amount of information and the complexity of the financial world out there. Moving forward, we will invest in our digital offering while maintaining a strong emphasis on our branch activities.

What do you see as the secret to Mission Fed’s success?

We’re very focused on culture. We think that is one of our key differentiators. We’ve been named a top workplace in San Diego for the last few years and a top workplace in the U.S. this past year. We’re very proud of that and something to emphasize going forward.

We also focus on our community involvement. In addition to serving our members, which is our primary mission, we also have a deep investment in our community. We work with over 200 nonprofits. We have significant commitments to a variety of great partners including Girl Scouts, Junior Achievement, Alzheimer’s Association – so we have a wide spectrum of different organizations that benefit a wide variety of needs and interests out there. We think our mission goes beyond directly serving our members to include making San Diego a better place to live and we’re focused on doing that through our partners.

Doug Wright decorates Christmas trees at the San Diego Center for Children with Mission Fed staff. Photo courtesy of Mission Federal Credit Union
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