The New Faces of Nordstrom Federal

Shelli Millhuff, President & CEO of Nordstrom Federal Credit Union

Two years ago, Shelli Millhuff quietly took over as president and CEO of Nordstrom Federal Credit Union. It was a small, stable credit union, she said. But it lacked up-to-date technology, and the website and marketing were showing their age.

“It was a little old school,” she said.

And since Nordstrom Federal serves employees of all the Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack stores scattered throughout the country, the vast majority of their business is done through the internet.

“On the old system it took four clicks to get to the page where you would enter your login information,” said Millhuff.

Now, as Millhuff celebrates her two-year anniversary at Nordstrom Federal, the credit union just crossed the $50 million in assets threshold and sports an overhauled website and brand. And the lessons Millhuff learned along the way hold value for all small credit unions looking to advance their technology and branding.

“The hardest part was balancing the things we needed to move forward with the cost of implementing them,” said Millhuff. “It was a long process.”

First she did a deep evaluation of what the credit union needed. This included a thorough inventory of current services and vendors, including the terms of current contracts.

“Then we took the time to look at different options and how they would grow the portfolio,” she said.

Then came the budgeting. Millhuff asked herself and her team, “What strategies can you put in place to make sure income can cover the services you need?”

They decided that the primary need and area of opportunity was the website, since it was essentially the credit union’s primary branch. And with a website update, Millhuff and her team decided to update the brand.

“Nordstrom employees are stylish,” said Millhuff. “They are used to being surrounded by beautiful, well-designed environments. We needed an image that would appeal to them.”

After a search, Millhuff and team contracted BancVue, an Austin, Texas based wholesale financial services company, to create a new brand and a new website.

“They had an outstanding program to walk us through creating a great website for our members and prospective members,” said Millhuff.

The new website and brand launched in July of 2014, just over a year after Millhuff took the reins. “We got a lot of good feedback from our members and the industry,” she said.

With the new brand in place, Millhuff decided it was time to reintroduce the credit union to Nordstrom employees.

The team contracted Kelly Parks of gira{ph} creative to redesign its print materials. They then brought in Shari Storm of Category6 Consulting to help with strategic marketing efforts.

They sent letters to 285 stores introducing both Shelli and the new brand, and highlighting the beautiful new easy-to-use website.

“I’ll tell you what,” said Millhuff, “we don’t have anyone on staff with deep marketing expertise. It’s not an expense we can take on as a credit union of this size. So having someone of Shari’s ability at a reasonable cost has been tremendous.”

Millhuff also invested heavily in staff development. “To grow, you need your team to have the skills and knowledge to keep your members moving forward,” she said. “It’s my responsibility to give them the knowledge and the tools.”

She found that this was especially key when onboarding new members. “When you don’t have brick and mortar you lose the face-to-face connection,” she said. “It’s been really important to us to make sure new members know that they are a part of something special.”

All the effort is paying off. Nordstrom Federal crossed the $50 million mark the same month that Millhuff celebrated two years at the helm.

Millhuff said that she didn’t do it alone. “I was very blessed when I started and able to revamp my senior team,” she said. “I was able to get top-notch people who were very supportive of me. [CFO] Martin Law, [senior vice president] Alison Peek, and [CLO, vice president of lending and collections] Mark Mykleburg, along with the rest of the team, have been an indispensable in this process.”

Going forward, she said that the credit union will add true online account opening by year’s end, and will focus on enhancing loan programs.

Nordstrom Federal is unique in that its members primarily use the online channel. But in a financial services world that increasingly exists online no matter your geography, Millhuff had some important takeaways for other small credit unions.

“Take the time to review what you have,” she said, “and make it as easy as you can for online access. In small credit unions, when you have limited resources, make sure you evaluate how you can balance the cost of upgrades with the increased business they will allow.”

As Millhuff and Nordstrom Federal have shown over the past two years, it’s a long and challenging process, but it pays big dividends.

Questions about this story? Contact James Pearson: 206.340.4790, jpearson@nwcua.org.

Posted in Federal.