Each month we highlight at least one NACUSO member by interviewing one of their top executives. It’s an opportunity to tell their story in a casual and fun way.
This month we sat down with Scott Jentz, President & CEO of Gateway Services Group.
PART ONE: Life Story and Experiences
What’s your current position and can you give me a brief overview of what it is you do in your work?
I am the President and CEO of Gateway Services Group and what we do is manage insurance, investment and trust products for our credit union partners, as well as loan, participation programs.
What would you say most motivates you to do what you do? What are you most excited or passionate about?
I think we’re mostly passionate about being able to provide solutions on issues and problems for Credit Unions. We have a partner CUSO that provides warehouse lending and also provides participations. Warehouse lending provides the funding from when the loan closes to when it is sold in the secondary market. This is ideal for mortgage CUSOs and small credit unions which we love to work with.
I want to hear the story of how you came to work with credit unions. What attracted you to work for Gateway Services Group
Straight out of college I got a job working for Minnesota Life in Indianapolis. I worked exclusively with credit unions in Indiana and Kentucky selling life savings and loan protection products. I worked for them for 28 years and then started Gateway Services Group 15 years ago. The reason I left Minnesota Life was they were closing the Denver office and wanted to move me to San Francisco. I had four kids at the time and didn’t want to move them, so I resigned, cashed in my 401-K and started my own business.
Now if we can go even further back, where did you grow up and what was it like living there? Where did you go to school?
I grew up in Detroit/Farmington, Michigan back when it was a great place to grow up. I was really involved in sports and had never been anywhere else in my life, so I had a good childhood. Then I went to Central Michigan University. I graduated in 1972, married my high school sweetheart that same year and started my career with Minnesota Life. So I’ve been working with credit unions now for 43 years.
Who were your mentors along the way? People who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you’re committed to in your work and life? Tell me about them.
There are people like Rudy Rosi from Magnavox CU in Fort Wayne, Indiana and Ed Lechner from IU Credit Union in Indianapolis. And then there was Tom Hall who was a banker, he was a great mentor to me, he’s in his 80’s now. Those people really helped me learn what I needed to do and challenged me and gave me a lot of good experience. At that time CUNA Mutual had all of the insurance business and we were asking credit unions to move to Minnesota Life from “the movement”. These guys really helped me learn how to do it. I was in my 20’s and they were really helpful.
Finally can you share something interesting about you that would surprise our readers? It can be anything, a hobby, an adventure, sports, the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you.
My wife and I have been married for 43 years and I’m 65 but we have a 14 year old daughter. We adopted her when she was 3. So now I’m not going to retire until she’s out of school. Having a 14 year old at our age keeps us young!
But a funny story is when I was in college my roommates and I stole about 100 street signs in Mt. Pleasant Michigan, and it was just before Thanksgiving break. We got back from break and we are in our dorm room and the police showed up. And we have all of these street signs hanging in our dorm room. We went to jail and they scared the crap out of us. Seemed like a good idea at the time, it was frightening but also pretty funny.
PART TWO: The CUSO Business Story
Tell me the story of how your CUSO was created – the early days. Tell me about some of the memorable characters in the history, some that brought your story color, drama, comedy, conflict?
Well I told you I cashed in my 401K but the most memorable part was I resigned in April of 2000 from Minnesota Life. We had some dear friends in Australia – so we went on vacation for a couple of weeks. When I got back from Australia I had decided I was going to be a broker. One of my relationships was with Bellco CU so I started talking to the folks there. I knew Doug Ferraro and I’d known him for awhile. So in September of that year Doug calls me and wanted to see if I would be interested in running his CUSO. I said you know I really don’t want to work for a credit union right now, and he was fine with that.
About 2 days later he calls me back again and says, “How about I hire you to run our CUSO which includes investment products, and all insurance related products, and you work as a consultant?” I told him I have no idea how to do that, I have no background in investments my background is in sales. Doug assures me that I know more than they do.
He gave me a sample consulting worker’s contract. “Here’s a sample contract, so tell me what you want to charge by the hour or the job.“ He gave me full control over all insurance products and investments. At that time it was a pretty big job so I hired Olivia my daughter to run the investment side. She learned the investment business very quickly and was very good! She still works for GSG.
The funny story about Doug is after about 2 months of doing what we were doing he calls me into his office and looks at me and says “What the hell do you do?“ I didn’t have any reports or anything yet but I told him what we had been doing for the last 2 months and that’s when I realized I was going to have to create some formal reporting system. But we still joke about that today “What the hell do you do?”
PART THREE: Reflections and Lessons
If you could start your CUSO all over again, would you do anything differently? Why and what would you do?
You know, I don’t think I’d do anything differently because the key thing is we have evolved. I think because we are owned by credit unions and a CUSO that gives us a tremendous advantage over our competition. They don’t have the same philosophy. We have a board that are owners and credit union folks and they give us direction and development that gives us a distinct advantage. We really formed to collaborate, so it works well. I have also been fortunate to have an amazing group of employees, with creative people like Judy Sandberg, Bill Bushlack, and Cynthia Pollard that have helped shape our direction and the evolution of Gateway Services Group.
Finally, when you think of the future, what gives you hope and what makes you concerned?
What gives me hope is that there still is a need for new things. I think there are still credit unions that want to become bigger and better for their members. They look to us to help them with that with new ideas and new products. And the collaboration part – there are still a bunch of credit unions that want to work together. I don’t know what’s coming up in insurance and investments. We started the participation program just 6 years ago that came out of a desire for credit unions to get in that business and they didn’t know how.
The industry is going to be just fine. I think it’s going to continue to grow. I think service and the ability to relate to people has always set us apart from banks. And I see that continuing. As they grow and continue to offer more and more services they will beat the banks every time.
I think in the last couple of years the ability for small credit unions to survive is much better than it was in 2008 and 2009. We just worked with 2 CUs in Wyoming to form a joint CUSO together. That was very encouraging because it proves how collaboration can help.
I see good things for credit unions.