Spotlight on 7 Insurance President, Jerry Tweeten

We’re excited to feature the 2017 NACUSO CU Collaboration & Innovation Award winner 7 Insurance. We sat down with Jerry Tweeten to hear how he came to work in credit unions and how two credit unions, less than a mile apart decided to not see each other as competitors but collaborators for the benefit of their members.  

PART ONE: Life Story and Experience

Jerry Tweeten, President of 7 Insurance, not to be confused with “Elf on a Shelf”

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 we are a full lines independent insurance agency. We are a collaboration of Y12 FCU and ORNL FCU and I oversee nine CSR/Agents.  I manage both credit union’s corporate insurance programs and their other insurance programs, GAP, Service Contracts, Debt Cancellation, Accidental Death & Dismemberment (AD&D), and collateral protection insurance (CPI) programs.

What would you say most motivates you to do what you do? What are you most excited or passionate about?

What motivates and excites me most of all, along with our team, is saving our members money.  The savings are real, not perceived. We have saved our members well over $500,000.   Our most successful stories involved three of our members that saved over $3,000 annually on their insurance and provided better coverage.  How can this not excite you?

I want to hear the story of how you came to work with credit unions. What attracted you to work for 7 Insurance?

In 1986 I started at Alaska USA FCU as a temp employee, working in their insurance department. I worked within the insurance department during my tenure there and established their insurance CUSO as their Manager of Insurance Services.

My father was a CMSGT at Elmendorf AFB and opened an account for my brother, sister and myself.  AK USA FCU was always part of my life since we moved to Alaska in 1977, so for me it was a place that was always there for us.  I had a friend who knew the human resources person at AK USA FCU and she told me there were open positions. I was there the next day and started working the following week.  AK USA FCU believed in me and offered me every opportunity to succeed. I can’t thank them enough for what they did for me and my family.  I’ve been working in and around credit union’s since 1986 and won’t work in any other industry.

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?

My dad was in the military so we lived all over, but I would say Anchorage, Alaska is where I grew up – we moved there in 1977 where I went to Bartlett High School then graduated from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. Go SeaWolves!

Alaska – what else can be said, I loved it there. We still have family and friends we try to get up to see at least every couple of years.  It was a great place to grow up with lots of fishing and camping in the summer, then the snow, skiing, sledding, and snow machining in the winter months.  When we had our first child in 1991 it was a little tough. We had to have his Halloween costume large enough to fit over his snowsuit.  Alaska, the Last Frontier!

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.  

It would be my dad. He spent 26 years in the Air Force and we would see him get up at 5 am everyday and go to work. I honestly do not remember him ever being home sick from work.  He earned his Master’s Degree while in the Air Force.  He taught my brother and me how to work. He would wake us up at 5 anytime it snowed and have us out shoveling the driveway (it was a long driveway from what I remember), and the day we moved out he bought himself a big powerful snow blower.  He said I never needed one until you boys left.  It was always about getting what you put into your job.

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. 

I’m an avid bowler; I have bowled three – 300 games in the past year and half. 

PART TWO: The Business Story

Tell me the story of how your CUSO/Company 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?

I started at 7 Insurance in February 2015. Previously, both credit unions had relationships with outside companies to provide insurance to their members.  One had a relationship with a local agency the other had a relationship with a call center company.  Neither credit union was happy with their relationships because they had no control, nor did both feel their members were getting everything they wanted out of these companies.

When I first came up for an interview with the Board, it wasn’t a one-sided interview. I interviewed them.  Being part of the credit union movement for over 30 years I knew how I wanted to build this agency.  Our agents are not paid a commission for the sale of any product. We conduct an annual review of our insured’s every year to make sure they have the best program and rates we have available.  With this concept, it was going to take more manpower and cost more money.  This was it for me. If they did not want to build the agency this way I would stay where I was at.  There was no need to talk them into this concept. Everyone was all in. We are here for the membership, and that is why the collaboration between the credit unions worked. They have the same mindset and it is all about what is best for the membership.

I worked with Mark Ziegler, CEO of Y12 FCU, at another Credit Union and ran their Insurance CUSO and wasn’t really looking to leave.  However, when Mark called and told me about the collaboration of Y12 & ORNL, I was in.

What were the key relationships that mattered most? What were the key sources of support or resistance you encountered?

Mark Ziegler, CEO of Y12 FCU, and Larry Jackson. At that time, Larry was the President of ORNL’s Mortgage & Title Company.

The key source of support from the start was Mark Ziegler and Colin Anderson, CEO ORNL FCU. Without top-down support of any program, the program can’t succeed.   Chris Boler, President of 7, and Keith Troup, COO of Y12 FCU, are the driving force behind our success. It reflects the total commitment of both credit unions.

Due to Management’s support, there is buy-in from all staff. That’s where our success comes from. When the staff supports and believes in the program they will send over “their” members. These are the members that come by every time to cash their paychecks and just to speak with that “one” MSR that they always work with.

What have been the greatest successes in your opinion?

The buy in from the staff. Without their support, they would not send Their members to us. But because management believes in our partnership, the staff is confident in sending their members to us.  We share phone calls, savings, and other stories with the staff to let them know what we have done for their members.  The staff of both credit unions know our staff. We are at Member Appreciation days, training sessions, breakfast, lunches, and many other activities, so the employees know us and trust us and we are part of both credit unions.

PART THREE: Reflections and Lessons

If you could start your CUSO/Company all over again, would you do anything differently? Why and what would you do?

This is the second Insurance CUSO that I have built from scratch and I continue to look at ways of improving.  I tell our team the way we look today will be different next year.  One item that I wish I would have pushed to secure, when we first started, was finding additional insurance carriers, especially regional carriers.  They have a strong presence in every area of the country. Still, “A” rated carriers are hard to come by unless you have a book of business to show them – that you are in it for the long haul.  It took me a year or so to get these regional carriers by showing what we did in the past year and using the strength of Y12 and ORNL.  Having two billion dollar credit unions as owners with a joint membership of over 250,000 helped tremendously in securing these partnerships.

Finally, when you think of the future for credit unions, what gives you hope and what makes you concerned?

When I first started, and still to some extent, it was credit union vs. credit union, us against them.

For credit unions to succeed, there must be collaboration. They must expand their product/program portfolio to retain their members. They just cannot succeed on shares & loans.

Take Y12 & ORNL.  Their corporate offices are less than a mile from each other and they have collaborated on an insurance agency and a title company and look at other ways to collaborate.  Every credit union, in the same area, has overlapping membership, but members have their favorite credit union. Since we started, there has not been one case of “that is our member.” We work together.  Don’t get me wrong, there is healthy competition between Y12 & ORNL. But it’s not about hoping one fails. Healthy competition is a good thing.

We know there are many insurance companies expanding their portfolio of products- the State Farm’s, USAA’s, and Farm Bureaus of the world that started with insurance are now competing for our members’ wallet share.

With organizations like NACUSO supporting and promoting CUSOs, I see more collaboration between credit unions.  Credit unions must use other credit unions and CUSOs.  We all need to collaborate with each other to grow.  There is so much expertise in the credit union market. Why shouldn’t we work together for all credit unions to succeed?