Desert Schools Federal Credit Union CEO believes in doing good

July 07, 2014

Susan Frank is the first woman in the country to lead a credit union with $1 billion or more in assets. Considering that distinction, the Desert Schools Federal Credit Union CEO is surprisingly humble about her pioneering role in the industry.

“I really never approached the position as being the first female CEO,” she says. “I’ve always just worked hard and tried to do the right things and move forward in my career.”

Since taking the helm as Desert Schools’ CEO in 1999, at least a dozen other female CEOs have emerged at major credit unions across the country, many of whom credit Frank as an inspiration.

Ironically, Frank may never have broken into the old boys’ network of high finance if she hadn’t been edged out of her first occupational choice by an overabundance of male applicants.

“I was majoring in education and psychology in college, and working as a collector for a finance company as my summer job,” she says. “But when I graduated in 1976, teaching jobs were kind of scarce. A lot of guys went into teaching to get exempted from the draft. So I stuck with the finance company.”

Her manager taught her about lending, and after that manager transferred to Bethpage Federal Credit Union on Long Island, Frank had the opportunity to be a loan officer there.

“I left the bank I was working at to work for them, and I fell in love with the people-helping-people culture of credit unions,” she says.

Eventually she got an MBA in business and, during a week-long Credit Union National Association training session in Phoenix, fell in love with Arizona, too. Frank started as executive vice president at Desert Schools in 1992.

As CEO, Frank has tried to foster that “feel good, do-the-right-thing” environment that first attracted her to the credit union business model. She’s most proud of developing Desert Schools’ community initiative, which provides financial education for children and adults, and partners with non-profits and volunteer groups for various fundraising efforts.

In her free time Franks, who remains unmarried with no children, enjoys traveling and scuba diving in favorite spots like Tahiti, Bora Bora and Hawaii.

Nevertheless, she manages to stay grounded in the community she serves.

“The economy has been challenging,” she admits. “During the recession, it was very difficult to watch people who had been good members lose jobs and be unable to keep up with payments.”

She’s proud of the number the credit union was able to help stay in their homes by restructuring their loans.

“But it’s difficult to help people when they’re out of work,” she says. “Sometimes there’s just not a solution.”

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