Illinois Credit Union Hall of Fame
John T. Siefken
In 1967 when John Siefken joined Caterpillar Employees Federal Credit Union, it had 26,000 members and $29 million in assets. When Siefken retired as CEO of Citizens Equity Federal Credit Union (CEFCU) it had grown to 205,000 members and $1.6 billion in assets.
John Siefken has much to be proud of, not the least of which was maintaining the “small town” feel of the credit union. John always put member interests first, repeatedly turning down opportunities to achieve personal wealth by converting to a bank. He believed that while members could always buy stock as a result of a conversion, they already owned the credit union.
John always touted the benefits of locally owned credit unions as opposed to large out-of-state banks. He let communities know that by supporting the local credit unions, jobs, investments and money could be retained in the community.
John was once chosen as one of the top three CEOs nationwide in turning credit unions around. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was bringing CEFCU out of a traumatic recession during the 1980s. Caterpillar, Inc., CEFCU’s primary field of membership, laid off 45% of its workforce after a 205-day strike. Most were CEFCU members with outstanding loans. As layoffs and bankruptcies increased alarmingly, John merged in two distressed credit unions, taking over their fields of membership in an attempt to diversify CEFCU’s base and provide assistance to those credit unions’ members as well.
It was also during the 1980s that John proceeded to implement new services and programs and empower employees to improve everyday processes. He began a TQM process of quality circles where employees could control their own destinies. John rewarded and encouraged continuing education and instituted a tuition
reimbursement program. That initiative is now called the University of CEFCU and focuses on professional development and training. And well before “EEOC” measures were implemented, John led the way in promoting women into management positions.
John Siefken was largely responsible for making CEFCU one of the largest financial institutions in the Central Illinois area. He established the largest ATM network in Illinois between Chicago and St. Louis. Upon his retirement in 1998, household penetration was 62% in the nine counties surrounding CEFCU’s headquarters. For 11 consecutive years, CEFCU received the highest vote as the area’s “Who’s Who” in the category of financial institutions as determined by an independent community survey.
As CEO, John’s passion was helping people, many of whom were overlooked by banks. Under his leadership CEFCU opened a Member Center in a depressed area of Peoria where seven of every ten household incomes fall below the federal poverty level. No other financial institutions served this area. Knowing this Member Center would never be a money maker, John opened it anyway to provide desperately needed help to this low-income area.
CEFCU is also a community leader. While John was CEO, CEFCU was named the 1987 Federal Credit Union of the Year and received the 1999 First Place Dora Maxwell Social Responsibility Award, Bradley University’s President’s Award, the 1997 Central Illinois Outstanding Philanthropic Corporate Award and many others. The credit union has also supported the Children’s Hospital for more than 20 years, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars, contributed $1 million to Bradley University for endowed CEFCU member scholarships and contributed to a variety of capital campaigns including Easter Seals, the American Red Cross and United Way. It also has made a $1 million dollar investment in the Illinois Credit Union Foundation’s Community Investment Fund.
John Siefken has embraced the credit union philosophy of “people helping people” for more than 38 years. He worked diligently to renew the spirit, purpose and focus of the Credit Union National Association. He has defended the credit union movement vehemently on numerous occasions in his community and in Washington, D.C. He has always recognized CEFCU employees as the credit union’s most valuable asset and has led by example.
In addition to his leadership of the credit union and his work with national credit union organizations such as CUNA, NAFCU and the Filene Research Institute, John also managed to find time to serve as a volunteer for United Way, the Peoria Chamber of Commerce, the American Red Cross, and the Peoria Symphony.
Because of John Siefken’s overwhelming passion, dedication and leadership, he is being inducted into the Hall of Fame.