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Centra hires new leader

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Brett Vanderkolk, Centra Credit Union’s new chief financial officer, has spent roughly equal time in his career working in finance roles for banks and crunching numbers for manufacturers.

He feels closest to the action at financial institutions, which is one of the main reasons that Centra Credit Union President Doug Harris successfully recruited Vanderkolk away from Cummins Inc., the Columbus-based engine maker, in recent weeks.

Before joining Centra, Vanderkolk spent more than 20 years in various treasury and financial management roles, most recently as director-treasury strategy for Cummins. Vanderkolk, 47, worked at Cummins for about two years after a previous nine-year stint as treasurer at Irwin Financial Corp.

“We look forward to Brett’s guidance and expertise in managing fixed-income investments, budgeting, profitability metrics, financial risks and accounting controls,” Harris said.

Vanderkolk is starting work at Centra in an era when terms such as QE2 or QE3 — shorthand for the Federal Reserve’s policy of quantitative easing that has kept interest rates especially low — can cause headaches for bankers and credit union bosses trying to serve members and earn a decent spread between the cost of deposits and returns on loans.

Vanderkolk said he relishes the challenge as he tries to help the $1.1 billion-in-assets Centra organization expand beyond its current 126,000 members.

“Being a finance person at a financial company means you can be more of a factor or driver in that company’s success. You feel the pulse more. You’re at the heart of that company,” Vanderkolk said.

When approached by Harris about taking on a key financial role at Centra, “the idea instantly resonated with me,” Vanderkolk said recently during an interview in his second-floor office at Centra’s Columbus headquarters on North National Road.

Looking ahead, Vanderkolk said the credit union’s biggest challenge is managing a flat yield curve — a banking term that basically means short-term interest rates are low thanks to Federal Reserve easing, but longer-term rates also are low, a double whammy that makes it hard to get good returns on loans.

“The likely path we’ll see is the Fed keeping short-term interest rates low for another 12 or 18 months,” Vanderkolk said. “On longer-term interest rates, the Fed has kept them low by putting a lot of money into the system. As that diminishes, we’ll get a bounce in longer-term rates.”

As long-term rates rise, that could mean borrowing costs for businesses and consumers go up for small-business loans, auto loans and mortgages. But Vanderkolk said it also will reflect more of a market-driven economy rather than an outgrowth of the Fed’s flooding the market with tens of billions of dollars in bond purchases.

Vanderkolk said Centra’s chief goal will be operating as a community-oriented company no matter what happens with interest-rate swings and Federal Reserve decision-making.

One new leg of that community commitment became evident last year when the company created the Centra Credit Union Foundation, which intends to foster financial literacy, provide disaster relief and improve local communities with targeted donations.

Late last year, the foundation awarded its first grant of $50,000 over three years to the Columbus Park Foundation to help extend the People Trails to promote health consciousness. Sherry Stark, former president of the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, has acted in a temporary leadership role to get the foundation off the ground.

On Friday, Vanderkolk said the organization has begun searching for a permanent director to lead the charitable program.

Vanderkolk, a native of Indianapolis who grew up in Crawfordsville, is a graduate of DePauw University with a bachelor’s degree in economics. Vanderkolk earned an MBA in finance from the University of Chicago.

Early in his career, Vanderkolk worked for Northern Trust Bank in Chicago in its Treasury department. Later, he worked for Arvin Industries, an auto parts manufacturer based in Columbus that eventually merged with Meritor Automotive in 2000.

When that deal took place, Vanderkolk’s job was going to be shifted to Troy, Mich., but he preferred staying in Columbus, a city he has now called home for 16 years. In 2000, Vanderkolk moved over to the job of treasurer at Irwin Financial.

Centra was founded in 1940 by eight employees of what was then known as the Cummins Engine Co. Today, it has $1.1 billion in assets.

It’s the third-biggest credit union in Indiana and has earned 5-Star financial ratings from Bauer Financial Inc., an independent rating and research firm that analyzes credit unions.

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