Terrence Williams Is the New CEO of TruStage: Committed to the Mission (Part 2 of 2)
Terrence Williams has learned the insurance and investment industry from the bottom up in his over 25-year career.
By Jonathan Gramling
When I came to TruStage — formerly CUNA Mutual Group — Terrance Williams, the first African American to head the company, had just assumed his duties the day before. There were still pictures to be hung on the walls. There were a couple of boxes here and there. But Williams was unfazed as he invited me to speak. He has some of that Southern charm, contained in the deep and strong values that his parents imbued in him during his childhood in the Charleston, South Carolina area.
Williams worked his way up the corporate ladder, so to speak, putting in stints at Unison Insurance, over 20 years at Nationwide Insurance and about five years at Allstate before becoming TruStage’s first African American CEO. While becoming CEO was an attraction, there were other important factors that steered him to TruStage.
“Community is important to me,” Williams said. “I believe strongly in supporting the communities we live and work in. And I talk a lot about the importance of betterment and how I can make sure that I am leaving the communities around me better than they were before I got there. Not just due to me, obviously, but just due to the collective efforts that I can help others drive.”
He saw this at TruStage.
“I clearly got the sense TruStage was committed to community and making a difference and doing the work that I thought was really important for a corporate citizen to do, not just be in the community, but being a part of the community,” Williams said. “That was number one important to me.”
Williams was also attracted to TruStage’s business model.
“I was attracted to the mutual model that I grew up in at Nationwide,” Williams admitted. “TruStage is a mutual organization. This means you have the ability to really make longer-term decisions to center your efforts around the customer and to invest for the long haul as opposed to investing for the next quarterly return. That was attractive to me as well.”
While TruStagew has to watch its bottom line and be a profitable business, it doesn’t have to maximize profits in order to please its investors and Wall Street because it is owned by its customers and policyholders.
“Being a mutual group gives us the ability to focus on the long-term,” Williams said. “It gives you the ability to ensure that you are positioning the company for the long-term and exploring new ventures, investments and ideas that will allow you to better meet the needs of consumers. Let’s face it. How you’ve been a credit union member for 40 years, how you have engaged with your credit union 30 years ago is probably different than how you engage with them today. So the technology, the infrastructure, everything that is necessary to allow you to engage however you would like to whether it is visiting your branch, whether it is on the phone, whether it is on your mobile device. You need to be able to engage however you see fit. We believe that we have a responsibility to continue to invest in ways to support the credit union’s ability to develop, to evolve, to make sure that we are meeting member needs well into the future. It allows us to invest in different ways that may not be as clean if you’re not a mutual company.”
As a mutual company, TruStage has a three-legged stool that it rests on: community, it’s customers and its employees.
“During my time with this company, we will continue to make sure that we are leaning into all of the principles that attracted me to the company,” Williams said. “It’s all of the things that we were talking about: the community focus, the focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, ensuring that we are trying to better prepare people for tomorrow today and trying to ensure that our employees are developed and there is a focus on helping them to reach their aspirations. All of these things that were important back then are still important and will continue to be important in the future for us.”
And when TruStage says community, it often includes the global community.
Recently, TruStage signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the African Confederation of Co-operative Savings and Credit Associations (ACCOSCA). Under the momentous agreement, TruStage will provide ACCOSCA with two full-time employees to help establish the ACCOSCA Academy Centers of Excellence, systematize their processes and procedures and build the foundation to grow international awareness, advocacy, and connections. In addition, TruStage will provide proprietary content to help build educational programming. The MOU will be in effect for five years.
“One of the things that I was super proud to be a part of was recently, Bob Trunsel and I were able to renew and solidify a commitment to the world-wide cooperative movement with a group in Atlanta,” Williams said. “We solidified our ongoing commitment to this cooperative movement world-wide. We believe that finding ways to support the cooperative movement, even outside of the United States, is absolutely the right thing to do. We believe that this whole spirit of people helping people and we can accomplish more collectively than we can individually, all of these tenets resonate and allow for longer term success regardless of what country you are in. Yes, it is something that we feel very strongly about.”
TruStage has individual and organizational customers depending on whether it is offering services or investment opportunities.
“We have our internal group who invests our portfolio from a capital standpoint,” Williams said. “But we also work with credit unions to handle their consumer members who wish to have an investment solution to how they invest their own money. I think the key is some of these moves that have been made before me and we will continue to make is our goal is to ensue that we are available to provide solutions at every stage in life.”
Part of what TruStage has been investing in is technological innovation so that credit unions — as well as TruStage — can provide services in the way that the customer wants, whether that is in-person, online or through an app.
“I think the key is not just branch growth, but member growth and finding ways to support members however they wish to engage,” Williams said. “I talk a lot about the importance of digital and the importance of meeting members where they are because my 22-year-old son really doesn’t have a desire to walk into a branch. He wants the ability to pull up all of his accounts on his phone and move money around and send money to his friends or buddies. The digital journey, I believe, is critical long-term for credit unions. And that is why we are investing so much in digital because we believe we should be a partner who is helping to facilitate some of that maturation in the system as a whole as it relates to the digital journey overall.”
And as people transition from one part of their lives to another, their needs evolve as well.
“My son who is 22-years-old is at a different stage in life than perhaps when he will be 45-years-old,” Williams said. “Right now, he has certain needs from a financial standpoint. He has a need for auto insurance, for a renter’s policy. He has a need for a basic life policy. As he moves to a different stage in life where perhaps he has a family, he likely will have a different need. We want to be there throughout all of these stages to provide those solutions for protection.”
CUNA Mutual Group rebranded itself as TruStage, in part, to reflect the need of the company to be their in each stage of its customers lives as well as to consolidate all of its parts and rebrand to eliminate market confusion.
The third leg is the TruStage employees with whom TruStage is in a tough negotiation process right now. Williams recognizes that its employees are an important third leg.
“Our employees are just incredibly passionate about our mission, about who we are, about the differences that we make and how we serve members,” Williams said. “And I was just super-impressed with that passion. I believe that some companies wish they had that which I am describing. Our employees are just incredibly important to us. I think we’ve had what I would call a productive, positive relationship with the union for over well over 50 years. And we’ve been able to work through differences and come up with solutions that allowed us to bring everyone under the same tent to work in tandem. So my goal is that we get back to that. I want to ensure that we have an incredibly positive working relationship with the union as a whole. And that is our goal.”
But it appears there is a gap between what TruStage is offering and what the union members will accept. Williams feels TruStage has provided a data-driven competitive package.
“We have the utmost confidence in where we are in this whole journey around negotiations and definitely confident in our team that is helping from a negotiations standpoint,” Williams said. “When I look at what we’ve done thus far, as it relates to where the negotiations are, I would like us to find ways to bring this to resolution and do it in a very positive way for everyone. Thus far, when I look at what we’ve offered — the current offer for us is a little over 28 percent increase over three years — is comprised of a pretty sizable wage increase, sizable bonus from an annual business standpoint and another bonus piece as well that is linked to the ratification. I am comfortable with where we are as it relates to the offer. And when we make an offer like that, our goal is to ensure that it’s grounded in data and it’s grounded in coming up with numbers that are linked to what we believe is a competitive offer to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our employees. At the end of the day, my belief is we have to provide a competitive, comprehensive compensation package and benefits package that really aligns and allows us to attract, develop and retain employees. And we’ve been able to do that over the years.”
Again, it’s a matter of balancing the needs of the three legs of the stool.
“When we were talking earlier about some of the solutions and products, we sell a promise,” Williams said. “Ensuring that we continuously balance the ability for us to meet the needs of our employees and offer them a competitive package and also make sure that we are prepared to meet the needs of our customers, our policy holders and the promise. That’s the balance that we continue to strive for. But my goal is for us to find ways to resolve the differences because my belief is this brand change will allow us to begin to operate as one TruStage, not 12 companies, but one enterprise, one TruStage. And I want to build alignment with all of our employees. There are 4,200 of us. And my goal is to build alignment so that we are all rowing and heading in the same direction around a future vision of TruStage and our ability to operate as one enterprise. That’s how I see the world and I believe is ahead for us.”