Dr. Craig Esrael continues to lead the way, both at First South Financial and in the world of banking institutions. This year marks Esrael’s 40th year as CEO and president of First South Financial.
Looking at First South Financial today, it’s obvious that Dr. Craig Esrael was the perfect fit for an organization that was poised for growth when he took the helm in 1983. During Esrael’s tenure to date, First South has realized asset growth of over 2,400%, and capital growth of over 22,000%. Out of 4,813 credit unions in the nation, First South Financial is ranked in the top 12% in asset size. When ranked with local banks, it’s the 6th largest in the market based on deposits, and the largest credit union when ranked by capital. Perhaps one of Dr. Esrael’s most notable achievements is that First South Financial is consistently recognized by all independent rating organizations as one of the strongest and safest financial institutions in the nation.
The credit union has had 28 years of perfect 300 ratings from IDC Financial Publishing; this is the longest consecutive perfect scores in IDC history. Similarly, Bauer’s has given First South Financial 5-stars, its highest rating, for the past 29 years. In a recent RateWatch Peer Analysis Review, First South Financial was the only financial institution to receive a rank of “A” with a score of 99 out of 100 in overall financial strength. All of these ratings place the credit union squarely in the top 1% of financial institutions nationwide for fiscal strength and stability.
But it’s not just the rating agencies giving First South Financial high marks, its independent auditors and state and federal examiners as well. For years the credit union has received high praise for its conservative management of both liquidity and interest rate risk. The organization’s independent audit firm noted, “First South is one of our very best clients and one we never have to worry about. Their net worth is incredible. Any credit union with a net worth ratio above 7% is considered well capitalized in the eyes of the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), and First South Financial’s is four times what the NCUA requires (28.57%) and one of the highest in the nation. This organization is run very efficiently, it’s an efficient machine.”
Not only does the audit firm recognize First South Financial’s efficiency, but so does a recent “50 Most Efficient Credit Unions” report by CULytics. First South Financial is the fourth most efficient credit union in the nation with an average efficiency ratio of 37%. The smaller the ratio, the more efficient the credit union is, as the average for credit unions is 70.3%. Under Esrael’s guidance, employee efficiency has increased from approximately one employee for every $800,000 in assets to approximately one employee for every $5,800,000 in assets. This is in large part to his ongoing strategy to automate workflows as much as possible.
This strategy is not only evident in the credit union’s efficiency metrics, but in the ones used to measure member satisfaction as well. Mystery shopper scores for the credit union average over 3.80 on a 4.00 scale that measures several key aspects of member service. The credit union also tracks member advocacy through its Net Promoter Score (NPS), which was 85.20 in 2022 and has consistently been in the mid-to high-80s since the credit union started tracking it 12 years ago. According to customergauge.com, the average NPS for the financial services industry is around 40.
“Ensuring First South Financial’s safety and soundness is always the top priority for the board, the management and staff. We could withstand years of severe economic downturn and not have to change anything.” says Esrael. “We are here for our members now and we plan to be here for them generations from now.”
Esrael goes on to explain, “Being as efficient as we are only helps us to be more effective. We can focus on our members and the areas we serve. We have the time and the resources to be vital contributors to the communities in which we live and work. Plus, we want to help our industry too.”
Leading by example, Dr. Esrael stays active at the local, regional and national level. He’s currently on the board of St. Francis Hospital-Bartlett and the Chairman of Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, he serves as board Vice Chair for WNKO and is on the board of The Orpheum Theatre. Currently he’s the Chairman of the Nomination and Succession Committee at PSCU, one of the most prominent companies in the financial institution industry.
And this commitment to community service and outreach has been recognized time and time again, but most notably when First South Financial took home an unprecedented six awards in the 2022 Bartlett Express Readers’ Choice poll. Not only did the credit union win in the categories of Best Bank, Best Business and Best Mortgage Company, but Esrael himself took home dual wins for Man of the Year and Best Banker.
With all that Dr. Esrael has achieved in his 40 years at First South Financial, the members, staff and board can’t wait to see what new heights he takes the organization to in the future.
About First South Financial
First South Financial Credit Union is a member-owned, federally-insured financial institution serving over 68,000 members. Recognized as a leader in strength, stability and service, First South Financial offers a complete line of banking services ranging from checking and savings accounts to mortgage, auto and personal loans. To learn more, visit www.firstsouth.com