Growing up on New York’s Long Island, Juli Anne Callis didn’t fancy being in the financial services industry. She first studied oceanography in college.
“I was fascinated with the ocean,” said Callis, president and CEO of the National Institutes of Health Federal Credit Union in Rockville.
But since changing majors and eventually earning a master’s in organizational management at the University of San Francisco, Callis has embarked on a financial services career that has seen her win numerous industry and women achievement awards and maintain executive positions with credit unions for more than 20 years. She pioneered several technological advancements to make the NIH and other credit unions where she worked more accessible to Internet-savvy customers.
More than 90 percent of new business at the NIH credit union, one of the largest in the region and the nation’s largest serving the biomedical and health care industries, is Web-based — up from about 5 percent when she took over in 2009, she said.
The 10-branch credit union has grown to $560 million in assets and some 44,000 members in Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia and West Virginia. That’s a growth rate of 34 percent and 10 percent, respectively, since Callis arrived.
There are 125 employees with about half of them at the headquarters in downtown Rockville near the new corporate headquarters for Choice Hotels International that is under construction. The credit union has business partnerships with numerous groups, including MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society, and Women in Bio.
“It’s important for us to be at the forefront of technology and convenience, because that’s what our members expect,” said Callis, 54. “People in this area care a lot about efficiency and price. They are very busy.”
Personal missionThe mission of serving the federal medical research agency, as well as the life sciences and medical fields in general, is one that resonates with Callis. She lost her son, Adam, when he was 10 years old to cardiomyopathy, a disease that causes inflammation of the heart muscle.
Her husband, Charles, and daughter, Lisa, later acquired cardiomyopathy themselves. Charles underwent a heart transplant and Lisa got a defibrillator, and they have been doing well, she said.
“I have great respect for what NIH is doing,” Callis said. “That’s one of the reasons we wanted to live in this area. ... The disease can strike at any time.”
Callis has been at the forefront of innovative changes throughout her career. As director of services for the elderly in Green and Lenior counties in North Carolina from 1978 to 1980, she launched alternative health programs. As executive director of sales for the Navy’s mid-Atlantic region in the mid-1980s, she presided over exchange and commissary operations and developed retail models based on new consumer market research.
Her credit union career began in 1988 when she became vice president of marketing and public relations for Langley Federal Credit Union in Hampton, Va. Callis later became COO of KeyPoint Credit Union in Santa Clara, Calif., and president of its mortgage credit union service organization.
She leveraged technology to meet the needs of members at high-tech companies such as Intel, Apple and Google. Along the way, she helped KeyPoint obtain honors such as the Online Banking Report’s Best of the Web award for launching a Facebook banking application.
Using focus groupsAt the NIH credit union, which agency employees formed in 1940, Callis expanded the mission from individual loans such as auto and mortgage lending to business loans.
“That was in response to feedback from focus groups,” she said. “We did focus groups for about a year to find out what people really wanted.”
Borrowers have included dentists, social workers and a couple starting an elderly day care service.
“It was the fastest experience I have ever had with any financial institution,” said Afshin Abedi, who is starting the adult day care center with his wife, Leila, in Gaithersburg. “Within 24 hours, they told us that they could do our loan.”
Some changes at branches and with the credit union’s website also came through focus groups. A branch that opened last year in Washington’s Foggy Bottom district features an open design with a video kiosk and offers customers paperless transactions, remote deposit capture and mobile banking.
Other innovations hit the credit union’s work force, such as leadership training that allows employees to branch into different areas and develop new skills.
Callis is involved with several area organizations, serving on the boards of Women in Bio and the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health in Washington, D.C.
“She is a tremendous energetic force for supporting our nation’s health care professionals,” said Christina M. Puchalski, founder and director of that institute at George Washington University Medical Center.
Callis brings "passion and a wealth of wisdom" to Women in Bio, said Phyllis Dillinger, president of the organization and CFO of Gaithersburg biotechnology company KPL.
"Her extensive background in finance, energy and outstanding commitment to the life sciences industry and to supporting women, make her uniquely suited to help guide the organization," Dillinger said.
Credit unions generally can provide more individualized attention than banks to better meet customers’ needs, said Callis, who also worked for Citibank and Wachovia Bank during her career. She contributed to the book, “Too Small to Fail: How the Financial Industry Crisis Changed the World’s Perceptions,” by Louis Hernandez Jr., CEO of financial services company Open Solutions.
“They tend to have deeper, more intimate relationships with customers,” Callis said.