C-SUITE SPOTLIGHT: Q&A with Silver State Schools Credit Union CEO Scott Arkills

Scott Arkills considered becoming an elementary school teacher at one time but he chose a career in banking instead that has teachers as part of its core.

Since 2016, he’s served as CEO at Silver State Schools Credit Union that has 20 percent to 25 percent of its members who are educators and school staff.

The 64-year-old Arkills, who grew up in Spokane, Washington, planned on being a teacher after graduation from college but ended up on a teacher’s credit union that set him on path to the finance and banking world. That included tenures at the General Motors Acceptance Corp., Ford Motor Credit and Volvo Car Finance as regional general managers. He worked 11 years at Key Bank before taking other positions for Societe Generale, NIH Federal Credit Union, Congressional Federal Credit Union and Pen Air Federal Credit Union.

Arkills was recruited to come to Las Vegas where he heads Silver State Schools Credit Union with more than $1.2 billion in assets and 65,000 members — growing from 40,000 in the aftermath of the Great Recession in 2012.

Q: How do you become a member of the Silver State Schools Credit Union?

A: Almost anybody can join a credit union. Educators are all eligible as well as students once they hit kindergarten. Although it says Schools in our name it’s open to all Nevada residents to become a member. By joining our foundation for $10, they can get in that way as well.

Q: How is a credit union different from a bank?

A:The most important difference between a credit union and national bank is we reinvest our net income back to our member owners. For example, one way is by putting that back into more advanced technology so it allows us to do the exact same things that banks would do like mobile banking. We have mobile, online and business banking — everything that a bank would have. It’s really the process of us reinvesting if we make net income that year. It’s also about providing lower interest rates on loans and higher dividend rates.

Q: What’s an example of that?

A: At the end of last year and beginning of this year we ran one of the best CD promotions in the country, offering 5.5 percent (interest rate) on a seven-month CD. We did almost $103 million in CD promotions. That’s what we’re in the business for. Our business statement is to inspire trust by prioritizing people over profit. We paid out just over $11 million in net dividends in 2023.

Q: How does that work?

A: If they have savings accounts, CD accounts and money market accounts they all share in those dividends based on the amount in their accounts.

Q: What are you seeing in the economy through your members?

A: It’s a challenging time in banking because the economy is in a tough spot right now. Now that autos are available post a microchip shortage, not only are they expensive in price but you have to deal with the interest rates. We’re waiting for interest rates to come down and the Federal Reserve to cut rates. I call it a supply and demand problem brought on by COVID and a post-COVID economy. It’s a conundrum right now. It’s the same with housing where we’re struggling with the costs because the prices are high. It’s very difficult to do mortgage loans because everybody is waiting for the rates to drop back down to those historic lows. I don’t think they will come back that low, but I think they will come back down to 4.5 percent to 5 percent. That’s still a great rate historically but they’re just not going to be the 3 percent and 2.75 percent we saw four to five years ago.

Q: When do you expect that?

A: As soon as the Feds start dropping their rates. They are waiting for inflation to get back down to 2 percent. I think the new norm is going to be 2.5 percent inflation, and it should be acceptable. As long as they see inflation going down on a steady basis, you will start seeing that rate reduction. Right now, the oddsmakers and economists in the industry are saying one 25 basis point cut by the end of the year. We think it will be the last Fed meeting of the year. Economists are saying three to five rate cuts next year. I think it will be a quarter each time.

Q: What kind of loans do you make?

A: Auto and housing primarily as well as business loans. We always try to be a top two or three best-rate credit union, including banks, and we look at that on a weekly basis. That is the one thing I enjoy about a credit union over banking. If you had a banking decision back in the day it went through multiple layers until it got up to CEO. We’re locally owned and make the decisions on what we’re seeing. We’re able to be more nimble and offer lower rates so it gives us an opportunity to respond to market pressures on a quick basis.

Q: What are 30-year fixed mortgages running and would you make any suggestions to borrowers?

A: It’s been around the 7 percent mark for quite some time. We do a fair number of first-time buyer programs. We have a limited dollar amount, but we’re offering a $50,000 government grant through the Federal Home Loan Bank. We have a lot of programs and partners we deal with that allow us to do a lot of things. Make sure your credit is clean. The first thing any lender is going to look at is your debt to income ratio and so making sure that’s consistent with the rules for getting a mortgage. I tell people to go into Zillow or Redfin to see whether you are paying too much for a mortgage as well. It will give you an estimated market value.

Q: What other loans do you do?

A:We do business loans as well. We have a number of business accounts. We do a lot of real estate loans and business purpose loans. Oftentimes, a business needs money for capitalization and sometimes its equipment. They can even run auto loans through there. The big commercial loans we stay away from, and we are also able to do SBA loans as well.

Q: Are you optimistic about the Las Vegas economy?

A:I’m bullish on the Las Vegas economy. I think the Vegas economy has diversified itself. I used to come here as a visitor before I lived here. It was reliant on the 3-mile Strip for everything. I think it’s diversified to a large extent. We’re seeing more people fly in here. The business leaders here are extremely strong. I think we’re in a good spot. We talk about how bad the economy is in the United States but if you compare it to the worldwide economy we are the strongest economy in the world. But it doesn’t feel like that to a lot of people because they saw better times with lower rates. I think Vegas will be the stronger for it.

Q: Any last words?

A: The best thing I can say about credit unions is we are here for our communities we serve. It wasn’t like that in banking. That is the consistent thing for the four credit unions I worked at is that it’s always about the member and giving back to the member.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
pos-2 — ads_infeed_1
post-4 — ads_infeed_2