Maurice Smith was 12 and working at his family’s farm near Southport when his father asked him to choose a career path. Stunned by the direct question, he asked for time to think it over. OK, you have until tomorrow at this time, his father responded.
Later that day, Smith joined his father as he deposited some money at a local bank. During the visit, Smith asked who was the guy in the corner office wearing a tie? That’s the bank president, his father responded.
“Well that’s what I want to be,” Smith said. Great, his father responded, then promised to help teach him about business and attend college for a good education.
Fifty-three years later, Smith, 65, is retiring in mid-January from the Local Government Federal Credit Union, where he was named president in 1999 and CEO in 2017. During his career, the enterprise has grown to $3.7 billion in assets, ranking among the 10 largest financial institutions based in North Carolina.
“We’re heading into a new strategic cycle and it seemed like the right time to change horses as we start a new strategy,” he says. Smith plans to practice law after he leaves the credit union, focusing on churches and other nonprofits.
He joined Raleigh-based State Employees Credit Union after earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration from UNC Wilmington, then moved to Local Government in 1992. Later in his career, he earned a law degree from N.C. Central University in Durham.
His departure comes amid a major change at the credit union, which since 1983 has had an agreement with the $52 billion State Employees Credit Union to provide banking services to members of the smaller institution. While Local Government doesn’t operate any branches, its members have been able to use SECU’s 275-branch network. It has been responsible for its own marketing, pricing, branding, administration and governance, Smith says.
Now the smaller organization is planning to operate independently of SECU, though Smith says nothing has been finalized. The change will enable Local Government to take on more responsibility for serving its members. No decision has been made if it will establish its own branch network.
“It’s inevitable that this was going to happen sooner or later,” he says. “We used to only compete against those who look like me. Now we’re competing against Walmart, Amazon and others.”
Workers for city and county governments in North Carolina prize their independence from state government, which has been reflected in the credit union’s approach to business, Smith says. Discussions about splitting off have occurred periodically since the 1980s, he says.
Dwayne Naylor, who is president of the affiliated Civic Federal Credit Union, is succeeding Smith at Local Government. Civic was created as a digital-first credit union in 2017. It’s unclear if Local Government will open its own branch offices.
Smith has been an active promoter of increased diversity among U.S. credit union leadership. In 2019, Smith received the Pete Crear Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by the African-American Credit Union Coalition.
“We have lessons to learn, but the DEI journey is good for our neighborhoods, communities and the people who learn in all kinds of ways.”