Today we're capping off our celebration of Women's History Month with an interview with Stacey Walker, Esq., Board Director at XCEL Federal Credit Union. Walker truly exemplifies the credit union tenet of people helping people and perfectly completes our celebration of women in the credit union movement.
What has been your journey in cooperative credit?
My journey in cooperative credit started when I was very young. I joined my credit union while in high school; it was the only financial institution that allowed me to have an account as a minor without requiring parental approval for deposits or withdrawals. My first job was a summer intern at Smith Barney, and my second job was working in the Payroll Department of the Social Security Administration. Even as a minor, it was clear to me then that I needed a reliable financial institution where I could deposit my hard-earned money and handle my finances on my own. After several disappointing visits to many banks in my community, I was introduced to my credit union. While working for the federal government, I needed direct deposit and a coworker suggested the credit union downstairs. I inquired and opened an account the same day. After completing higher education years later, I decided to volunteer as a board member at my credit union. Prior to joining the board, I completed a nonprofit board training program by the United Way to learn about board responsibilities. Over a decade later, I am happy with my experience as a volunteer credit union board director.
Why credit unions? What makes you passionate for cooperative credit?
I love the credit union movement because it transcends cultures and communities. We believe in people helping people, and we help all people. I have witnessed this near and far by being involved in the credit union movement. In Kenya, I participated in the Global Women's Leadership Network engagement program to discuss financial options for a rural female-led orphanage. In the Dominican Republic, I worked as a U.S. Department of State Professional Fellow and learned about the work of open bond community credit unions. In Hong Kong, I also presented at a World Council of Credit Unions Conference on student-run credit unions in America and how they help our youth. Likewise, my credit union has opened its doors to share with others about how we help members. XCEL Federal Credit Union has hosted local forums open to all credit union volunteers in New Jersey, and XCEL was the only US credit union to host a group of over 30 cooperative leaders from Brazil on their North American tour. Credit union volunteers and professionals welcome foreign and domestic counterparts with great passion, transparency, and hospitality. My passion is nurtured then by likeminded individuals who also believe in the cooperative movement. Together we do great things for our communities across borders and even language barriers.
What is going to be critical to the future of credit unions?
Critical to our credit union future is our ability to compete with other traditional and non-traditional financial service providers, to connect with future generations as potential members, and to stay true to our purpose. Currently, there is a lot of discussion surrounding the first two points but the latter is equally important. Credit unions were created by people who could not easily obtain credit at an inexpensive cost. In essence, the earliest credit unions served primarily the unbanked and underbanked segments of our population. As credit unions grow and hit various benchmarks in this very competitive financial market, it is important for credit unions to not lose sight of our shared and humble foundation. I believe that distinction differentiates us and appeals to future generations.
If you could give one piece of advice to a young credit union professional, what would it be?
To young credit union professionals (and volunteers too!), I would encourage them to network as much as possible. Credit union professionals are open to discussing ideas and best practices to solve problems. Using a variety of platforms, credit union professionals can network, gain professional development, and share information with others. From the WhatsApp group for worldwide young credit union professionals to the National Youth Involvement Board listserv for credit union educators to a Young Professionals Network sponsored by your league to the Crashers program for professionals under age 35 that support attendance to various conferences, there are many ways for young professionals to network with others in this movement. Networking will open doors, introduce you to lifelong contacts, and enhance your credit union experience.
Tell us something about yourself that others may not know.
My family is from the beautiful island of Jamaica. One of the proudest moments of my credit union experience was being invited to participate as a mentor during the Caribbean Development Educators Program (CaribDE) in Jamaica. At CaribDE, I met other credit union professionals and volunteers while learning a lot about the history of the Caribbean movement. I also learned about Jamaican credit unions from my cousin who started working at a credit union in Manchester, Jamaica the same year I became a credit union volunteer. Over a decade later, we still are committed to our credit union involvement. We talk about credit unions, and we also talk about farming. Our grandfather was a farmer and that farm is still maintained by my family. Today, that farm provides fresh produce to many hotels throughout Jamaica. Incidentally, another proud moment was when I attended a Directors' Conference in Jamaica and discovered that the host hotel was serviced by my family's farm in Saint Elizabeth, Jamaica. I love when my two worlds come together while serving as a credit union board director.