Credit Union Stories

An Interview with Stacey Walker, Esq., Board Director XCEL Federal Credit Union

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?

 Stacey Walker receiving the CU Times Trailblazer Volunteer of the Year Award

Stacey Walker receiving the CU Times Trailblazer Volunteer of the Year Award

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?

 Stacey Walker with her host family and staff of COOP-HERRERA during her welcome dinner while participating in a fellowship under WOCCU's International Credit Union Leadership Program

Stacey Walker with her host family and staff of COOP-HERRERA during her welcome dinner while participating in a fellowship under WOCCU's International Credit Union Leadership Program

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?

 Stacey Walker handing out candy at Busia Orphanage in Kenya during the Global Women's Leadership Network Engagement Program

Stacey Walker handing out candy at Busia Orphanage in Kenya during the Global Women's Leadership Network Engagement Program

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.

 Stacey Walker with Jorge Eligio Mendez, Chairman of COOP_HERRERA

Stacey Walker with Jorge Eligio Mendez, Chairman of COOP_HERRERA

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. 

An Interview with Paris Chevalier, Chief Marketing Officer at Xceed Financial Credit Union

 Paris Chevalier, Chief Marketing Officer of Xceed Financial Credit Union, making pancakes on Associate Appreciation Day.

Paris Chevalier, Chief Marketing Officer of Xceed Financial Credit Union, making pancakes on Associate Appreciation Day.

We are continuing our celebration of Women's History Month today by sitting down with Paris Chevalier, Chief Marketing Officer at Xceed Financial Credit Union.

What has been your journey in cooperative credit?

When I began my career in marketing, I really knew nothing about credit unions. I was working on the agency side on major corporate accounts, when the opportunity arose to do marketing at Kinecta Federal Credit Union. It was there, 15 years ago, that I first fell in love with the credit union movement’s philosophy of “people helping people” and met some amazing women – in particular, Teresa Freeborn who is now Xceed’s CEO, and Kathryn Davis who used to hold my current position. They brought me to Xceed Financial and have been awesome mentors to me.

Over the years, working my way up through the ranks to Chief Marketing Officer for Xceed, my passion and appreciation for financial cooperatives grew exponentially as I’ve come to understand how that distinguishes us from for-profit banks. Of course, I’ve also had a front row seat to witnessing how what we do can really transform a member’s life. More than anything else, that’s what gets me excited to come to work each day!

It’s also been really gratifying to have my role and responsibilities expand and grow. Our Board volunteers and my fellow executives at Xceed recognize that today’s competitive environment requires marketing and branding to permeate virtually every corner of the Credit Union, so in my position today, I oversee Business Development, Culture & Talent Development, and eStrategy, along with Marketing & Communications.

Why credit unions? What makes you passionate for cooperative credit?

 Chevalier hiking the hill at GAC with Teresa Freeborn, Xceed's CEO, and Representative Adam Schiff

Chevalier hiking the hill at GAC with Teresa Freeborn, Xceed's CEO, and Representative Adam Schiff

As a credit union owned and operated by our members, we truly are different from for-profit banks that are all about squeezing every nickel and dime out of their customers. It’s a totally different perspective when, instead of asking yourself “How much more can we charge for this?” like a bank would, you’re always trying to figure out “How can we add more value for members?” and “Is there any way we can make this more affordable for members?”

The research confirms that different mindset makes credit unions a better choice for consumers, but I don’t need studies to prove it – every day, I’m hearing stories about how our associates are helping members to achieve their financial goals, and really transform their financial lives. It’s no overstatement to say that a person’s financial habits affect absolutely everything in their life, so to me it’s more a question of how could I not be passionate for cooperative credit!

I’m also personally passionate about inclusion and diversity, in the workplace and society at-large. Certainly credit unions still as a group have a ways to go, but the “people helping people” mantra that is the cornerstone of the movement has put us light years ahead of others in the financial services space.

What is going to be critical to the future of credit unions?

No question about it: the future of credit unions turns on our ability to stay relevant to members in this fast-changing digital age. Beyond the big banks that have always worked to crush us, we have a multitude of new competitors now trying to nibble away at our core businesses. Many of those fintechs have a cachet with younger consumers, and we simply can’t afford to be-or be seen as-old-school, mom-and-pop shops anymore. Instead, the credit unions that survive will be the ones that find ways to combine the traditional values of credit unions with up-to-the-minute technology, products and services that make banking with us easy, convenient and frictionless. We absolutely can do it! In fact, we have a leg-up on the competition because many younger consumers are demanding social responsibility from those with whom they do business. Among our biggest challenges will be hiring and retaining the top talent we need, who can help us to challenge the status quo and keep us nimble, efficient and innovative.

 Chevalier with hands photocopied by children who attended Bring Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day.

Chevalier with hands photocopied by children who attended Bring Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day.

If you could give one piece of advice to a young credit union professional, what would it be?

Be authentic and forge your own path. I started my career in branding, and back then I expected to climb the same corporate ladder my agency peers were ascending. I never imagined working at a credit union, but I’m so grateful that I was open to the opportunity presented to me and fully embraced it. I now have a career that is incredibly rewarding, and I’m privileged to be working with credit union leaders across the country to enact positive change and to shape the future of our industry. None of this would have happened if I’d stayed on the beaten path!

Tell us something about yourself that others may not know.

A lot of people know I’m into music, but only a few know that I’m slightly obsessed with concerts. I’m actually a super-fan of Pearl Jam and will be traveling to Seattle, aka Grunge Ground Zero, to see them live. So, that’s one bucket list item that will be checked off!

An Interview with Lois Kitsch, CUDE, National Program Director at the National Credit Union Foundation

Today we continue our celebration of Women's History Month by sitting down with Lois Kitsch, CUDE, National Program Director at the National Credit Union Foundation. Known for her amazing work with the DE program at the Foundation, Lois will soon be retiring to start her next adventure, but we wanted to capture her story before she did.

 Lois Kitsch, CUDE, National Program Director, National Credit Union Foundation

Lois Kitsch, CUDE, National Program Director, National Credit Union Foundation

Why credit unions? What brought you to the credit union movement?

I started my career in finances at a local bank in the small rural community in North Dakota. After  about four or five years in the bank, a family member suggested I apply at the local credit union. At the time, this credit union had 300 members and less than a million dollars in assets. I was interested in a change so I applied and got the job. I had no idea what a credit union was or that my involvement in credit unions was about to change my life for good. This came about from participation in 1986 in the DE program. Once DE ignited my passion for helping people, I never looked back. 

Your influence on the DE program has been exponential. What is the one thing you hope each of your students takes away from the program to bring back to their every day life? 

DE is a six day immersion program into all things credit unions. This popular Foundation program is held four times per year in Madison, Wisconsin. I hope that every DE leaves excited about credit unions and committed to helping members build financial health. Each DE commits to a DE project either within their credit union or within their community. Powerful change is happening because DEs really believe in the power of building communities one person at a time. 

You have done so much to facilitate building financial capabilities through cooperatives around the world. Tell us about one such project that has always stuck with you and why.

I have had the opportunity to visit almost 60 countries and around 40 of them working with credit unions – so it is really hard to pick just one. In the Philippines our project (World Council of Credit Unions) transformed struggling credit unions into dynamic and progressive financial intuitions that served thousands of marginalized families. One of my favorite projects there was a micro-finance program run for women through credit unions. Within a five-year span some 25,000 women were participating by growing small business into profitable enterprises. I can also point to my time in Afghanistan where I was working for WOCCU to secure funding to run a project to build new credit unions. WOCCU went on to do amazing work in establishing financial cooperatives for a war torn country whoSE citizens were largely unbanked.  Today I am doing some interesting work in Africa which will provide expanded opportunities for women and youth in credit unions. 

When we think of the DE program, we think of you, but your career and life have been so much more than just DE. What one achievement, personal or professional, do you want people to reflect on now that you’re retiring?

DE has been a central part of my life for more than 30 years, and it has been a labor of love for so many people. While I am retiring from the Foundation, I do plan to continue working with credit unions with a well-known credit union professional, Mark Lynch.  A domestic program I am really proud of is the Foundation’s Life Simulation. Our program team including Mark and Andy Johnson built a life simulation focused on credit union members. This experiential learning program allows credit union professionals and others to walk in the shoes of members and live the day-to-day trials that members are facing.  This tool is perfect for staff training to build a united front around the benefit of serving members. It also shows that empathy for member stories is really good for the bottom line.

What challenges do you foresee ahead for cooperative credit? Is there anything that you would like to tell a young credit union professional to help him or her grapple those challenges ahead?

I think the future for credit unions is bright. The biggest threat to credit unions is internal. If we forget our mission and live only for profits, we will cease to be. Credit unions must recognize and value the business opportunity in living our mission. The Foundation is primed ready to help credit unions do just that. 

I seldom give advice, but after 38 years in credit unions, I would tell a young professional to find balance in their lives – that home and family are important. On the other hand, do not expect someone to give you opportunities – earn them through hard quality work. Find a mentor whom you trust to help you grow your professional path and enjoy every day. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Fight for the big stuff and find your passion somewhere in the middle. 

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And for fun - tell us something about yourself that no one knows.

I am such an open book that I don’t have any secrets – So I will give you a perfect day – it starts in early morning enjoying  nature with people I love ( my favorite place on earth is the Masai Mara in Kenya) and ends with a glass of wine with friends and family as the sun sets.

Spotlight on the African-American Credit Union Coalition

We capping off our celebration of Black History month by sitting down with Renee Sattiewhite, Executive Director of the African-American Credit Union Coalition to find out more about the organization.

For those who are not familiar with the AACUC, tell us about the organization’s mission and how it works to achieve it.

AACUC’s mission and diversity statement are the core of what the organization strives to achieve in the credit union space. Our mission is to increase diversity within the credit union community through advocacy and professional development.

Here is our Statement on Diversity:

The African-American Credit Union Coalition (AACUC) recognizes the differences and distinctions of each individual, group, or organization that are represented in society and within the credit union movement.  In alignment with the AACUC’s history and goals, we define diversity in our mission to express the inclusion, advocacy, and support of African-Americans throughout the credit union community and at large.   Notwithstanding, the AACUC welcomes the membership of all individuals, groups and organizations in furtherance of its mission to strengthen the global credit union movement. 

AACUC accomplishes this through collaborating with members on the Advocacy Committee, other trade organizations such as the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, the National Association of Federally Insured Credit Unions, World Council of Credit Unions CUNA and CUNA Mutual Group.

Our Mentorship Committee, the Reaching Toward the Future Internship Program and are annual conference are great avenues to provide professional development opportunities. Members of our Board of Directors and Leadership speak at different conferences throughout the year along with participating on panels sharing their various experiences and “how to’s” in moving up the corporate ladder.

Credit unions are facing many challenges from advancing technology to a shifting workforce as baby boomers retire and the next generation comes up to the plate. How can AACUC help credit unions and credit union professionals meet these changing demands in the movement?

AACUC strives to be a conduit and a connector to our credit unions, vetting companies that offer technological solutions and helping our members to have choices in their solutions providers.  Our annual conference has workshops that help credit union professionals learn about best practices of products and services that are geared to baby boomers and next generations.  We call that WIN-WIN-WIN.  1) Our member credit unions WIN because they can make informed decisions regarding appropriate products and services to meet the needs of their credit unions; 2) Vendors WIN because they can offer solutions to our members; and 3) AACUC WINs because we are able to assist our members and bring value to  membership and our vendor partners.

What does the future look like for the AACUC?

Transformational change – more streamlined focus on professional development and mentorship through groups like Young Professionals, the future leaders of the organization, as well as placing more emphasis on continuing collaborations and spreading the word about diversity in credit unions.

AACUC will expand upon professional development at their annual meeting, which will be held in Atlanta this August. During the conference, they will also host a Financial Reality Fair for the seventh year in a row. With volunteer support, 80-100 students participate in the fair, which is an outreach opportunity geared toward teaching financial basics and introducing credit unions to kids in the community.

Continuing to collaborate is important for spreading the word about diversity and gaining recognition as a trusted entity. Partnerships with key stakeholders in the credit union movement that were mentioned earlier.

“Through name alone, AACUC has gained much recognition and aspires to be the go-to for African Americans within credit unions,” said Sheilah Montgomery, Co-Founder and first President. She admits, “That “no man is an island, so we want to continue to be more collaborative, to be a part of that whole skyscraper of organizations.”

Spotlight on Jeffrey S. Benson, CPA, MBA, President/CEO of CASE Credit Union

February is Black History month, and we are excited to celebrate the rich history of African-Americans in the cooperative credit movement in America. But history is happening now, and this month we will be spotlighting African-American professionals currently making a difference in the credit union industry.

 Jeffrey S. Benson, CPA, MBA, President/CEO of CASE Credit Union

Jeffrey S. Benson, CPA, MBA, President/CEO of CASE Credit Union

Today we're speaking with Jeffrey S. Benson, CPA, MBA, President/CEO of CASE Credit Union

What has been your journey in cooperative credit?

My journey began when I was in college and worked part-time for a bank. As I was studying accounting, I felt it was natural for me to work in the financial services arena. Upon graduation, I was employed by a public accounting firm, Ernst & Whinney (now Ernst & Young) and placed in the financial services group auditing banks and savings & loans. I was recruited out of the firm to work for a large savings & loan as an Audit Manager. Then I stumbled across an employment ad from a credit union in need of and Internal Auditor. While I had a credit union account through a family member, I really didn’t know the differences between that and a bank. The fact of working for something that involved everyone affiliated working together for a common goal intrigued and excited me and nearly 30 years later, I am the President/CEO of a credit union!

Why credit union?  What makes you passionate for cooperative credit?

The motto of “People helping people” is what makes me the most passionate about my credit union affiliation. Credit unions are so member focused and will always go the extra mile to ensure every member has everything they need to be financially successful. In addition, the service that is provided is so far superior to any other type of financial institution because everyone is a member and has ownership rights. We have a common goal that binds us together as one and we want to be treated with the respect and dignity an owner deserves.  Most credit union members proudly refer to the credit union as “My Credit Union”!

What is going to be critical to the future of credit unions?

That we keep a collaborative spirit and avoid taxation. 

If you could give on piece of advice to a young credit union professional, what would it be?

Appreciate the fact that you are fortunate enough to work for such an awesome movement and learn everything you can, as quickly as you can, to progress and make a difference in a members’ life!

Tell us something about yourself that others may not know.

I love to rollerskate!

Spotlight on Timothy Anderson, MBA, President and CEO of Government Printing Office Federal Credit Union

February is Black History month, and we are excited to celebrate the rich history of African-Americans in the cooperative credit movement in America. But history is happening now, and this month we will be spotlighting African-American professionals currently making a difference in the credit union industry.

Today we're sitting down with Timothy Anderson, MBA, the President and CEO of Government Printing Office Federal Credit Union.

 Timothy Anderson, MBA, President and CEO of Government Printing Office FCU

Timothy Anderson, MBA, President and CEO of Government Printing Office FCU

What has been your journey in cooperative credit?

My journey started out in the banking world. I began my career as a bank teller in 1979, and when I left 20 years later I was Vice President of Operations. I worked for a savings and loan, a savings bank and two large national banks. I moved over to the credit union industry in 2000.   Once I did, I realized it was the best move I ever made. I had heard a lot about the credit union difference, but until you live it, it doesn’t resonate. It’s one of the reasons I continually advocate for credit unions to do a better job of telling our story and highlighting the difference between banks and credit unions. 

Coming into the credit union world really opened my eyes.  The entire philosophy of giving back to our member owners, as opposed to padding the pockets of shareholders, makes all the difference. I was so excited about credit unions when I started that I wanted to learn and absorb as much as I could.  I joined the management team at the United States Senate Federal Credit Union (USSFCU) in 2000, then went on to become COO at the Treasury Department Federal Credit Union and American Spirit Federal Credit Union in Delaware.  When I left USSFCU I was asked to run for a board position. I was elected to that board, and the board at the Transportation Federal Credit Union in 2003, and still serve on both today.  Acquiring experience as a volunteer provided a unique outlook. I was on a mission. I was smitten by the credit union way and wanted to gain all I could. Ultimately when I was hired as CEO at the Government Printing Office Federal Credit Union (GPOFCU) in 2011, the panel of interviewers noted my volunteer experience as a significant benefit.  Having volunteer and management experience has been invaluable, and has given me a perspective many CEOs don’t have. 

Why credit unions? What makes you passionate for cooperative credit? 

Plain and simple, credit unions do it better. I love financial services, but more importantly, I love helping people. Credit unions are concerned about people. This passion for me is intrinsic. I am a PK (Pastor’s Kid). My dad was a pastor of a Pentecostal church, so I grew up in an environment that fostered the people helping people philosophy. This upbringing shaped my views. For me, the cooperative movement is easy; it’s a lifestyle.  It’s who I am. In the Bible, Jesus always had compassion for the least of them. The concept is to look after and be concerned about the well-being of your neighbor and fellow citizen. Credit unions mirror that philosophy. Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes, I am. 

Moreover, the idea of inclusiveness drives our cooperative model. We provide financial services to everyone, not just a privileged few. Credit unions open their doors to those banks turn away.  We want everyone to prosper financially. We focus on the member and their financial well-being. Financial literacy is a key component of our model. Imparting core financial values, enables a member to become financially savvy. My passion for cooperatives is to help others become good stewards over their finances. There is an old adage that says, give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach him how to fish and he’ll eat forever. Cooperatives empower people. That’s the legacy of the credit union movement. 

What is going to be critical to the future of credit unions?

 Timothy Anderson, MBA, President and CEO of Government Printing Office FCU

The credit union system is strong. Unfortunately, credit unions are dwindling in numbers as a result of mergers and acquisitions. I think mergers and consolidations will continue, however, the industry will remain robust. It’s increasingly difficult for the smaller credit unions to compete. The smaller credit unions don’t have economies of scale, and as a consequence many are forced to merge. The future of credit unions will depend on expanding technological advances, increasing delivery channels and taking advantage of our intellectual capital. Intellectual capital is a key component for continued success. This intangible value is important and must be cultivated. We must hire and retain good talent for long term sustainability.

If you could give one piece of advice to a young credit union professional, what would it be?

Never stop learning and moving forward. The industry needs our young professionals to fill key leadership roles. Many of today’s CEOs are baby boomers and retiring. Young professional are well positioned to be the leaders to keep the work moving forward. My advice is, allow yourself to be mentored and developed. The credit union movement was built on the backs of some awesome leaders. Learn from them. Then use your talents to expand the work already done. There is a lot to learn about leading. We can all learn from those who went before us. On the other hand, however, we have to be careful not to try and mold the young professionals to do things as we have done them. They are bright and talented, and we need to let them flow. Let them innovate and become effective leaders. I often think of advice championed by Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs. He said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people and let them tell us what to do.” In the credit union community, we have smart young professionals. Mentor them, but then let them flourish.  

Tell us something about yourself that others may not know.

Hmmmm. . . .ok, this year, I have been married to my childhood sweetheart for 39 years, and we have two awesome children and nine equally wonderful grandchildren.  And yes, they are all credit union members.    

I am also a finance and economics professor at my alma mater, the University of Maryland, University College (UMUC). I love finance. As compelled as I am to help people at my credit union, I am just as passionate about education. To me, it all starts with having the requisite knowledge, skills and abilities to acclimate to an environment where you can be successful. 

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I am an avid golfer. I love the game with a passion. If I could play golf seven days a week, I probably would. It’s a gentlemen’s game, and it teaches many life disciplines. 

Lastly, I had the high honor to be a keynote speaker over a year ago at the African Confederation of Co-operative Savings and Credit Associations (ACCOSCA) annual conference, in Rwanda, Africa. There were approximately 40 countries represented. Cooperative financial institutions are global. People continuing to help people.

Spotlight on Sharon Odom, CPA, CEO of 1st Choice Credit Union

February is Black History month, and we are excited to celebrate the rich history of African-Americans in the cooperative credit movement in America. But history is happening now, and this month we will be spotlighting African-American professionals currently making a difference in the credit union industry.

 Sharon R. Odom, CPA was the first African-American Vice President of Delta Employees Credit Union.

Sharon R. Odom, CPA was the first African-American Vice President of Delta Employees Credit Union.

Today we're sitting down with Sharon Odom, CPA, the CEO of 1st Choice Credit Union

What has been your journey in cooperative credit?

My journey into Credit Union land started with working as a Banker in Boston, MA, in the role of AVP of Budgeting and Financial Reporting. It was a pure accounting role, that I accepted to transition away from working for CPA firms in roles that required constant travel. The banking role in Boston spurred my interest in financial services. A few years later I faced another cross road. My husband’s job relocated us to Atlanta where I started working for Delta Air Lines in a management role in the Finance Department. After a couple years in that role, I became frustrated with the lack of advancement opportunities. I went back to school to earn an MBA to make myself more competitive for a leadership role at Delta. A co-worker told me about Delta Employees Credit Union (DECU), the credit union for Delta Air Lines. I decided to accept a lateral position there as a Financial analyst/Project Manager because I was told the environment was very positive and friendly and that I could advance easier at the Credit Union. I accepted that credit union role on November 2, 2002, and I graduated with my MBA on December 1, 2002.  Accepting that role was the right decision for me.

At DECU I worked directly with a forward-thinking Executive who believed the credit union should expand beyond exclusively serving Delta Air Lines to serving metro Atlanta.  I worked very hard as his financial analyst to provide the financial data and research that was needed to justify market expansion to include metro Atlanta in their field of membership.  I prepared market research on the Atlanta market and on products to guide product development.  I also worked as the project manager to implement the products needed for competitiveness in the Atlanta market.  I also measured the performance of those new products in the market.  It was an exciting opportunity for me, and it enabled me to learn the “back office” side of Credit Unions and how to create an effective strategy. The Delta Employees Credit Union became Delta Community Credit Union and was transformed before my eyes, from 8 branches to 23, from 200 employees to nearly 1,000, from 150,000 members to over 400,000, from a $1 Billion CU to a $5B CU.  My career advanced from Financial Analyst, to Manager of the Analytics and Strategy team to VP of Strategic Planning and Performance. I was their first African-American Vice President.   I was responsible for the formulation of Corporate Strategy (leading a team of analysts) and the execution of the Strategy (leading a team of Project Managers) and Performance management (oversight for Governance Reporting and all enterprise projects).   The “VP of Strategic Planning and Performance” role at Delta Community Credit Union lead to my current role of CEO at 1st Choice Credit Union (1CCU).  I could never have dreamed that original Financial Analyst role at the then Delta Employees Credit Union would lead to the CEO role I hold today at 1st Choice Credit Union.  However, when I look back over my journey, it is clear to me now that every role leading to this one prepared me to become a CEO. 

Why credit unions? What makes you passionate for cooperative credit?

As the CEO of a much smaller organization, I bring big Credit Union ideas and make them happen on a smaller scale for a membership base that really values our support. I believe that opportunities are not always equally distributed. I’ve learned that my members have not always had access to the financial opportunities available to others. I’m very gratified to provide financial education and financial inclusion that helps credit union members afford life and enables them to manage their finances more effectively.

What is going to be critical to the future of credit unions?

Remaining relevant is critical to the success of credit unions. Metro Atlanta has over 5,000 financial institution branches in addition to many “online only” banks. That means consumers have many choices in their consideration set of where to bank. Credit Union must be positioned with a targeted message, a compelling brand, exceptional customer service, and an attractive value proposition that that will resonate within their market. Credit Unions must figure out how to do that efficiently and effectively. And we must continue to tell the story of how we’re different and why that matters.

If you could give one piece of advice to a young credit union professional, what would it be?

Young credit union professionals must commit to life time learning and a strong work ethic.   It’s important to stay abreast of current trends and thought leadership.  The market place is always evolving so it’s important to adapt with the market so that your organization is aware of the changing demand and that your organization is also aware of the value you bring to it as a life time learner and hard worker.

Tell us something about yourself that others may not know.

Three things:

1)     I want to earn a PHD one day.

2)     I want to write a book one day.

3)     I am a firm believer in the power of prayer.  I believe that prayer not only changes things, but it also changes people. When I pray it is still my responsibility to do the work on the things within my power; prayer is not an excuse for inaction. Prayer says I trust God to work on the things that are not within my power as I work on everything else.

12 Days of Service: Align Credit Union

Today we continue the celebration of 12 Days of Service with Align Credit Union in Lowell, Massachusetts.

 Align Credit Union employees from left to right:  Member Service Representative Felicia Anderson, and Tellers, Caroline Vejar-Mason, and Aidan Desbouvrie.

Align Credit Union employees from left to right:  Member Service Representative Felicia Anderson, and Tellers, Caroline Vejar-Mason, and Aidan Desbouvrie.

 

Founded in 1922, since 1922. Align Credit Union began as the Northern Massachusetts Telephone Workers Credit Union (NMTW), dedicated to serving area phone company employees and their families. Today Align Credit Union carries on the tradition of service by supporting the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program. 

12 Days of Service: Struthers Federal Credit Union

We continue our celebration of the 12 Days of Service with Struthers Federal Credit Union in Struthers, Ohio.

 The Veteran's Memorial for which Struthers Federal Credit Union raised funds.

The Veteran's Memorial for which Struthers Federal Credit Union raised funds.

From their roots serving the employees of the Struthers School District, Struthers Credit Union continues the tradition of service through their Member Appreciation Shred Event, hosted this year on July 8. Struthers Credit Union provided the popular Shred Truck, a mobile, secure shredding service, free to its members and accepted monetary donations at the event. Struthers Credit Union raised $305 for the Struthers Veteran's Memorial. This is a true example of credit unions serving not only their members but their communities.

12 Days of Service: Greater Eastern Credit Union

Today we continue the celebration of 12 Days of Service with Greater Eastern Credit Union in Johnson City, Tennessee.

 The GECU Coat Drive will support school coat closets and homeless programs.

The GECU Coat Drive will support school coat closets and homeless programs.

Greater Eastern Credit Union was founded in 1952 to serve employees of the Mountain Home Veterans Administration Medical Center. Continuing in the tradition of service, GECU supports a coat drive every fall to collect coats and cash for area students through Title X homeless programs and school coat closets. This year, GECU collected 98 coats and $153 in cash.

12 Days of Service: St. Mary's Bank

Today we continue the 12 Days of Service celebration with the nation's first credit union, St. Mary's Bank, in Manchester, New Hampshire.

 Employees of St. Mary's Bank man the phones at the WZID Christmas is for Kids Radiothon to benefit Child and Family Services in New Hampshire.

Employees of St. Mary's Bank man the phones at the WZID Christmas is for Kids Radiothon to benefit Child and Family Services in New Hampshire.

 

Founded in 1908, St. Mary's Bank first opened in the same building that now houses the museum, with the intent to help primarily Franco-American millworkers get access to financial tools. Today, St. Mary's Bank continues the tradition of service through the WZID Christmas is for Kids Radiothon to benefit Child and Family Services, a statewide non-profit organization.

Child and Family Services will use the proceeds from this event in two ways:

  • To provide something under the tree
  • To support meaningful services that work to empower families, prevent abuse,  provide mental health counseling regardless of one’s ability to pay, provide summer camp for kids from low-income families, aid children in foster care, and extend our time of “boots on the ground” reaching out to homeless and at-risk youth throughout NH.

St. Mary's Bank continues to operate on one of its founding principle's by helping an organization that serves the underserved and focuses their attention on children, families, and individuals in New Hampshire.

12 Days of Service: My Community Credit Union

We continue our celebration of 12 Days of Service with My Community Credit Union in Midland, Texas.

 Employees of My Community Credit Union collected toys for "Santa" to deliver to neighborhood children.

Employees of My Community Credit Union collected toys for "Santa" to deliver to neighborhood children.

My Community Credit Union truly embraces the spirit of service through their work with their neighborhood Santa. Each year, My Community Credit Union collects toys for a member of the credit union who volunteers as Santa. He visits different neighborhoods in the community with his sleigh and passes out toys to children as they come out to see him. This year, the credit union collected over 430 toys for the kids of Midland, Texas.

12 Days of Service: Bronco Federal Credit Union

We continue our celebration of service today with Bronco Federal Credit Union in Franklin, Virginia.

 Bronco Federal Credit Union's Helping Hands display canned food donations from their summer food drive to support Franklin Cooperative Ministries.

Bronco Federal Credit Union's Helping Hands display canned food donations from their summer food drive to support Franklin Cooperative Ministries.

In January 2017, Bronco Federal Credit Union began the Bronco's Helping Hands, an initiative dedicated to serving its surrounding communities. In July 2017, Bronco's Helping Hands conducted a food drive to support the Franklin Cooperative Ministries. Food banks are most often remembered during the holidays, and Bronco's Helping Hands purposely held the food drive in the summer to help keep the food bank fully stocked all year long. Since 2014, Bronco has collected and donated over 20,000 pounds of food to Franklin Cooperative Ministries.

12 Days of Service: Red River Credit Union

We continue our 12 Days of Service celebration today with Red River Credit Union in Texarkana, Texas.

 Red River Credit Union continues the tradition of people helping people through the United Way Stuff a Bus Program.

Red River Credit Union continues the tradition of people helping people through the United Way Stuff a Bus Program.

Red River Credit Union was founded in 1943 by employees of Red River Army Depot, who saw that pooling their financial resources would benefit their community. Red River Credit Union continues this tradition of people helping people through the United Way Stuff a Bus Program. Each branch of the credit union collected crayons and donated them to the United Way to be placed in back packs that were stuffed with school supplies for children in need in their community. Red River Credit Union collected 2,369 boxes of crayons to fill every backpack for a child in need.

12 Days of Service: Scott Credit Union

Today we continue our celebration of service with Scott Credit Union in Edwardsville, Illinois.

 Scott Credit Union's Big Barkers Kidz Club mascot, Scotty, with participants of the "Money Wise" workshop.

Scott Credit Union's Big Barkers Kidz Club mascot, Scotty, with participants of the "Money Wise" workshop.

Founded in 1943, Scott Credit Union carries on the tradition of service through its partnership with the Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois. Scott Credit Union twice hosted a workshop in 2017 called "Money Wise," which combined the financial literacy activities from the Girl Scout handbook with financial education activities developed by Scott Credit Union. Daisies and Brownies who completed the workshop earned their financial literacy badges.

12: Days of Service: Members First Credit Union

Today we're kicking off a special series to celebrate a tenet of cooperative credit: "Not for profit, not for charity, but for service." Each day until Christmas, we will be highlighting a credit union and its story of service to shine a spotlight on how credit unions today continue to uphold this founding principle.

 Employees from Members First Credit Union in Manchester, NH celebrate service by supporting the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program.

Employees from Members First Credit Union in Manchester, NH celebrate service by supporting the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program.

We are kicking off the series with Members First Credit Union of Manchester, New Hampshire. Like many credit unions, Members First was founded where there was a need by firefighter John Walsh in 1949 as the Manchester Municipal Employees Credit Union. Today, Members First Credit Union celebrates the spirit of service with a holiday toy drive to benefit the U.S. Marine Corp Reserve Toys for Tots Program. Not only did Members First Credit Union host a donation center, the employees started a cash donation and were able to purchase an additional sixteen toys to contribute to the drive. That is a true demonstration of the tenet of service.