A Credit Union Career Isn’t For Me. Change My Mind. (Part 2)

Industry leaders talk about how they cultivated a career in credit unions and how credit unions across the United States can recruit enthusiastic employees to fill tomorrow’s leadership bench.


Lockdowns and quarantines forced many businesses across the United States to close their doors this spring, leaving many employees without a job. The national unemployment rate shot up to 14.7% in April — up from 4.4% in March — before ticking down slightly again to 13.3% May.

Workers deemed essential are maintaining income, but non-essential employees face unemployment and financial uncertainty. Based on first quarter data, the credit union industry avoided most of the employee attrition seen throughout the nation. Credit unions held 305,600 full-time employees on their payrolls as of March 31, 2020. That’s up 4.3% annually. And, annualized compensation per full-time equivalent (FTE) employee at credit unions grew to a record $84,100 while salary and benefit expense per FTE was 6.3% higher than one year ago, more than double the nationwide growth rate of 2.8%.

Based on anecdotal evidence, credit unions have avoided laying off employees so far in the second quarter, too, opting instead to redeploy staff members to support increased call center activity and back-office functions. It doesn’t appear the work will slow down anytime soon.

With this in mind, CreditUnions.com reached out to prominent leaders across the credit union industry to ask them three questions:

  • How did you get started in the credit union industry?
  • How can credit unions recruit young workers? Why is that important?
  • How would you “sell” a young executive on why they should enter the credit union field?

Related Resource: More leaders offer advice on how to recruit enthusiastic employees to fill tomorrow’s leadership roles. Read more in "A Credit Union Career Isn’t For Me. Change My Mind. (Part 1)" and "A Credit Union Career Isn’t For Me. Change My Mind. (Part 3)."

Winona Nava, CEO, Guadalupe Credit Union ($194.0M, Santa Fe, NM)

How did you get started in the credit union industry?

Winona Nava, CEO, Guadalupe Credit Union

Winona Nava: Quite by accident. I was unhappy working as a drive-up teller at a bank. I’d applied for a few positions and not even been granted an interview. I had previously worked at a finance company with much more responsibility but was replaced by a man while on maternity leave — typical of those days. I saw the ad for a credit union loan processor in the paper, and I applied. When I arrived for the interview, I learned the position was filled. I told the receptionist I wanted the manager to tell me this himself. He took me into his office, said I was very assertive, and hired me as a collector.

How can credit unions recruit young workers? Why is that important?

Winona Nava

Guadalupe Credit Union
President/CEO, 1991-present

State Employees Credit Union
Executive Vice President, 1978-1991

WN: We have been successful recruiting young workers through a few channels: Referrals from existing young employees who like our mission and vision; students who attend a Reality Fair and become interested in the credit union; interns from Youthworks, a local non-profit that helps at risk youth. These employees have become full-time, good employees.

How would you “sell” a young executive on why they should enter the credit union field?

WN: I would focus on our mission and vision of helping empower our staff and members through one-on-one financial coaching. We have a contest every year for employees who enroll in our financial coaching program with prizes for those who make the most significant changes. Through this program, employees have become homeowners, gotten out of debt, and more.

Related Resource: Doug Fecher, CEO of Wright-Patt Credit Union, talks about strategies to entice up-and-coming leaders in "How To Stand Out In A Field Of Potential Employers."

Ty Muse, CEO, Visions Federal Credit Union ($4.7B, Endwell, NY)

Ty Muse, CEO, Visions FCU

How did you get started in the credit union industry?

Ty Muse: I was working at GE when I got a call from the chair of the supervisory committee [at Hudson Valley FCU] who was also an alumnus of my alma mater. Between his call and the CEO’s call, I fell in love with what credit unions were doing. They talked me into a pay cut and returning to audit to be part of this movement. I went from knowing nothing about credit unions to not wanting to work in any other industry.

How can credit unions recruit young workers? Why is that important?

Ty Muse

Visions FCU
President/CEO, 2013-present

Hudson Valley FCU
CFO, 2005-2013

GE Asset Management
Manager, 2002-2006

Archon Group
Controller, 2000-2002

Business Assurance Manager, 1993-2000

TM: Recruiting starts with the culture of your organization. Take the opportunity to share and demonstrate the credit union difference and how well aligned you are with their values. Meet them where they are. Are you in colleges and high schools? Not just as a branch, but teaching, donating, supporting, and mentoring? Are you creating tools for them? Budgeting tools? Apps and fun learning tools? Are your accounts aligned with them? Are your student accounts fee-free, etc.? What type of collateral are you using on social media? Do your videos resonate with their demographics? Finally, are you finding ways to get them to intern and be part of the movement?

How would you “sell” a young executive on why they should enter the credit union field?

TM: I would challenge them to be part of an industry that cares. I would ask them if they would like to make a difference. I would ask if they wanted to be in a company that gives them unprecedented access to leadership. If yes, then they need to join the credit union movement.

Dave Larson, CEO, Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union ($2.6B, St. Paul, MN)

Dave Larson, CEO, Affinity Plus FCU

How did you get started in the credit union industry?

Dave Larson: I was working for Liberty Check Printers selling online banking and database marketing solutions. I had called on banks previously with Deluxe Corporation, and I was struck by how warm and welcoming credit unions were. I knew this was an industry I wanted to be part of.

How can credit unions reach young workers? Why is that important?

DL: There are many ways credit unions can recruit young workers. At Affinity Plus, we have found our campus branches have brought value to the credit union, to students, and to the college community. An added bonus is that we’ve been able to hire students both while in college and post-graduation.

Dave Larson

Affinity Plus FCU
President/CEO, 2002-present

Liberty Enterprises
National Sales Account Manager, 1998-2002

Deluxe Corporation
Product Specialist, 1993-1998

Early-career employees have a desire to make a difference, are socially conscious about their local community and the broader world, and want work that fulfills not only their financial needs but also their emotional ones. The credit union industry aligns their needs with our goals. Affinity Plus’ internship program is an important channel to show students our work can be meaningful in many ways. It shows students that integration between their work and personal needs is possible and can bring fulfillment to many areas of their lives. We have hired many of our interns full-time.

Over the past year, we’ve interviewed many new grads, and they’ve often asked us if we have work-from-home options available. Although we were in a pilot of this type of work, we were not able to commit this experience to them. Employees also started to inquire more frequently — and asked for our trust in them — to be independent and work when they wanted. They wanted the flexibility. The pandemic has challenged us and changed us to align their desires with a recognition that we could see strong results from this type of flexible work arrangement. We believe we’ll be even better positioned to meet our early-career employees in the place they want to be moving forward.

How would you “sell” a young executive on why they should enter the credit union field?

DL: The reasons are endless. In a world of churning and burning workers to maximize profits for the short-term, credit unions offer community and security that many other employers can’t. Credit union employees tend to feel a sense of community and togetherness, and everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the long-term success of the company, no matter the role within the organization. Helping people in your local community gives work a purpose and meaning that would be hard to match for larger global companies.

A credit union is the perfect combination of internal career opportunities with the security a startup can’t offer. On the flip side, you’re not just a number. Credit unions typically have consistent growth, which allows for future opportunities for your career.

These interviews have been edited and condensed.

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