A Credit Union Career Isn’t For Me. Change My Mind. (Part 4)

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.

 
 

More than 900 credit unions participated directly in the Paycheck Protection Program, according to data released by the Treasury Department. Credit unions made up 18% of the program’s lending institutions yet claimed a much smaller percentage of the actual loans, underscoring the movement’s commitment to local small business borrowers. The data suggests these credit union loans helped save more than 1.1 million jobs.

But credit unions aren’t just saving jobs on Main Street, they’re saving jobs within their own walls, too. According to first quarter data available from Callahan & Associates, total employment at U.S. credit unions increased 3.4% annually in the first quarter of 2020 to 317,500. What’s more, credit unions have avoided laying off employees during the coronavirus pandemic and resulting branch closures, opting instead to redeploy staff members to areas with increased activity.

Now, how can credit unions attract new talent? And, once they have that talent in-house, how can credit unions keep it there?

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?

Read what three of them had to say.

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)", “A Credit Union Career Isn’t For Me. Change My Mind. (Part 2)”, and “A Credit Union Career Isn’t For Me. Change My Mind. (Part 3)”.

Shelley Mitchell, Chief Risk and Knowledge Officer, Abound Federal Credit Union ($1.7B, Radcliff, KY)

How did you get started in the credit union industry?

Shelley Mitchell, Chief Risk and Knowledge Officer, Abound FCU

Shelley Mitchell: I started my career in public accounting. My area of focus was mainly large financial institutions. I worked on Abound Credit Union’s audit and was scheduled to take over as the lead on the engagement when I decided I was ready for a change from public accounting. I wanted a career that allowed for reasonable work hours and less travel. I was fortunate that I had a lot of great clients, Abound being one of them, that had available openings.

After weighing my options, I chose Abound because it stood out from the rest. It was clearly focused on improving members’ lives and the communities it serves. With an accounting and finance background, you don’t get a lot of job opportunities that allow you to feel like you can use your skill set to make an impact on people’s lives. It felt like a rare opportunity, and I can honestly say I was right.

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

Shelley Mitchell

Abound FCU
Chief Risk and Knowledge Officer, 2018-present
Chief Internal Auditor, 2016-2018

BKD CPAs & Advisors
Senior Associate II, 2011-2015

SM: It is important to help them understand that, regardless of the size of the credit union, there are opportunities for talented workers to grow both professionally and personally. Young people want to make a difference — they don’t want to show up every day to a job they don’t care about. Credit unions provide the perfect opportunity. Helping young workers understand they can use their skills and have a meaningful, fulfilling career is the key to recruiting and retaining young talent.

Young talent is important for so many reasons. First, the world is changing quickly. It is important to have broad representation in both manager and entry positions to ensure the credit union understands areas for growth and opportunity that align with the future. Second, young workers are the future. Ingraining these young workers in the industry early allows them to build expertise while providing a fresh and unbiased perspective.

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

SM: Young talent is important for so many reasons. First, the world is changing quickly. It is important to have broad representation in both manager and entry positions to ensure the credit union understands areas for growth and opportunity that align with the future. Second, young workers are the future. Ingraining these young workers in the industry early allows them to build expertise while providing a fresh and unbiased perspective.

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."

Randy Karnes, CEO, CU*Answers

Randy Karnes, CEO, CU*Answers

How did you get started in the credit union industry?

Randy Karnes: In a moment of panic. Following a bankruptcy and a life crisis, I rethought how I was approaching my financial life and career. I wanted a career that not only funded my future but also contributed to life skills I could build on. Credit unions offer that many times over with a unique business charter that is a win-win for customers and owners. Credit unions offer a career that teaches credit and investment values and a career where the goal is to improve everyone’s stake in life.

I started with a league data processing vendor and quickly found my way to a few credit unions that invested in me with the same cooperative spirit that they invested in everyone. Sometimes, a little panic is all you need for clarity.

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

Randy Karnes

CU*Answers
President/CEO, 1994-present

RK: What worked for me was the fact credit unions were willing to share their opportunities with me. They made me believe I could do anything within their organizations simply by applying myself. If customers could immediately qualify to be owners, I could be a staff member and an owner on the first day. Vested with that confidence and opportunity, I jumped in and grabbed as much responsibility as they were willing to share — credit unions are a fast track to doing more than just your daily job. More credit unions should sell that: Join us, lead us, and earn more than just a paycheck.

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

RK: Every business leader hopes to connect with the customer on a special level, to connect with a source of capital to apply for opportunity development, and to find a way to connect as a vested partner in the effort. I believe cooperatives are the best way for the average person to make all of that work.

Credit unions are the best example of a cooperative-charted organization ready for hungry, aggressive, and talented business thinkers to connect with all three. The credit union industry offers a vast diversity of size, communities, and opportunities that extend way beyond the job description or titles. If you are a go-getter, it’s a space that lets you grow quickly into new opportunities almost monthly. It worked for me, it can work for you.

Bruce Adams, President/CEO, Credit Union League of Connecticut

How did you get started in the credit union industry?

Bruce Adams, President/CEO, Credit Union League of Connecticut

Bruce Adams: I became interested in credit unions during my time as general counsel and acting commissioner for the Connecticut Department of Banking. While there, I witnessed firsthand not only the role credit unions play in the delivery of financial services across the country but also how they use their unique design to provide compassionate, considerate service to members and communities. I championed the effort to secure a tax exemption for state-chartered credit unions while at the Connecticut Department of Banking.

After rounding out my public service with roles as general counsel for our lieutenant governor and as deputy commissioner of our Department of Revenue Services, I headed straight away to the Credit Union League of Connecticut. For a former public servant, credit unions offer the perfect blend of priorities: They must seek profit margin but do so in service to their mission. That is perfect for me, and I’m honored to have been selected to lead the League into the future.  

Bruce Adams

Credit Union League of Connecticut
President/CEO, 2019-present

Connecticut Department of Revenue Services
Deputy Commissioner, 2019-2019

Office of Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman
General Counsel, 2016-2019

Connecticut Department of Banking
General Counsel, 2014-2016
Acting Commissioner, 2015-2015

Governor Dan Malloy
Deputy Legal Counsel, 2012-2014

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

BR: Recruiting the next generation into the credit union space is essential. And, it is not just about workers. On the surface, the fintech industry appears as though it is coming to kill traditional financial institutions. But this disruption, in my view, is the opportunity of a lifetime for credit unions. For all of its bells and whistles, fintech — across the board — lacks one critical element: the human touch.

Fortunately, credit unions are grounded in the principles of relationship banking. They can use fintech to build stronger, more loyal relationships with their members and, in turn, attract a younger workforce and member base. The average age of credit union members continues to creep up. Recruiting young people into the credit union space is not only a matter of positioning for success, it is a matter of outright survival.

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

BR: First, it should be known that there is plenty of money to be made in the credit union field. Opportunities for growth and success abound in an industry that thrives on creativity and flexibility.

Young financial services executives are told far too often that the greatest benefit of working for a credit union is the opportunity to do good in the world — to have a purpose in your job. Messages like that presuppose that the executive will suffer an opportunity cost in their wage. Although working in a job with a purpose and a mission is critically important, so is the personal profit motive. We all want to provide for ourselves and our families, and that is more than possible when working for a credit union. All things being equal, why wouldn’t a young executive come running to a mission-driven field that also comes with plenty of opportunity to make a good living?

These interviews have been edited and condensed.

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