How To Recruit The Next Generation Of Credit Union Leaders

Young employees making their mark on their organizations talk about how they started their credit union careers and ponder how the industry can attract up-and-coming leaders.

 
 

This summer, CreditUnions.com published a four-part series asking established industry professionals for their thoughts on how credit unions can attract up-and-coming leaders to their workforces.

Now, it’s time to hear from these emerging leaders themselves. CreditUnions.com tapped HR departments across the United States looking for budding talent making a mark on their organizations.

When we found them, we posed these five questions:

  • How did you begin your credit union career? Did you know what one was before you started?
  • What do you do at the credit union?
  • What are your career plans?
  • What development opportunities exist at your credit union? Have you been able to participate in them?
  • How can credit unions recruit budding leaders?

Read what they have 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)”,A Credit Union Career Isn’t For Me. Change My Mind. (Part 3)”, and “A Credit Union Career Isn’t For Me. Change My Mind. (Part 4)”.

Brittany McGrath, Owners Advocate Manager, Northern Credit Union ($358.0M, Watertown, NY)

Brittany McGrath took out her first auto loan with Northern Credit Union. The rural New York cooperative made such a positive impression on McGrath that when the opportunity arose to join the team, she couldn’t pass it up. As the owners advocate manager, McGrath has her hands in much of the credit union’s self-service technology. That’s no small feat considering Northern’s technological capability is well beyond its asset size.

McGrath has more than 10 years of experience in call center operations, program management, organizational development, and team building. She’s got big plans for the next 10 years, too.

How did begin your credit union career? Did you know what one was before this?

Brittany McGrath, Owners Advocate Manager, Northern Credit Union

Brittany McGrath: Prior to working at Northern Credit Union, I worked for a telecommunications company that closed my location. While I was searching for a new career, I came across a management opening at Northern. I recalled the experience I had with the credit union when I took out my first auto loan and did some research. After looking at its website, watching the testimonials of members, and learning about its community involvement, there was no way I could pass up the opportunity.

I knew credit unions have members, but I did not know about some of the significant differences I know about today.

What do you do at the credit union?

BM:I am the owners advocate manager at Northern. My team and I support incoming/outgoing calls, personal teller machines, mobile and online messages, texting, web chat, and video banking.

What are your career plans?

Brittany McGrath

Northern Credit Union
Owner Advocate Manager, 2019-2020

Concentrix
Operations Manager, 2015-2019
Team Leader, 2013-2015
Lead Trainer, 2012-2013

BM: My plan is to continue developing and growing with Northern. Currently, I am building my knowledge, strengthening my team, and working toward the next chapter in my professional career.

What development opportunities exist at your credit union? Have you been able to participate in any?

BM: We have many different opportunities in several areas at Northern Credit Union. We have opportunities for supervisors, managers, lenders, coaches, and more, and we offer training to ensure employees are successful going into a role.

When I joined Northern, I went through an extensive leadership training where I observed our culture, had several different mentors, and worked with other leaders to help my professional development. They requested I provide them feedback for their development as well.

In addition to opportunities for promotion, we also offer knowledge advancement opportunities. Northern encourages internal owners to drive their career and demonstrate their hunger to continue to learn and take on new opportunities — from learning services to new account and lending. I recently accepted a new opportunity to work with the operations department where I can continue to grow my knowledge to become more universal in assisting our members and team members.

How can credit unions recruit budding leaders?

BM: Budding leaders are seeking employment where we can develop professionally, build long-term careers, grow, and see the value in what we are doing. We want to make a difference and have a positive impact on those we are helping.

Nickolas Kitchens, Esq., Director, Assistant General Counsel, Georgia’s Own Credit Union ($3.1B, Atlanta, GA)

Nickolas Kitchens started his credit union career with four-and-a-half years of bank experience under his belt. He knew what a credit union was, but it wasn’t until he stepped through the doors of Georgia’s Own Credit Union in 2015 that he started to truly understand the difference and the value of the cooperative financial services model.

“Banks preached consultative selling, but the emphasis was truly selling,” Kitchens says. “It was incredibly refreshing to find an organization and industry that was walking the walk.”

Here’s what else the assistant general counsel for Georgia’s Own has to say about a career in the credit union industry.

How did you begin your credit union career? Did you know what one was before you started?

Nickolas Kitchens, Director, Assistant General Counsel, Georgia’s Own Credit Union

Nickolas Kitchens: At 8:30 a.m. the Thursday after I finished taking the Georgia Bar Exam in 2015, I walked into Georgia’s Own Credit Union. The HR director and I had worked together at a previous financial institution, and she was looking to hire a contract recruiter to help staff-up a team for a core conversion project. I accepted the role, not fully knowing how credit unions differed from banks.

Having worked for a bank for four-and-a-half years, I had more than a cursory understanding of credit unions but did not fully appreciate the profound difference in mission. Banks preached consultative selling, but the emphasis was truly selling. This one-sided outward push stood in stark contrast to the people-helping-people mantra I saw on full display when I joined Georgia’s Own. Every decision was viewed through the lens of “does it help our members?” It was incredibly refreshing to find an organization and industry that was walking the walk.

What do you do at the credit union?

NK: My title is director, assistant general counsel. For the past two years, I have worked as a part of the enterprise risk management team. I oversee the day-to-day legal operations, serve on the incident management team, and manage both the fraud and physical security teams.

In addition to legal duties, I serve on many project teams. Of note, I serve as the project lead for the employee engagement initiative, where we have lifted engagement scores and inter-departmental satisfaction for the credit union 40% and 48%, respectively, in the three years since the project’s inception.

What are your career plans?

Nickolas Kitchens

Georgia's Own Credit Union
Director, Assistant General Counsel, 2019-2020
Staff Attorney,  2016-2019
Contract Recruiter/HR Generalist, 2015-2016

Fifth Third Bank
Talent Acquisition Professional, 2010-2014

Principle Solutions Group
Executive Recruiter, 2007-2010

NK: I want to continue to gain mastery of my current role while broadening my skill set by taking on greater responsibilities through special projects. Matt Havice, my manager and the senior vice president of enterprise risk management and general counsel, as well as Eric Broome, the chief operations officer, have helped me grow in my role and also found creative ways to include me in strategic conversations that stretch my understanding of the credit union.

As for the future, my wife would argue I could never not be an attorney, but the idea of running a credit union is very attractive to me.

What development opportunities exist at your credit union? Have you been able to participate in them?

NK: Georgia’s Own has a tuition reimbursement benefit, which I used to obtain my MBA from UGA.

Additionally, the credit union has established an emerging leader program in the past year. I was inducted into the inaugural class and have worked through the curriculum. I’ve learned many new skills that I’ve implemented as a leader and forged partnerships with other participants that work in various business units throughout the credit union.

Another invaluable opportunity I was fortunate to be able to take advantage of was a formal 360-degree evaluation that included one-on-one personal coaching from a certified executive coach.

How can credit unions recruit budding leaders?

NK: I’m not sure this is a challenge that is limited to credit unions. The war on talent has persisted, and the institutions that appear to be immune from these limitations, of late, have been able to build cultures where their ethos permeates the entire organization. Credit unions are uniquely positioned to leverage this, as social responsibility is in the DNA of credit unions given their cooperative origin.

Additionally, companies that champion meritocracy while investing in the development of their employees are always going to make for an employer of choice.

As both these options are already present within credit unions, there also exists a great opportunity to promote their value proposition to applicants and emphasize their need to invest in state-of-the-art tech, which in a lot of ways makes credit unions a “startup” without the risk. They have projects on the horizon that are at the core of the business; and, given they are well-established, the risk profile is much lower. It could be argued the appetite for innovation for many credit unions is equal to, and often greater than, that of the banks or fintechs.

Having projects that allow employees to have a meaningful impact on the organization, as well as the ability to come in and do so immediately, is a key differentiator in the eyes of many candidates.

Cassie Estal, Director of Member Relations, Northern Credit Union ($358.0M, Watertown, NY)

For Cassie Estal, starting a career in the credit union industry was not so much a question of if, but when. The graduate of St. Lawrence University in upstate New York is one of four family members currently employed by Northern Credit Union. Before she began a full-time career at Northern, Estal had experience as a summer hire. She knew well the value proposition of cooperative financial institutions; now, the director of member relations at Northern works across the organization to support the credit union’s members and communities.

How did you begin your credit union career? Did you know what one was before you started?

Cassie Estal, Director of Member Relations, Northern Credit Union

Cassie Estal: I started my credit union career working as a casual employee for five summers in a row while I was home from St. Lawrence University, where I earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and psychology. During the summer months, I was afforded the opportunity to work in various departments including human resources, loan processing, and the call center. This gave me great insight and experience with the different aspects of the credit union world and, most importantly, the culture at Northern. This experience led me to secure a full-time position with Northern once I graduated from St. Lawrence.

Prior to working with Northern, I always knew the value of credit unions and the impact they have on their members and communities. My husband, father, and brother all work for Northern as well, so the credit union difference has been ingrained in me for a long time.

What do you do at the credit union?

CE: I am the director of member relations. The member relations team consists of all of the branch teams that help our members with transactions, servicing items, new accounts, and technology. I work directly with the vice president of member relations helping to coordinate projects and initiatives that help grow the member relations team and our impact on the communities we serve. I also am the liaison for the member relations team. I work with the other departments that we partner with frequently, including marketing, training, IT, facilities, accounting, electronic solutions, and more.

What are your career plans?

Cassie Estal

Northern Credit Union
Director of Member Relations, 2017-Present
Electronic Solutions Product & Service Assistant Manager, 2017-2017
Electronic Solutions Professional II, 2015-2017
Electronic Solutions Professional, 2014-2015
Consumer Loan Funder, 2014-2014
Consumer Loan Processor/Funder, 2013-2013
Human Resources Intern, 2012-2012
Virtual Solutions Professional, 2011-2011
Human Resources Assistant, 2010-2010

CE: I plan to continue to positively impact Northern as much as possible while growing my knowledge, skills, and abilities. Northern has a huge place in my heart, and I plan to stay as long as I can to help make it the best credit union it can be.

What development opportunities exist at your credit union? Have you been able to participate in them?

CE: It is very important to us at Northern to provide opportunities for individuals to expand their knowledge and experience, whether in their own role or moving into other roles. We are constantly evaluating training and coaching opportunities that allow individuals to grow.

I work directly with our training team to coordinate training classes for our member relationship specialists and leaders. We are also working on rolling out core competency, which will ensure the path for advancing in one’s role at the credit union is clear with continuous compensation and performance assessments.

How can credit unions recruit budding leaders?

CE: I believe credit unions can recruit budding leaders by allowing individuals to start the way I did. Credit unions should recruit young professionals who are in the process of completing their education and looking for experiences to grow their knowledge and professional maturity. Providing opportunities for them to work in various departments or even shadow to learn more gives these young aspiring professionals insight into the credit union industry. With this experience, it is likely they will want to stay on with the credit union full time as a contributing member of the team and potentially as a leader in the future.

Abigail McGraw, Data Analytics Specialist, Abound Credit Union ($1.8B, Radcliff, KY)

When Abigail McGraw started coursework in business data analytics and economics at Western Kentucky University, she had no idea her major would lead her to the state’s largest credit union, where she employs analytics and data mining to better assist members.

During the fall semester of her senior year in college, McGraw accepted an analytics internship with Radcliff-based Abound Credit Union. Like many of her peers, she had little knowledge of credit unions, but the cooperative’s focus on data analytics piqued her interest. Less than a year later, that internship turned into full-time employment.

“Abby is a great example of the type of person we try to recruit out of college,” says Ray Springsteen, CEO at Abound. “She makes an impact immediately, has amazing ideas, and influences how we think about serving members.”

How did you begin your credit union career? Did you know what one was before you started?

Abigail McGraw, Data Analytics Specialist, Abound Credit Union
Credit: Western Kentucky University

Abigail McGraw: My employment started as an internship during the fall semester of my senior year in college. It was the second analytics internship I had completed after a two-year internship with the Tennessee Valley Authority.

I honestly had very little knowledge of what a credit union was and had never had any personal experience working with one. What caught my eye was Abound’s interest in starting data analytics. I saw the position as a fantastic opportunity to challenge myself to better my skills.

What do you do at the credit union?

AM: I am currently the data analytics specialist in our newly formed data analytics department. The goal of the department is to centralize reporting, evaluate and reinvent our current business metrics, and implement fully automated business intelligence reporting. Live, on-time tracking of advanced metrics will allow us to better monitor the overall performance of the credit union and to better serve our members as well as lay the groundwork to move into implementing artificial intelligence modeling.

What are your career plans?

Abigail McGraw

Abound Credit Union
Data Analytics Specialist, 2020-Present

AM: I plan to continue to develop the data analytics department at Abound and to further my education. I’m enrolled at Cornell University for a fall online course on machine learning using Python. Eventually, I would like to explore options to earn a master’s degree in data science.

What development opportunities exist at your credit union? Have you been able to participate in them?

AM: Abound has an incredible culture that stems from our core values, one of which is being learning driven, and there are many opportunities for professional development through ongoing training. I took advantage of this when a coworker and I requested to take MSR [member service representative] training to better understand the many different product application processes and to better understand how MSRs enter data so we can build more efficient queries and map data more accurately.

Our company culture largely comes from our core values, which are being passionate, learning driven, connected, selfless, and fun. These values create a workplace environment that is focused on serving members to the best of our ability while making sure we take time to have fun through ice cream parties, company events, office birthdays, or office lunches.

How can credit unions recruit budding leaders?

AM: I think one of the best ways to recruit young leaders is to be involved in your community; most importantly, in the local colleges or universities. Offering internship experience to young professionals is a huge benefit to your company and to the students.

It is also important to be proactive about the culture of the company. One of the reasons I choose Abound was because of the incredible culture and my amazing team where I knew I would be supported in my work and encouraged to always reach for more.

Neal Weber, Vice President of Finance, Blue Federal Credit Union ($1.3B, Cheyenne, WY)

Neal Weber did not know much about credit unions when he graduated from college. Although he was a finance major, his studies provided only a few pages of information about the cooperative banking movement. Today, Neal is vice president of finance at Blue Federal Credit Union, and he has big plans for his continued career at Blue. For credit unions that want to attract leaders like him, Weber says culture is key.

How did you begin your credit union career? Did you know what one was before you started?

Neal Weber, Vice President of Finance, Blue FCU

Neal Weber: I was fortunate to start my credit union career immediately following college. Although my hometown of 3,500 people did not have a single credit union, I majored in finance and minored in banking and financial services in college. Because of this, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in banking at a broad level but had only limited understanding of credit unions and how they differed from banks. Of all the classes I took on finance and banking, the full volume of my studies on credit unions was relegated to a couple of pages in a single textbook.

An acquaintance was a member of Blue Federal Credit Union — then called Warren Federal — and this individual strongly recommended the organization. I learned of an opening for a financial analyst position, which was exactly the type of starting role I was looking for. I was initially hesitant, but applying for it was one of the best decisions I have made.

What do you do at the credit union?

Neal Weber

Blue FCU
VP of Finance, 2016-present
Director of Business Intelligence, 2016-2016

Warren FCU
Finance Manager, 2015-2016
Financial Analyst, 2012-2015

AristaTek
Marketing Assistant, 2011-2012

NW: I am currently serving as vice president of finance for Blue Federal Credit Union. My areas of responsibility include accounting, finance, payroll, and business intelligence. I enjoy serving on the asset-liability committee (ALCO) that sets interest rates, fees, and product details. I’m also heavily involved in financial forecasting and planning and in the continued development of a data-driven culture and strategy at the organization.

What are your career plans?

NW: With my background in finance, I hope to one day have the opportunity to step deeper into strategic management as chief financial officer. Much further down the road, I believe I could make a strong CEO with a foundational understanding of financial management combined with a deep and sincere passion for helping members succeed in their financial lives. I firmly believe in everything Blue represents to its members and communities and hope to one day retire with the organization.

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."

What development opportunities exist at your credit union? Have you been able to participate in them?

NW: Blue offers excellent development opportunities with a renewed focus on building its internal talent in recent years. Over the past eight years, I have had the opportunity to “Crash” CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference, build relationships with peers at Western CUNA Management School, and pursue my Certified Management Accountant (CMA) credential. Blue has encouraged me to pursue these opportunities and supported my pursuit at each step in the process.

I have also participated in internal leadership training classes as well as mentorship programs that allow leaders — regardless of who they report to in the organizational hierarchy — to share knowledge. I believe having a relationship with a mentor is an especially effective development tool for young leaders.

How can credit unions recruit budding leaders?

NW: It all starts with culture. The culture within the credit union movement is exceptional and remains its strongest selling point. Younger generations are increasingly asserting their preference for organizations that align with their values over those that simply offer the highest paycheck. Credit unions are uniquely positioned to appeal to these types of leaders.

The credit union philosophy of people helping people stands out against a backdrop of organizations with very different beliefs. Faith in the national banks is reaching all-time lows, and many other companies are struggling to balance profit maximization with other stakeholder interests. Credit unions can attract those who are disgusted with unethical behavior at other organizations.

Challenges do remain, however, with the single largest being widespread misunderstanding of what the credit union movement represents. I’ve heard some who believe credit unions are staffed exclusively with volunteers; others believe credit unions are reserved for a certain segment of the population. All these misconceptions hinder the movement’s ability to recruit top talent.

Working directly with universities and colleges to create internship and management training programs could be a key component in overcoming these challenges. Like myself at the time, I’m sure many college graduates today have little understanding of what sets credit unions apart. These programs could not only overcome this knowledge discrepancy but also introduce the credit union culture that I believe is critical to attracting talent.

These interviews have been edited and condensed.

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Aug. 24, 2020


Comments

 
 
 
  • Thank you for this insight from these young professionals in the credit union industry. We strongly believe that the future of credit unions is in the hands of young people and it is important to encourage young people to become leaders of the credit union movement. It was interesting to read that neither Abigail or Neal had much knowledge of credit unions before working at their respective CUs. This just shows credit unions have a long way to go in creating awareness of the services they offer to potential members.
    Anonymous