A Credit Union Career Isn’t For Me. Change My Mind. (Part 1)

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.

 
 

Unemployment in the United States jumped into the double-digits in April, hitting 14.7% as the fallout of the coronavirus continues to deepen. But even as credit unions put systems and strategies into place to help members and employees withstand the worst of the pandemic, so, too, are they bucking national employment trends.

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. Employment growth, however, is slowing as credit unions across the country employ full-time staff in lieu of part-time. The number of full-time employees increased 3.8% over the past year, whereas the number of part-time employees decreased 4.5%. What’s more, credit unions have avoided laying off employees so far in the second quarter. Instead, organizations report redeploying staff members to support increased call center activity and back-office functions. 

Anecdotal evidence doesn’t suggest this trend will soon change, as credit union leaders express more interest in recruiting young, talented workers than downsizing payrolls. 

With this in mind, CreditUnions.com reached out to several 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?

See what three of them had to say below, and come back to CreditUnions.com to read more responses. 

Related Resource: Doug Fecher, CEO of Wright-Patt Credit Union, dishes on why he joined the credit union industry and how other cooperatives can entice young, up-and-coming leaders to do the same. Read "How To Stand Out In A Field Of Potential Employers."

Diana Dykstra, CEO, California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues 

How did you get started in the credit union industry?

Diana Dykstra, CEO, California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues

Diana Dykstra: I was working for Bank of America for almost six years and took a leave of absence when my daughter was born. When I came back, the bank had restricted its branches, and I had to accept a job I didn’t want to do. I saw an ad for The Golden 1. I didn’t know what it was it, but I knew it was stealing my checking accounts. So, I applied and got the job. 

I didn’t know what a credit union was, but within two months I saw the significant difference. I’ve always been people-driven. At Bank of America, I was written up for helping a customer at my desk because that customer didn’t meet certain loan and money standards. 

Moving to Golden 1 fit my need for helping people. I was there for 15 years. I started as a part-time loan clerk, pulling credit reports and filing paperwork. When I left Golden 1, I was senior vice president over lending, collections, call center, and marketing. The credit union gave me the opportunity to experiment with where my talents lie. I moved to many different departments. My co-worker and I started Credit Union Direct Lending [now CU Direct] because we saw a need to get financing quicker for people buying cars.  

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

Diana Dykstra

CCUL
President/CEO, 2010-present

SF Fire Credit Union
President/CEO, 2004-2010

Coast Hills FCU
President/CEO, 2000-2004

The Golden 1 Credit Union
Senior Vice President, 1982-1997

DD: There are a couple of  ways. Credit unions recruit the way we have always recruited, by looking for a  skillset for a specific job. Today’s younger workers want to explore how to make things better and how things can change. If we don’t give them the license to do that, they’re not going to walk through the door and say, “I want to work for a credit union.” The average age of a credit union executive is getting older, and we need new, fresh ideas. Credit unions need to be open and not pigeonhole someone in a job title and function. 

Credit unions also need to find ways to engage young staff and re-envision how we work and how we can improve the lives of our members. That’s important because — as enlightened as I think I am — I get stuck in my ways. Having a younger viewpoint keeps the credit union fresh and forward-looking. If we want to recruit new members, we need that younger direction to keep us relevant. Why do we have a separate checking account? Why are there five different savings and loan accounts? 

Look at how the fintechs are attracting all kinds of borrowers, and savers, and investors. If we don’t get that younger perspective on where the world is going, we will be left behind.

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

DD: We are big enough that we can do good but small enough that you can make a difference. You can move the needle at a credit union in a way that you can’t at a lot of large companies. And we’re thirsty for change. 

Tom Ryan, CEO, Langley Federal Credit Union ($3.2B, Newport News, VA)

How did you get started in the credit union industry?

Tom Ryan, CEO, Langley FCU

Tom Ryan: I took a job at Digital Employees’ Federal Credit Union, DCU, in March of 1986. I was a year out of college and looking for a job. I wasn’t thinking about a career; my career sort of found me.

DCU provided a rewarding experience for growth and learning. I was surrounded by great people that became a second family. During my 26 years at DCU, I was given opportunities to lead in a fast-paced environment that included the organization reinventing itself around who it served and how it served. Ultimately, that experience led to a leadership role at Langley FCU in 2012.  

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

Tom Ryan

Langley FCU
President/CEO, 2012-present

Digital FCU
EVP/COO, 1986-2012

TR: We have an amazing group of younger employees at Langley. I’m impressed by the impact they make every day in our organization. We take great pride in creating a culture that provides employees the opportunity to develop and career paths for them to realize their aspirations.  

As a medium-sized company, we’ve embraced that some promotional and career opportunities might take them beyond Langley. We celebrate these moves as much as we do internal promotions. We also support our team members by providing tuition assistance for all accredited programs. If they want to pursue a degree in electrical engineering, we pay for those courses. What we ask in return is they do their best work while they’re here at Langley.

On the surface, our business might not seem as exciting as Google or Apple. Credit unions are purpose-driven and make a meaningful contribution to their communities. I think this aspect is meaningful to all generational groups, including millennials and Gen Z.  

At Langley, we are working on developing our employer brand and making that resonate within our community. We have a great story to tell, we just need to tell it better. 

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

TR: Working at credit unions provides a gateway to work with smart people who are willing to share and work collaboratively toward one another’s success. That is unique to the credit union industry and runs counter to the world of hyper-competitive forces you see in banking.  

To an emerging leader working in this industry, credit unions provide a rewarding experience of making a difference in peoples’ lives. Purpose, values, and business goals are aligned in a way that is personally fulfilling. I believe employees find an opportunity to explore different components of our business that leads to professional development, and our relative size provides for career mobility and faster career progression than many larger companies.

Ultimately, my advice is to find a career that you find rewarding and a company that appreciates you. Surround yourself with people you genuinely like to work with. If that’s a credit union – great.  If not, keep searching. 

Maurice Smith, CEO, Local Government Federal Credit Union ($2.4B, Raleigh, NC)

How did you get started in the credit union industry?

Maurice Smith, CEO, LGFCU

Maurice Smith: The official start of my career began as a loan officer in 1979 for State Employees’ Credit Union [in North Carolina] right after college. This was a formative position in terms of helping me understand the front-line services of a credit union and meeting the needs of members. Those seem like simpler times. No internet. No ATMs. No mobile phones. Nevertheless, the pure cooperative philosophy of credit unions was so very relevant.

The unofficial start of my career began when I was 12 years old. Through the guidance of my father, who encouraged me to choose a career early and prepare, I decided banking would be my life’s mission. I chose banking because I was taught the health of a community is often determined by its access to fair, affordable, and responsible financial resources. Absent such leads to the kinds of social ills that plague some neighborhoods. It has been a dream come true to combine the discipline of banking with the cooperative spirit of credit unions. This is where I belong.

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

Maurice Smith

Local Government FCU
CEO, 2017-present

Local Government FCU
President, 1999-present

Local Government FCU
EVP, 1992-1999

State Employees’ Credit Union
VP, 1979-1992

MS: Young workers are not different from any other target market. They want to feel they matter. They want products and services that meet their needs. They need credit unions to connect the dots between their ambition and our wherewithal to help them succeed.

Credit unions can reach young workers by following three broad strategies. First, credit unions must speak their language. I don’t mean using popular idioms. I mean speaking with young markets through the channels they value, in a way that shows empathy and at a time when they need us the most. Second, offer products that matter. This goes beyond rates and prices. This is a focus on the user experience. Finally, create a relatable and genuine brand image. It is not enough to be operationally efficient. A credit union must look the part as well.

Reaching young workers is important because it has balance sheet implications. The younger demographics crave services that produce earning assets — loans and transactions. Also, a younger membership helps ensures a growing, sustainable customer base. Speaking philosophically, serving every aspect of the membership is what credit unions are supposed to do. This gets to our equalitarian principle that all members deserve equal treatment. 

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

MS: I don’t know a young person who, after graduating from school, intentionally seeks a dead-end, meaningless job. The folks I speak with aspire to change the world, do good, fight injustices, make their parents proud, and feel good about themselves. There are many ways to find this kind of self-satisfaction. I defend credit unions as a clear choice for aspiring young leaders who want to make a difference.

These interviews have been edited and condensed.

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