06 November 2009

Turning the Page

In November 2003, my wife (girlfriend at the time) was in her final year of graduate school at Wake Forest University. We had been dating for five years by that point, but for the previous year and a half she and our English bulldog, Leota, had been living in Winston-Salem, NC, while I lived and worked north of Richmond, Virginia. Living so far apart was taking its financial and emotional toll, so I constantly kept my eyes open for career opportunities that would allow us to remedy our situation.

I found and responded to an ad in the Winston-Salem Journal for a Director of Public Relations position at Members Credit Union in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. This was an interesting choice for me. Working in the financial services sector had never been appealing to me. In fact, even though the dot-com crash destroyed the job market for college students as unfortunate as I was to graduate in 2001, I simply refused to meet with recruiters from large banks, investment firms, and the like. I knew very little about credit unions, even though I had been a longtime member at Indiana's Centra Credit Union. I knew even less about Members Credit Union, Winston-Salem, public relations, and even North Carolina.

I didn't get the job.

Members Credit Union hired another applicant instead of me, but offered to make me her assistant. I accepted, and did the best I could to absorb everything I possibly could about credit unions, public relations, financial services, and marketing. I learned about the credit union structure, and how Members Credit Union carefully followed the most sacred of credit union philosophies. Although we offered the latest in financial services technology, this was a traditional (read: wonderful) credit union that insisted on putting people over profit, serving the community, keeping deposit rates high and loan rates low, financial literacy education, and treating employees well. I had found a home.

After only a few months, my boss suddenly resigned. I was lucky enough to be selected as her replacement. In the nearly six years since, I have been blessed to serve a credit union that truly understands, and lives, the credit union difference. Members Credit Union is conservative with lending and investments because we see the credit union's assets as our members' assets. Steady growth, we have always argued, is much more desirable (and responsible) than forced, expensive, and risky growth. Thanks to the careful guidance of our management team and volunteer board, we have always run a lean organization. We have always been open to new ideas, but insist that they be implemented with as little hard dollar costs as possible.

At times, the lack of budget dollars has been frustrating. Looking back, however, I would say that this experience was the greatest thing that could have possibly happened for my personal and professional development. They say that need is the mother of invention, but I'd argue that under-funded passion is. When you don't have the budget dollars to implement an idea, what do you do? Well, if you believe in the idea, you do anything you can to make it work within the budget. You read as much as you can. You work as hard as you possibly can. You connect with people with expertise on the subject. You teach yourself things that you never knew you would ever have a chance to learn. You work every relationship with every person outside of your organization to see your idea get its first breath of life.

This mindset has kept me interested in credit union innovation. It has convinced me that credit unions of all sizes and budgets can implement ideas they are passionate about. It has proven to me that the credit union difference is alive and well. It has allowed me to get to know many of you.

Today is my last day at Members Credit Union.

On Monday I start an 18-month contract with the Filene Research Institute to help credit unions across the globe learn about, implement, and create financial services innovations. Over the years, Filene's i3 Program has researched and created game-changing programs to help credit unions better serve, engage, and appeal to consumers. My goal will be to help as many credit unions as possible deliver these programs to their fields of membership.

This is a dream come true for me, and as close to a perfect professional fit I could ever hope to find for myself. I hope I've proven over the years that I deeply love credit unions, am a total financial services innovation nerd, and walk the talk when it comes to credit union cooperation and collaboration. This position will allow me to live and breathe my passions, while surrounding me with co-workers that I have always truly admired.

I'll miss Members Credit Union dearly, but can't wait to start this next chapter in my career. I hope you'll continue to be a part of it.

22 comments:

Michael said...

Glad to hear that the Warrior is returning to Big Ten country. Looks like a great fit. I wish you and your family well.

Ron Shevlin said...

Best of luck. I hope this doesn't mean you're going to stop blogging here.

Brandon Manus said...

Great to hear you will be continuing your support of the credit union movement. Best of luck at Filene.

Vickie Young said...

In the short time I've worked in the Credit Union industry, I've not met a more passionate advocate for the movement than you. This position sounds like a wonderful fit for you. Wishing you lots of success.

Andy said...

Congrats on the new gig Matt. Looking forward to watching the work you do with Filene. Good luck, and all the best in the new endeavor!

everythingcu said...

Congrats Matt! Break a leg in the new gig! I know you'll rock it!

-Morriss Partee

Jeff Hardin said...

Matt: this is a bittersweet day for me personally. I'm very happy for both for you personally (since the Filene gig is such a terrific opportunity) and for the credit union movement (because we get the benefit of your considerable talents and creativity on a national scale).

But at the same time, it's sad to know that the NC movement will be losing one of its best and brightest.

Best wishes in this new and exciting chapter for you! I have no doubt you'll do very, very well.

Ben said...

The Filene pond is small, and not all that deep, but it sure is fun. Welcome aboard ...

Guy Messick said...

Matt congratulations. I sensed from the beginning of the post that you were leaving the credit union but when I read it was going to Filene, I was thrilled. Credit unions will only have a chance of thriving if people like yourself with passion and ideas stay within the industry.

Jonathan said...

Congratulations. Sounds rewarding.
-Jonathan Curtis

Mikal said...

Great story. This shows that everything in life is meant to be. Congratulations.

David Gerbino said...

Congratulations on a successful stage one of your career. I fully expect you will be Crushing It with the Filene Research Institute.

I also hope your new gig does not get in the way of "The Credit Union Warrior"

@dmgerbino - Community Banker

Mike Banks said...

Matt - hate to see you leaving the NC credit union movement but it will be our loss but the cu movement as a whole a gain!!!

Please let em know if we, in NC, can ever be of service to you.

Jeanne Saarinen said...

Congratulations Matt - this is fantastic!

Bill Myers said...

Good Choice.

Denise Wymore said...

Ed would be proud. So am I.

Kelsey Balcaitis said...

You are going to love the people at Filene - everyone there is awesome!! Congrats and best of luck to you :)

Mark Arnold said...

Glad to see The Credit Union Warrior is going to help credit unions all across the country. The Filene Institute is fortunate to have someone with your skills.

Leesa said...

Best of luck, Matt! I wish you all the best. Continue through your career with the passion and enthusiam you have shown towards the CU industry thus far, and you will go far...I know it! Good luck in your new venture at Filene!

Matt, the Credit Union Warrior said...

I don't know how to respond to these comments in any other way than this: Thank you! It's been a pleasure working/blogging/meeting/talking/serving/laughing with all of you over the years. It won't stop here...it will only accelerate.

Tim McApine said...

Seems like a perfect match. Good luck with your next chapter.

Breathe said...

This is wonderful. Congrats! (I know, I know, I'm waaay behind. Stupid Congress)