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.