Watch the finalists' presentations then vote!

Here are the finalists' presentations from yesterday in Las Vegas. Each of them did an awesome job! The videos are shown in the same order that they presented in.

First up was Amanda Thomas.

Second up was Jay Hansen.

Third up was Josh McAfee

Fourth up was Alexia Mavrakes.

And finally, Devin Selte was the fifth presenter.

Voting starts Tuesday at 8 a.m. Eastern and ends 8 p.m. Eastern!

The CUES Team

We’re Never Really Done

Many people have asked me recently “what has been your biggest takeaway from this competition?” The experience of being a Next Top Credit Union Exec finalist has taught me many things. For example, I learned the true meaning of this contest, which is the camaraderie, idea sharing, and support that comes from a shared experience such as this competition.

Throughout the last few months, Alexia, Devin, Jay, Josh and I have chatted over email and discussed our mutual passion for this industry and our individual credit unions. My biggest takeaway from this competition came from just that. We are all on a course of professional and personal development for which there isn’t a final destination. 

Through defining and developing our organizational culture at Members First Credit Union, I have realized that we are never going to be done with this “project.” As the environment changes, we will need to adapt to those changes. Moreover, true perfection can never be reached because there is always room for improvement.

Over the past year, I and my team at Members First have defined our culture and our identity as an organization, mapped out our gameplan with the elements of our culture standards and definition of our purpose, developed our team, and collaborated with other credit unions. We’ve achieved great results this year including being on track to experience the highest profitability we’ve had in over ten years. But the really important work has just begun. 

A successful organizational culture is made up of the people in your credit union, both employees and members, and it is a living element of your credit union’s strategic plan. The really meaningful work comes from bringing this “culture” to life every day so it is a consistent experience for our members. Our team is focused on sharing the values that we have created together.

A well-developed team may have a winning record, but that doesn’t mean it takes time off from practicing, honing its skills, and looking toward the future. We are going to continue to set the bar higher for ourselves, continue to learn, and continue to serve our members better than they would be served anywhere else. We’re in it for the entire season; not just today’s game.

Thank you to CUES and to Currency Marketing for offering this program, and allowing us the opportunity to share our successes with the credit union world. I look forward to making some new lifelong friends in Las Vegas next week, and am excited about participating in this once-in-a-lifetime experience.


A Passion for Our Movement

I was worried about the idea of participating in a competition like Next Top Credit Union Exec. I studied all of the outstanding competitors from last year, even the ones that weren’t finalists. When I saw the powerhouse credit unions that many of them hailed from and the pedigrees they had, I questioned whether I should even be considering it. We have some seriously sharp minds in credit union land, especially in the next generation of managers, and the common thread among all of us is an absolute passion for the ideals that mark our cooperatives. Big or small, we’re making some monumental achievements in a time when our trend-lines should be headed in the other direction.

As intimidated as I was, I was moved to action because I see the same need for sustainability in credit union leadership that CUES has identified. I’m still amazed by the transformation that a credit union has had in my life. Prior to starting at Leaders in May 2010, I had no knowledge of the benefit provided by a credit union or the storied heritage that we celebrated worldwide just a week ago. Before long though, I found myself championing the cause and evangelizing my friends and family. Not only was marketing a credit union as natural as riding a bike, but it felt like home. Conferences and league chapter meetings felt like family. No threat of competition, no holding cards close to the chest. 

Our movement is really powerful stuff!

So what could I bring to the table? The common thread among all meetings and forum discussions that I participated in was the shortfall between expense in positioning a financial institution well and the money allocated to get the job done. However, when I dug deeper, I noticed that many of the expenses involved were due to inefficiencies. This wasn’t just a problem at my credit union; it was an epidemic! My fear for our movement is that we will revolutionize every aspect of the way we do business, and overlook one of the most pivotal components: our marketing. 

I said it at the beginning of this competition and I believe it more now than ever—marketing is not and should never be considered a budgetary vacuum. When done right, marketing drives sustainability by taking all of the other rockstar components of your credit union and moving them to the top of your member’s (or potential member’s) mind. Not only that, but when we do it right, marketing is no longer viewed as a lag on the balance sheet, but rather a very small top number in an ROI calculation. It becomes that small number when we develop a plan and stick to it, when we leverage our brand and our human capital, and when we create fresh, dynamic content that resonates with our members.

I’ve seen the impact a credit union relationship can have in my own life, the lives of family and friends, and the part that it plays in revolutionizing the banking industry. I have a passion for seeing this powerful movement sustained and grown for as long as I can contribute toward it. I’m thankful for the opportunity to help lead a new generation of executives no less passionate than I am in this effort as we carry on a proud tradition.


The Evolution Continues

A few nights ago I was pondering my overall experiences with the Next Top Credit Union Exec competition and my work on the project I’ve been reporting on, which I’ve come to call “creating a sales environment in a culture of service and helping.” Over the past few months, I’ve been lucky enough to have people from inside and outside the credit union industry follow Aspire’s progress with this evolution. We’ve taken many steps so far to make this transition and still, the evolution continues. 

So far, we’ve focused mostly on lending-related issues. While building and growing a profitable loan portfolio will continue to be a major goal in our organization, we will also focus on ethically selling our deposit products and creating an outbound call center in our next steps of this project. Ultimately, we would like to be able to pre-approve members for loans with a firm offer of credit. To accomplish this without taking on unnecessary risk while ensuring we’re offering the products that will best help the member reach his or her financial goals, we will be doing extensive data mining to learn more about our membership and their wants and needs.      

I’ve also made new friends from within the industry who have a lot in common with me. We’re all young professionals, passionate about the credit union movement and we all want to be the Next Top Credit Union Exec! Shout out to all of the wonderful people I’m competing WITH (not against): Amanda Thomas (my “Crash the GAC” buddy), Devin Selte, Jay Hansen and Josh McAfee. You are all an inspiration to me and I’m truly honored to be amongst such an outstanding group of credit union professionals. Regardless of the results of this competition, I’m convinced that we will all be leading the credit union industry together one day in the not-so-distant future.

Everyone at CUES and Currency Marketing also deserves a shout out. Thank you, first of all, for creating this competition and for recognizing that there are many young leaders in this industry who are yearning to share their projects, ideas and visions with the credit union industry and the world! With the Next Top CU Exec search, you have given us a voice and a means to resonate with other leaders of the movement that we would not have had otherwise. Also, I have made several connections with other people in the movement that I likely would not have made if it was not for the recognition I’ve received as a contestant in the Next Top CU Exec search. 

Between the evolution that is taking place at my credit union and this competition itself, I have been able to focus on my professional and personal development in ways I never thought possible prior to now. Like creating a sales environment in a culture of service and helping, this is truly an evolutionary process for me and, like my project, this is just the beginning of a long road to success. The evolution continues… 


NTCUE | A Rich Experience

A reflection of my NTCUE experience


When an opportunity comes our way, what is our response? Do we boldly walk through the open door? Or do we complacently stay where we are? 

One of my favorite quotes is, “The saddest thing is not that we didn’t succeed, but rather we didn’t try (1).” This quote reminds me that sometimes the act of simply stepping out and trying is a success in itself. Throughout life, it is so easy to be consumed with the uncertainties that we often talk ourselves out of amazing opportunities. 

I was almost consumed with the uncertainties when I first considered entering the NTCUE contest. Upon hearing about the contest, I immediately went to The Next Top Credit Union Executive website where I read the contest details and viewed last year’s contestants. I was captivated by the idea of participating. I started to visualize myself creating, presenting and envisioning what could be.  However, as time passed inevitable questions started to run through my mind, “Will I really have time for this?” “How do I make a video?” “What would my project be?” Slowly those questions turned into excuses, which eroded my initial passion and vision for the contest. 

The turning point came in a meeting with my manager. I shared my hesitancies about moving forward and she responded by saying, “Jay, I think you should do it, I support you 100%.” That’s all I needed to hear. From there my excuses crumbled to the ground, leaving my passion and vision standing alone. As a result, I stepped out and created my first video, then I took another step by submitting my first blog post and I continued to move forward. This contest has been an exciting journey where I have grown in a variety of ways. 

(1) Webinar Knowledge: Prior to this project, my webinar experience merely consisted of attending internal webinars at BECU. Over the last four months, I have researched, studied and learned about the many facets of webinars and now consider myself strong in webinar knowledge. 

(2) Video Creation: Prior to this project, the last video I had made was seventeen years ago with my parent’s gigantic over-the-shoulder camcorder which used VHS tapes (how far technology has come). This contest put me in a position where I had to learn on my own how to film, edit and produce videos for the computer. With my MAC book, video software- iMovie ‘11, along with YouTube tutorials, I succeeded in creating my own videos. This is something I have truly enjoyed and plan on continuing with the rest of my life. 

(3) Financial Literacy Advocacy: Prior to this project, when thinking about financial literacy, I often saw the immensity of the problem, which at times, clouded my vision in seeing the solution. However, over the course of many months my eyes have been opened to numerous individuals and organizations that invest their resources into helping people become financially literate. 

(4) CU Movement Awareness: Since I joined BECU, I was aware of the Credit Union movement, however, this contest gave me an opportunity to observe and connect with many Credit Union professionals, growing my understanding that, “I am part of something bigger than myself.” 

Overall, this contest has been a rich experience. I am sure months from now I will discover additional areas which I have grown in as a result of boldly walking through the door of opportunity. 

Thank you for holding the contest again this year. I appreciate the opportunity to express my passion and ideas to the industry. 

Currently, I am finalizing the first webinar PowerPoint presentation as well as familiarizing myself with the platform software. From there, we will move into testing, and will then launch our first official financial education webinar at BECU. 

Thank you for supporting this contest. 

All the best to you,


(1) Quote by Randy Fujishin, The Natural Speaker 


It’s an exciting time in the world of the Servus Young Leaders Network, and it doesn’t even involve plutonium or a flux capacitor.

Our new executive committee members Kirk Nielsen, Karina Farr, and Trish Rasmussen will begin their 3 year term with the Servus Young Leaders Network on November 1st. All three of these individuals will bring a new set of knowledge, experiences, and skills to help take the Servus Young Leaders Network to another level. For me, this is the expectation for every new set of executive committee members coming on board. We want them to make the Servus Young Leaders Network bigger and better year after year after year. While I don’t want to make this too heavy for incoming executive, the expectation is for them to contribute by either improving our current programming or bring something new to the network that will improve young leader development. Challenged laid; no pressure kids!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our three departing executive committee members. Stewart Oke and Tracy Millman have been with the Servus Young Leaders Network from its inception, while Steve Till-Rogers joined the group a few months shortly thereafter. They have all been key builders as we’ve brought the Servus Young Leaders Network from a vision into a living and breathing entity. I am forever grateful for everything each of you brought to the network. As each of you move into Servus Young Leaders Network alumni, I know you will continue to assist in encouraging others to join the network and be a part of something career altering. 

So, where do we go from here?

Firstly, continued expansion. At present, we have about 25% of the roughly 900 employees 35 and under a part of the Servus Young Leaders Network. We want to increase that. Luckily we are getting some support in this area. Earlier this year, I had a meeting with young leaders from the Lloydminster region about setting up a regional young leader group. From that, I have pretty much been hands off and only act in a mentorship capacity as a committee has been formed to champion the Lloydminster region. Lavender Miller, Amy Martell, Ashley Dyck, Amanda Frantik, and Krista Smith have done a fantastic job in spreading the young leader program, and they are also bringing valuable contributions to both the Lloydminster branch and the community. Over the past few months, they have hosted several lunch and learns and have had various guest speakers come in including, representatives from human resources and a member of the Canadian National Young Leaders Committee. They have also supported various charitable community events and have hosted young leader networking events. With the success of the Lloydminster region Young Leaders Network, we are also starting to see another form in the Edmonton region, and hope that the Red Deer, Lethbridge, and Medicine Hat regions will follow suit.

We’ve also made some adjustments to our National Scholarship program. The program allows for one young leader to represent Servus Credit Union at the national level in the Credit Union Central of Canada’s National Young Leader Award program. The winner of this program will not only be able to attend the National Conference located somewhere in Canada, but they will have the ability to be mentored directly from a member of the Servus Credit Union Executive Leadership team for a period of one year.

With the success of the 35 under 35 Leadership Retreat, this is a program that we will definitely be running again next year. We’ve had great feedback from our attendees and will look to form a sub-committee that will handle the planning and implementation of this program for 2012.

So to all Servus young leaders, come join the Servus Young Leaders Network, it is your density….I mean destiny.


Back to the CU Future

I recently attended a workshop hosted by the New Jersey Credit Union League with guest speaker Denise Wymore. She spoke a lot about credit unions going back to their roots in order to prosper in the future. I related this right back to our current evolution at Aspire, where we continue to grow a sales environment in a culture of service and helping. By focusing on our “people helping people” philosophy, we can in turn help ourselves. We are, after all, financial cooperatives, so why wouldn’t we want to ask our members for their business and give them the best member service experience possible? Not only should we want to do this, it’s imperative to our future viability and success.

Wymore raised several interesting points, which relate directly to my project.

Use the 3 Cs
When the first credit union began operating in this country over 100 years ago, there was no such thing as a FICO score. How did credit unions qualify their members without a score associated with a letter grade? And who decided that was a good idea, by the way? A = you’re a good person and are financially responsible, D = you’re a deadbeat and a failure in your financial life. Anyway, the way credit unions used to do it back in the day was by using the 3 Cs, evaluating members’ ability to repay a loan based on their available collateral, capacity to take on debt, and personal character. Character is an especially interesting qualifier in my opinion since it’s so subjective. But remember, credit unions were originally started by people who shared a common bond, so it was extremely common for credit union employees to know members personally, which brings me to my next point.

The Common Bond
In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed the Credit Union Membership Access Act, HR1151, into law. This made it easier for people to join credit unions, which were truly exclusive prior to that. What great news for credit unions and potential members! We then had the opportunity to open our doors to entire communities and even whole states in some cases and the new members would just start strolling in to give us their complete financial relationships, right? Not exactly. Credit unions did gain new members as a result of HR 1151, but we lost the common bond. Living, working and worshiping in a certain community is not the same as working alongside your members for the same employer. So we lost the advantage we previously had of knowing our members personally. This makes it more difficult to approve loans, especially those for large amounts, and to judge a person’s ability to repay based on the 3 Cs rather than their credit score.

Build Brand Equity
As credit unions, it’s our job to lend money to people; not to credit scores. The sooner we get back to that, the better our brand will become in our members’ eyes. And like beauty, brand equity is in the eye of the beholder. The main point here is to treat members like human beings instead of numbers and focus on the experience they have when interacting with your brand. It makes sense to fix your brand experience before spending money on marketing to ensure that members will receive the level of service you promise them. While we’re on the topic of marketing, make sure that you have a target market and that you’ve found a common bond within that group. For example, “Gen Y” as a target market is much too broad and too vague. Rather, “younger, working moms” is a much more focused target.

Going back to our roots is going to help us achieve the future we aspire to. By delivering personalized member service, we gain our members’ loyalty and referrals. By selling the products and services that are in our members’ best interests, we stand to build our brand equity while simultaneously assuring our continued success. While we continue to review members’ credit scores and accept new members outside of our core sponsor group here at Aspire, we actively strive to go back to the basics in terms of sales, service and helping our members.