Scenario One: You’re standing in line and strike up a conversation with the gal in front of you, Anne. You share that your deepest desire is to become a proficient hiker. As you’re waiting for your order, Anne offers you two choices: would you rather have advice on local hiking trails or $100? Which option do you take? Most likely you would select the $100. After all, Anne is a complete stranger.
Scenario Two: You have had several conversations with Anne over the course of several weeks and find out that Anne is an avid, experienced, and expert mountaineer. Again she offers you two options: professional hiking advice or $100. Now which alternative do you take? While $100 is still attractive, I would bet that you would think twice about the decision.
What is the difference? The difference is the personal rapport the two of you have built over several conversations about hiking. What would happen if credit unions were able to keenly focus on building personal relationships that foster trust, support, and consistent reliability within their community by relating to one person at a time? What kind of impact would we, as an industry, have over our competitors?
I began volunteering in my community as a pre-teen, assisting at various community events and also teaching students in numerous school programs. This allowed me to identify my aptitude for both teaching and learning. After graduating college, I found the perfect place for this skill set: a credit union. I have not left the CU movement since. Subsequently, I have a profound passion for credit unions, community culture, and for financial literacy. At each credit union that I have worked for, I have continuously brought my energy, drive, and talent to lead to the credit union initiative. My greatest long-term goal is to find social partners who can help bring credit union based financial solutions to underserved and underbanked populations, from rural areas to inner cities.
Here at Tongass Federal Credit Union in southern southeast Alaska, we are being the credit union difference by creating personal connections within our communities. Our communities are not divided by a few miles of concrete; we are separated by nautical miles. While we have quite the challenge, we do not let that hinder us from being active within our communities. TFCU offers VITA tax help in Metlakatla on Annette Island, the only native Indian reservation in Alaska. In 2016, our five-man team completed 141 tax returns. We provide our own in-school savings program where TFCU staff will visit schools once a week and teach students about saving and deposits. We participate in financial reality fairs and offer financial based workshops for the elderly. We also participate with the local native community organization to teach kids about money management aspects.
Even if you can only work with one individual at a time, it is time well spent. I recently volunteered to work with a teen that was transitioning from a detention facility. He needed to learn to purchase groceries on a budget. I wanted him to obtain financial freedom, to feel empowered by his decisions, not scared or intimidated. An hour of my time enabled him to make wise decisions on his own and will assist him to become a productive adult. A week later he came into TFCU to open his first credit union account and specifically requested that I assist him directly, rather than the capable employee who had greeted him. I had built a relationship with him. I earned his trust. I had become “Anne” in “Scenario Two.”
As an industry, we need to BE the credit union difference by building and nurturing personal relationships within our communities. To do this, we must empower our employees by giving them more autonomy to get involved and allow them to represent credit unions! The more people that we can mobilize to demonstrate the CU difference, the more impact that we will have. Our competitors may offer money. We offer time, support, and knowledge – three pillars that can build trusting connections. Start the initiative in your credit union by identifying passionate CU leaders and by setting a measurable community engagement goal. The results are not easily quantified, but the results will be felt by your staff and members.
I challenge you to BE the credit union difference in your community. It takes one person at a time, one credit union at a time, to make a difference.