My Next Top Credit Union Exec Experience

finalist-rob-carabelli-sm.jpg

My Project: The Financial Wellness Rating

By: Rob Carabelli, Senior Marketing Strategist, McGraw-Hill FCU

I was notified in July that I was nominated for the Credit Union Executives Society (CUES) Next Top Credit Union Executive (NTCUE) competition. I was completely shocked and honored to be nominated for this prestigious competition. What transpired over the next four months was truly an unforgettable experience packed with professional and personal lessons I’ll carry with me forever. 

The basis for the competition is for a credit union employee to discuss a project they’re working on, its impact on their credit union, and perhaps, its impact on the industry. My project, The Financial Wellness Rating, is an internal ratings system that awards points to our sales team when they align members with products and services that are appropriate to their particular life-stage. The system was created so that we could reward staff for selling products based on the members’ goals and aspirations as opposed to what is often deemed the “Product of the Month.”

We recognized the need to develop this system in light of a number of factors. First, we wanted to increase our overall services per household – a metric we deem vital to engagement. Second, we wanted to define the “path” new and current members should take when joining the credit union or growing their current relationship. By clearly defining this path, we could inherently make it easier for our sales force to close the gap between where a member stands today and where we want them to be in an ideal state. Finally, we needed a metric to quantify the success of our sales efforts – without an easily understandable rating system, we couldn’t implement this metric with our sales force in a meaningful way.

The NTCUE Process

The competition began with approximately 125 nominees. From there, a Top-15 was determined based on a two-minute video each nominee created, which discussed their project and how it was impacting their organization. A public vote was held and I was fortunate to make the Top-15. From there, the real work began. Each of the Top-15 had to craft an essay, which further detailed their story. In addition, we were to provide a general Q and A entry, which gave us an opportunity to speak to this process in a more personal way. It was a lot of work, but as I continued through the process, it was exciting to talk about my project and the lessons learned in a public forum. Having industry leaders examine my work and the progress was a very humbling experience.

The Top-5

The NTCUE team notified me in early October that as a result of my video, essay, and Q and A, I was selected as part of the Top-5 and would be competing in the final round Nov. 3-6 in San Diego, Calif. Now, everything I had been working toward became very real, very quick. Before heading to San Diego, I was asked to create a second video, which would be used as part of the final judging at the conference. I was also asked to present at a conference where I would be judged by a three-person panel, attendees at the seminar, and friends, family, and co-workers via a public vote held online.

The Final Presentation

I gave my presentation on Monday, November 4, in front of 250 conference attendees and approximately 500 viewers via a live Web stream. My presentation focused on my experience during the design and implementation of the Financial Wellness Rating project. I focused on my individual learning, which was steeped in engagement and communication; getting up out of my chair and obtaining buy-in from key internal stakeholders. I identified early that without their support, my project, or any project for that matter, would be doomed for failure.

The ironic part of the competition was that I got to spend four months practically talking about myself across numerous media channels – in videos and blog entries and on social media. But my main takeaway from the competition (and what I feel is the main purpose of the NTCUE process) is that being an executive has nothing to do with oneself. Rather, it has to do with communicating and engaging with individuals who can bring an idea to life. If I were to attempt to launch a project on my own, with no buy-in or support, invariably, it would not succeed. That’s what the Next Top Credit Union Executive is all about – putting oneself in a position to align a shared vision, communicate conditions of success, and progress an agenda as part of a cohesive unit.

An Outstanding Experience

Unfortunately, after two days of voting, I was not selected as the CUES Next Top Credit Union Exec. However, I was afforded a wealth of practical lessons from the CUES team as well as our President/CEO, Shawn Gilfedder, who joined me on the trip. The in-depth advice, anecdotes, and shared learning throughout the process were invaluable. Having those components as part of the process is what made this experience truly unforgettable. 

Co-workers have asked me if I plan on competing next year. When I reply that I am not, I often receive a confused look, as if to say, “Well, why not?” My answer, quite simply, is that I have aspirations of hopefully coaching another McGraw-Hill FCU employee to participate in the competition and reach the finals in 2014. Helping them through the process and providing guidance would be even more memorable and exciting than my experience this year. Like I said, it’s never been about me.