Rising Stars Light Up the Credit Union Movement
For CU Times’ 2017 Trailblazers 40 Below issue, four young professionals who caught the credit union bug early – Alvaro Macias, Carmen Vigil, Nick Fugal and Will Crosswell – shared why they’re passionate about leaving their mark on the industry.
Assistant Vice President of Community Development
Ascentra Credit Union
Whether it's giving a financial education presentation to students or helping with his credit union's Latino outreach initiative, Alvaro Macias always infuses a dose of his dynamic and creative personality into everything he does.
Macias, the vice president of community development at the $413 million Ascentra Credit Union in Bettendorf, Iowa, leads the credit union's financial education efforts and conducts educational presentations at schools, colleges and community organizations in English and Spanish.
A quick wit is certainly needed when giving a financial literacy presentation to a classroom of high school students. Macias connects with students in a unique way, providing entertaining yet educational financial literacy courses.
He recalled a time when two minutes were left in a financial literacy course and a high school student asked Macias to give 40 reasons why he liked the credit union. Macias jokingly replied, “I’ll do better, I’ll give you 5,000 reasons, so let's start.”
A true jack-of-all-trades, Macias has never shied away from a challenge. When Macias started at the credit union in 2010, he was tasked with leading the now expanded financial literacy initiative. With limited funds, but unlimited perseverance, Macias found a $2,500 grant to provide financial education from the Iowa Credit Union league. With the grant money, the credit union was able to purchase educational packets and sponsor several courses at local schools. The following year, Macias found another grant through the National Credit Union Foundation for $7,500. “Nobody told me to apply for these grants, I just saw an email and I took the initiative to apply,” Macias said.
The financial literacy program has been such a success that it's now part of the credit union's annual budget. The program's popularity led Macias to create standardized formatting and branding for all the financial education presentations. He also developed a video series called “Ascentra Making Sense” that corresponds with presentation topics. The one-minute videos also air on local TV and the credit union's website.
“It's getting our name out there to students as they’re learning about finances … while it's a good thing for us that we’re providing financial education, hopefully some of these students will become members because they see our involvement with the community,” Macias said.
Macias has also been involved in the credit union's Hispanic outreach initiative. He helped establish some new lending products and services, developed community partnerships and led marketing efforts that helped build trust within the community. Since the credit union began tracking outreach initiative efforts in 2010, its Hispanic membership has more than doubled, increasing by 101%. It is projected to continue to grow significantly as well.
People are taking notice of Macias. In 2014, he was one of five finalists for the CUES Next Top Credit Union Executive, which earned him a trip to the CUES CEO/Executive Network conference to give a presentation about the creation of the newcomers’ initiative, a partnership that provides low-interest financing for immigration services through strategic community partnerships.
As the credit union continues to grow, so will Macias and his creative ways of reaching and educating members.
Northwest Credit Union Association
Carmen Vigil is a connector – literally. In fact, it was through her professional connections that she joined the credit union industry. Vigil was a board member for the Young Credit Union Professionals in Portland, Ore., when she first learned about the credit union movement, which eventually led to her to a position at a credit union, and then to her current position as community manager at the Northwest Credit Union Association.
As community manager at the NWCUA, Vigil connects various micro-communities across Oregon, Washington and Idaho including credit union chapters, councils, leaders of small credit unions, young credit union professionals, alumni of the Western CUNA Management School and more. She also coordinates fundraising efforts for Credit Unions for Kids, including leading the volunteer auction committee in planning efforts for the annual CU4Kids auction held during the NWCUA's annual convention.
Vigil continues to expand the organization's council program, which utilizes video conferencing to bring credit union professionals together to share best practices, learn from each other and share speakers. She said attendance at council meetings has grown by more than 25%, and she's expanded the program from four to seven locations that meet via video.
“Ever since I’ve worked here, it's always been in my head: ‘How can I be a better advocate and supporter for young professionals in the credit union industry?’ And this new network that we’re forming is really a collaborative effort between the association and regional professional groups in Washington, Oregon and Idaho,” Vigil said.
Recently, the NWCUA launched the commercial services council. “So that's been a really big success in terms of identifying more and more credit unions that are offering commercial services and member business lending, and there was a need for those credit union professionals to connect with each other and have that network to learn from,” Vigil said.
Vigil said what motivates her is helping credit unions. “Any time I can connect them with a resource they didn't know was available to them is just amazing, and that happens almost on a daily basis. That's why I love my job so much,” Vigil said.
She said recently she was talking with a colleague from the credit union she used to work for, and her old co-worker shared her aspirations of attending a convention. However, her department couldn't afford to send her. “I was able to connect her with some resources for scholarships. I found out today she was awarded the scholarships. I didn't even do anything; I just connected her to the resource that was already there. It was really cool to hear from her that it made all the difference. Little things like that are definitely awesome,” Vigil said.
Just like that, Vigil continues to connect people with resources, one by one.
CFO, Clarity Credit Union
As CFO of the $70 million Clarity Credit Union in Nampa, Idaho, Nick Fugal wears many hats. He has his hands in accounting, finance, collections, information technology, mobile banking and electronic payments.
Because of this, he has a deep understanding of the credit union's capabilities and members’ needs. Fugal lives by the motto that if you take care of the member, everything else will fall into place.
Clarity is taking care of its members, especially ones who have had financial hardship. Fugal said Clarity approves about 63% of loan applications and holds between 45% and 41% of its loan portfolio in sub-prime paper (C or below). “These numbers tell the story that our loan officers and underwriters are looking at the member's story and not their credit score,” Fugal said.
It turns out it's pretty profitable too. “Clarity Credit Union is usually in the top five to 10 percentile of our peer group in net interest margin because of our dedication to the member's story and not their credit score,” Fugal emphasized.
Over the years, Fugal's role at the credit union has evolved to include participation in the development of the local, regional and national credit union movement, and strategic planning and forecasting for Clarity.
Through Fugal's career evolution, he saw a need to develop and promote connectivity between young credit union professionals. So in 2014, with the help of the Idaho Credit Union League and many other young professional leaders in Idaho, Fugal helped form Climb Idaho, an organization that seeks to engage young credit union professionals in Idaho through events, education, cooperation and collaboration.
“It exists to ensure young professionals understand what credit unions really do and how they affect positive change in their members’ lives every day. If they truly understand the history and mission of credit unions, they tend to forge a career path within the movement and their passion trickles down to the members they serve, which helps the whole movement grow,” Fugal emphasized.
Fugal also feels it's important to retain and foster young talent within the credit union movement. “I wanted to keep young professional employees informed on what they are truly a part of so they would stay in the movement when a bank job offering more money would inevitably come their way,” Fugal said.
Since 2014, Climb Idaho has grown its membership to more than 200 members and hosted numerous events. One Climb Idaho member has even become a CEO, Fugal said.
Although Climb Idaho isn't an initiative of Clarity, Fugal said it came about because of the innovative and accepting culture that exists at Clarity. “It's imperative that we remain leaders in the financial sector and not followers. Being the first to develop and deliver relevant technologies and not follow what big banks do will breed relevance,” he said.
Just two weeks ago, he received the NWCUA's 2017 Young Credit Union Leader of the Year Award. Through his work within the credit union movement, Fugal is definitely staying relevant.
Ardent Credit Union
Will Crosswell, market manager at the $653 million, Philadelphia-based Ardent Credit Union, is a child of the credit union movement.
Croswell's grandmother was the first bookkeeper for what was then called Educators Credit Union in Florence, S.C. Crosswell said his grandmother would carry the books out of her trunk and lug them into the credit union every day.
Crosswell's grandfather and father were both members of a credit union and his mom served on a credit union board. To Crosswell, banking always meant doing business with whatever credit union his parents were affiliated with. So after graduating college and then working for four years on different political campaigns, working within the credit union industry was a natural transition for the South Carolina native.
Now, as market manager at Ardent, Crosswell is deeply involved with outreach to cooperatives. He said his goal for Ardent is to be the credit union for cooperatives. To help meet this goal, the credit union has a partnership with the energy co-op in Philadelphia, offering membership and unique products and services to its base.
The credit union is also a partner of the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance, a resource for co-ops. “For us to embrace that part of our community, and really embrace that part of ourselves that's ingrained in the fabric of who we are with those seven cooperative principles, it only makes sense to reach out to those who live that way too,” Crosswell said.
And for the Trailblazer 40 below honoree, it's not just a part of his career, but also his lifestyle. “Living cooperatively is my way of life. I’m a part of an energy co-op and we shop at the food co-op, so we try to embrace that from a personal life,” Crosswell said.
Crosswell is also trying to change the overall mode of how the credit union manages business development. He's created a more consultative environment and encourages his team to go beyond their desks and make site visits to various places in the community.
“I give each member an opportunity to go do business development, do networking, do site visits and lead meetings in-house where we have a consultative community effort within the branch,” Crosswell said.
It seems these tactics are working. One of his team members recently went to a restaurant and came back with two or three applications from a seven-person shop. “That may seem very small, but it's saying that no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I’m Ardent and I am the brand as an extension,” Crosswell said.
Crosswell also motivates his team members through gamification. His team has in-house contests and the winner gets a championship belt. This past month, each employee shared stories on how they had made a difference within the credit union. One employee shared a story about how they drove a member to the gas station because the member ran out of gas. Another employee came in on a weekend to notarize documents for a homebound member. “The mindset of them creating their own brand, them creating their own areas of expertise has pushed them to a different level,” Crosswell said.