WASHINGTON -- Economics is sometimes nicknamed the dismal science because it often offers a bleak analysis of the world and is sometimes to hard understand.
Katrin O'Connor tries to take some of the mystery out of the subject.
As the staff economist at NAFCU, she tries to take the reams of economic data--that can baffle even those with years of policymaking experience--and translate them into useful formats.
"I take theoretical concepts and put them in a practical form. I try to boil it down so I explain what it means to members. My understanding of the theory behind economic events, such as the change in the interest rates, helps me understand and then helps members apply the information to what they need," she said in a recent interview with Credit Union Times.
O'Connor, in a sense, is following in the family business. Her mother is an elementary school teacher and her father teaches math and science in Celle, Germany, the city of 70,000 an hour south of Hamburg, where she grew up as the youngest of three children.
O'Connor teaches too, just not in front of a classroom. When she writes analyses of the leading economic indicators that the government regularly issues, she breaks down the numbers so that credit union executives know how to use the data to plan their long- and short-term strategy.
She describes her writing as straightforward, without ideological spin to it. She praises the people who work in NAFCU's communications department for helping to keep her work relatively jargon free. "They remind me that if something is too technical it might not be necessary to say," she said.
When O'Connor is not crunching numbers and trying to make predictions, she enjoys running and going to movies.
While she loves economics, it wasn't what she set out to do when she entered the University of Hamburg as an undergraduate.
O'Connor, 31, originally planned on a career in business but got sidetracked when she studied economics in her third year of college. One of subspecialties was environmental economics.
"The discussion of climate change got me hooked," she recalled. "We learned about the balance between business development and the environment."
O'Connor had been aware of environmental issues long before that. She grew up in a family that recycled and noted that the practice was very much in vogue in Europe before it caught on in many other places, including the United States.
She eventually did her thesis on the economic theory behind emission trades, in which companies will often make deals if their emissions are going to exceed the amount allowed by law. She made projections about what the optimal outcome of trading models would look like and how certain conditions could prevent that outcome from occurring.
She earned her L.L.M. (European master in law and economics) from a combined program of George Mason University, the University of Hamburg, and the University of Stockholm.
O'Connor came to the United States in September 2006 to study at George Mason and while here she met the man who would become her husband. She went back to Germany to finish graduate school and then game back to the United States and joined NAFCU late last year. Previously, she worked as an economist for several law firms in Hamburg.
She said two of the biggest differences between Germany and the United States are the number of women economists and the discrepancies in consumption patterns.
In Germany, there are many more women studying economics than at American universities, though O'Connor finds that changing a bit as more American institutions get more aggressive in recruiting women.
There are also marked differences between the countries when it comes to consumer behavior.
"Americans rely much more on credit than Germans and don't save as much. In Germany, the average down payment on a house is 20%, it's much less here," she said. "Also, Germans are used to higher taxes on gas," she said.
Another thing Germans are used to is credit unions. The first one was founded there in 1852, though it was called a cooperative.
Though O'Connor didn't have much experience with credit unions before joining NAFCU, she has found it easy to get up to speed.
"There's a lot to learn but it makes sense and there is solid foundation to it,'' she said.