After more than 10,000 votes, six finalists have emerged from 41 applicants to fight for the title of the Next Top Credit Union Exec.
CUES and Currency Marketing announced the competition in April and put out a call to the best and brightest young executives to share thoughts and projects to advance the industry.
"The final six come from a broad range of credit union sizes and some very good ideas have risen to the top," said Tim McAlpine, president and creative director of Currency Marketing.
The finalists represent credit unions ranging from $350 million to $2.6 billion in assets. For the next six months the executives will present blogs and videos updating the public on the projects they've proposed.
Ronaldo Hardy, branch coordinator for $400 million La Capitol Federal Credit Union in Baton Rouge, La., created a Gen Y Task Force at his credit union to launch an initiative to engage younger people in the credit union movement. Hardy chairs the task force made up of four other individuals age 26 and under.
"There's a big awareness barrier," Hardy said. "I don't want the industry to wake up 10 to 20 years from now and say, 'What happened?'"
Over the next few months Hardy will work with the task force to develop a checking and lending program targeted at Gen Y members.
"We want to develop products that empower," he said. "This is a very 'me' generation and credit unions are lacking products that really empower this generation and make them feel in charge of their finances. We want to translate that message very strongly through these products."
Amy Stanton, assistant vice president of marketing at $350 million Connex Credit Union in North Haven, Conn., has been trying to attract young members to her credit union through a project called Unbank with Connex.
"Brand awareness is our industry's biggest stumbling block. People under the age of 35 don't know what a credit union is," Stanton said.
This summer Stanton will be focusing on her search for a vice president of unbanking, a marketing intern who will serve as the younger voice for the credit union.
Tina Hall, vice president of organizational development at $380 million Verity Credit Union in Seattle, has been working on a project to help the credit union retain talent by motivating employees.
"Gone are the days where someone stays with a company for 30 years. In a recession good people always have a job so it is critical for credit unions right now to keep that talent," Hall said about why she started the project.
For her project, Hall leads a class that aims to examine the core motivators of decision making. The class gets a seven-week assignment that makes them connect with each other. Hall then follows up with individual coaching sessions.
"I had one assistant manager that came from a lot of management and leadership programs at Starbucks, and she said that this made more of an impact than any of those," Hall explained. "She showed up for work empowered and that has a ripple effect on others on her team."
To further her project for the competition, Hall will cycle through her program again and look to prove the impact it has on the credit union and its employees.
At $2 billion Tinker Federal Credit Union in Oklahoma City, Assistant Vice President/Branch Manager James Roller is working on what he calls the Employee First Program.
With consumers' flight to security from banks to credit unions, Roller said credit unions need to figure out a way to leverage and hold on to new members. The way to do it, in Roller's opinion, is to empower a credit union's best marketing and public relations tool: its employees.
Roller's twofold program seeks to improve both the financial and physical health of employees. One of the first things Roller did was make sure employees were aware that the same financial education the credit union offers to the community is available to them as well.
"We had good community outreach, but I need my people to be financially successful as well," Roller said. "That single mom working the teller line-I need to make her feel financially empowered otherwise we're missing a vital step."
One misconception about putting employees first, Roller said, is that many credit union executives think it's expensive. He is implementing small steps with his project.
"It can be as simple as offering fruit instead of donuts at a meeting. I say if you ever want to gain weight come to a credit union meeting. It's always donuts and pastries."
Through his video and blog, Roller will document the results of his project and show how he leads his team by practicing model behavior.
If there are two things Amy Grothaus knows about, it's being a woman and being a mom.
Grothaus, assistant vice president at $1.8 billion Community America Credit Union in Kansas City, Mo., is counseling families on financial issues through her blog, Financial MOMentum, and is working to empower and promote women to leadership positions in the credit union industry.
"There are a lot of parents that admit they don't set good financial examples for their children. We want to help break the cycle of bad financial habits and create loyalty so the families stay members of the credit union," Grothaus said.
Though she was already counseling families at the credit union before the contest, Grothaus will work on launching and promoting her blog over the next few months.
"This is something I'm very passionate about because it's the stage of life I'm in now," said Grothaus, who has two children and is expecting her third. "There are a lot of things I know now that I wish I knew before."
Grothaus said she hopes the blog will foster a community of moms who share ideas and ask questions.
The second part of Grothaus's project is the Women's Association of Credit Union Leaders, a group that was started locally by Grothaus and CommunityAmerica Chief Operating Officer Lisa Ginter.
The group had its first meeting at the end of June with more than 25 participants joining together with the goal of networking and sharing ideas.
Jodi Chambers, director of business excellence at $2.6 billion Assiniboine Credit Union in Winnipeg, Manitoba, believes that a credit union cannot serve members well unless its internal processes are as smooth and efficient as possible.
In 2007, Assiniboine merged three credit unions in the largest merger in Manitoba to date. A year later the credit union merged another credit union, and then went on to implement a new banking system.
With Assiniboine's employees and different departments all operating on different pages, Chambers developed a program to review all the internal processes to determine the best and most efficient. Once a process is selected Chambers goes back and tracks it again to show where and how the improvements were made.
Chambers will use her video and blog to showcase projects from 2009 and 2010 and document how she incorporated what she learned from last year's projects into the program.
Some of the projects may live on, but the Next Top Credit Union Executive competition will wrap up in November at the CUES' CEO/Executive Team Network conference. All six finalists will present their work to a panel of judges who will provide live feedback. The winner will be selected by a combination of the judging panel and live online voting.