Very good question.
If you really wants to know the nuts and bolts of a credit union then working in a small one is the best place to learn about managing. However, managing is not the same as being a leader. Leadership is about moving an organization forward and management is about making an organization perform. Management is looking inwards and Leadership is looking outwards at the horizon and possibilities.
Does it make a difference what size credit union you work in to become a leader, I do not believe that it does. I have known Managers at large credit unions and Leaders at small credit unions. Your development depends on you and you alone, not the size of the institution.
Cary J. Anderson
Main Street Financial FCU
My experience over a 30 year career was that future credit union leaders came from all quarters of the movement. That included small credit unions, medium sized, large ones and not just from the professional ranks but from volunteers as well. Additionally, many leaders emerged from various state and national level credit union trade organizations and some even came from peripheral entities such as vendors.
Leadership is a quality imbued within the individual and will surface over time regardless of any and all obstacles or any and all opportunities afforded those individuals. Credit union leaders also come into the system oftentimes from other careers such as the military; regulators or even banking!
I believe a person with leadership qualities will "rise to the top" in whatever field of endeavor becomes their passion and as we all know, credit unions can easily become like a second "religion" to many folks. That passion is what will drive that person to inspire others to succeed and again, my experience taught me that if others are following, I must be leading! Too often we see folks who regard themselves as "leaders" who actually have no followers or use the skills of other people to advance their quest for success. Leaders on the other hand are "servants". They serve the purposes and needs of whatever organization with which they have chosen to become a part. Their example is what inspires others to follow their lead and emulate their "servant" attitude therefore making the organization a better place to work and increasing the chances that the goals and purposes of that organization will be accomplished.
In my opinion, this is truly a situation where "size doesn't matter". Large or small, it is the people and not the organizations that will determine who is a leader.
Corporate CU of Arizona and Arizona CU League
I would say that future leaders of credit unions would be better off in a small credit union, although the pay is not as high. In a small credit union, you learn every aspect of credit union operations, which becomes invaluable to you as a new leader. If you learn all aspects of credit union operations, then you can get a job with any credit union in any state or country. You still must have a servant's attitude to fulfil our mantra: "people helping people". All credit unions understand this language.
Priority Federal Credit Union
I started my credit union career at Leeway FCU in Okla. City. I started as a staff member of six, which included the manager at that time Jim Minor.
We were $3 million in assets and almost totally manual in every thing we did. In was 1974 at that time and computers were not in use. I did every thing a credit union offered to its members and I did them every day. I did the collections, opened new accounts, took deposits and made withdrawals. Later of course I made loans and everything else that we did for members. All of us were involved in the daily offerings.
I am convinced this is the most effective way to learn operations. When I took the position at Fort Sill FCU in 1979, we were larger of course, $20 Million and much more departmentalized. Learning in this environment would have been much more difficult because of the structure. I vote for learning in smaller credit unions because I had first hand knowledge of the effectiveness of this method.
Fort Sill FCU
From my perspective, a future credit union leader is better prepared to meet the challenges of the changing industry if he/she has been in a leadership position at a larger credit union.
The experience gained from a leadership position at a larger credit union enables the incumbent to participate in strategic-level initiatives and decisions. In contrast, small credit unions provide hands-on experience in a wide variety of areas that are significantly more geared toward the operational level.
In general, our future leaders need to be highly experienced and keenly focused on strategic issues and navigating the turbulent financial services industry as a whole rather than day-to-day operations which can be generally managed by mid-level management.
CEO (who prefers to remain anonymous)
In my career I have worked for a variety of organizations, small and large. Both offer benefits and limitations that the other doesn't.
For example, in a small organization you typically have responsibility for more areas and gain wider experience in a shorter period of time, and your knowledge and experience grows quickly. However, with limited financial and human resources, that experience can also be less comprehensive than you might get in a larger organization that has fellow employees that can help with ideas from their own knowledge and experience that you can learn from.
That's when being a member of a professional organization such as the CUNA Councils, which can provide access to peers and subject matter experts who have additional viewpoints and expertise, is especially so important.
Less services and systems that you may find in a smaller organization by virtue of what they can afford will also limit your experience. But, it may also help you develop more creative ways in getting things done, a skill that can be applied and useful to even larger organizations.
In a larger credit union, you may be more limited in exposure to something beyond your area of responsibility, another reason to join and actively participate in a professional group to gain exposure to what not only other credit unions are doing in your position but in other functional areas as well.
You may have much more to work with regarding tools and systems available in a larger organization, however, which might be more advanced than what a smaller CU is able to afford, or you may be exposed to something of great potential but with some risk that a smaller CU may choose to avoid.
Bottom line? Whether choosing to work at a small or large CU, both can provide benefits to your career development and help you build your wealth of experience in both quantity and quality, just each in different ways. Regardless of your CU's size, don't limit your exposure to only what your job involves. Volunteer to work in other areas of responsibility and whatever other projects your cu has going on besides your own, and take advantage of professional organizations in filling the gaps in what a small or large cu can and can't give you in building your knowledge, experience, and career potential.
Robert G. Reh
Vice Chair of CUNA Tech Council/Chief Information Officer
Nassau Financial FCU