As a believer in lifelong learning, it’s no wonder Kathryn Davis relishes the diversity her role as senior vice president at Xceed Financial Credit Union provides.
“Wearing so many hats, it’s actually easy to stay engaged–you never know what you’ll be working on when you get to the office. I’m motivated by the experience and opportunity each discipline brings every day,” said Davis, who oversees marketing and communications, e-commerce, strategic planning, facilities, and human resources and training at the $738 million El Segundo, Calif.-based credit union.
“I’m inspired by making a positive change. Whether it’s finding a new way to reach our members, further defining our brand experience, giving members access to new online technology or creating new employee programs, I love it all. I’m a marketer at heart, so I love working on any challenge to reach our members or SEGs in a different or unique way.”
Co-workers have often teased Davis that nothing average comes out of her division, and it’s something the team has taken pride in. Collectively, they strive to deliver the best and most unique programs from each department, which in itself has kept her motivated and engaged. She’s been grateful for the opportunity to manage so many diverse areas and suggested that more credit unions get creative in their recruitment strategies for top talent.
“I’d love to see recruitment evolve to a true fit for brand and culture as I think that’s the secret sauce in hiring top talent. A credit union shouldn’t just look at a candidate who did that job at another credit union or a bank. For all positions it’s about the attitude and philosophical match with a credit union’s brand,” said Davis. “This approach is even truer for senior level positions. I’m a firm believer that a great leader could manage any department, they don’t need to have done that job in their past. Why couldn’t a marketer become CEO or a VP of lending become CFO?”
She added that of course the mechanics of the day-to-day operations need to be firmly in place, but essentially the role of a senior level person is to lead and inspire, regardless of the department.
“First and foremost I think credit unions do a lousy job of getting people ready for that next role. As an industry we should have a program that brings people in out of college and gets them ready to be a manager, vice president, senior vice president, and ultimately CEO if they want to go there,” said Davis. “I’m so disappointed when I see credit unions fill senior roles with bankers. We have so much talent in our industry that goes both undeveloped and frankly unnoticed in a lot of cases.”
She also advised those young professionals currently in the industry to get involved, be curious and question, offer alternatives and be willing to try and fail. “Ask for every and any opportunity. Tell your boss the job you want tomorrow, even if it’s the job your boss has now. I’ve personally subscribed to this philosophy for the last 10 years, and it’s always opened the door for me,” said Davis. “Ask why things are done the way they are and offer alternatives. You have to be willing to try and be up front about what didn’t work and then learn from it. And last, but not least, show up with the credentials. If you haven’t completed college, go back to school and get your undergraduate degree. If you have an undergraduate degree, go back for your MBA. If you’re in possession of both, don’t let your education get stale, be a lifelong learner, it will open doors for you.”
As far as retention efforts of top talent, she urged credit unions to strike a balance and be careful not to create a complacent organization.
“I’m not a fan of retention bonuses for that reason. I think it promotes mediocrity. I do think happy employees lead to positive retention and ultimately contribute to a positive working environment. Good organizations have a culture and focus that strives to create happy employees. Always ask because the thing you think makes them happy may not be it at all. I’ve found that it’s never just about the salary, in fact that’s often lowest on the list. Employees want to be valued and heard. They want to be respected and receive acknowledgement from their manager. They want to work in a place that is open for them to express ideas. These are all free for any credit union to do and I believe its key for retention.”
She added that credit unions need to create programs and benefits that are reflective of their brand and speak to their employees, not just any employee. For example, a few years ago Xceed employees were in fact Xerox Corp. employees. As working environments went, the two couldn’t have been more opposite.
“While we had good benefits from Xerox, they simply didn’t match the unique needs of our employees. When we made the switch in late 2009 to become our own employer, we had an opportunity to create niche benefits that spoke to our employees and we continue to evolve them by always asking the question of what they need and want,” said Davis.
Some of the customized programs implemented have ranged from family day, where Xceed not only gives staffers an extra paid day off to spend with their family but also the spending money, to a more holistic wellness program, where staffers can earn points for everything from volunteering and walking to not calling out sick, throughout the year, which can then translate up to an extra $300 for the year.
“We want to be this best in class employer, so with family day it was about how we could give something back. And what’s better than more time with family, however you define it? We keep it loose and don’t care what you do, go to lunch, shopping whatever,” said Davis. “With the wellness program, the idea was to make it easy to participate and go beyond the traditional just working out and eating healthy but addressing the whole person and that in a lifestyle change it’s the little things you do each day that matter.”
That constant reevaluation and taking fresh approaches to the status quo has been something Davis thinks would help the industry as a whole moving forward. With the average consumer having no idea they can join a credit union, every credit union has been struggling with attracting and retaining young members. She added that in the next 20 years the industry will see a huge transfer of wealth and if credit unions don’t begin bridging that gap now between older members and younger members, a lot of business will simply walk out the door.
“I think most credit unions need to completely reinvent themselves. We can’t keep doing things the way it’s always been done. It’s time to collectively band together as the true cooperative that we are. We need to collaborate more to not only become more innovative, but also more efficient. Bottom line, credit unions need to challenge every single thing we do and figure out how to evolve to meet the changing needs of today’s consumer,” said Davis. “We have a perception of being old school, which is partially why the misconception that credit unions are late on the technology curve and don’t have convenient access exists. The biggest problem is that consumers just don’t understand how easy it is to use and benefit from a credit union. Why not tackle the access myth collectively? All of our ATMs should look the same. This would hugely help identify a credit union ATM and provide a valuable benefit for us all. I also think we need to boost our image among existing members and potential members.”
She added that it’s past time for a national brand.
“If we collectively band together we could explain the value of a credit union and that joining any credit union would be a good thing. When I worked for a larger community-based credit union I ran several million dollars worth of media a year. I always heard from neighboring credit unions that those ads got them business, too. I think they were trying to tell me that in a rude way, but I sincerely was always glad they got more business,” said Davis.
“Credit unions own a fraction of the market, despite community charters, the credit union down the street is not your competition–the banks are. We need to take stock in our little guy status. It’s actually a pretty positive consumer story right now. What’s missing is the collective message, along with the explanation that we are convenient. It’s about showing our members and potential members where and how they can access us. We continue to miss those opportunities.”