The wardrobe options may have been what initially drew Denise Wymore, vice president of member loyalty at Santa Fe, N.M.-based Del Norte Credit Union to credit unions, but the ability to make a real difference in people’s lives has been what has kept her going 31 years later.
“I had been working as a waitress at a fish and chips restaurant in a wench costume all through high school, and I had to wear a uniform to school, so when I graduated, my whole motivation was that I wanted to wear real clothes,” said Wymore. “I had no idea what a credit union was and they gave me a chance as a teller because I had cash handling skills. I don’t think they really knew what to do with me, and I really had a rocky start. Honestly I almost left, but luckily I got to see Carol Schillios speak, and as I listened to her talk about serving people and that we’re lucky because we get to make a difference in people’s lives, it completely re-energized me.”
In a way, that first credit union experience helped lay the foundation for what Wymore does today, which in addition to creating memorable experience at the $392 million credit union includes blogging, authoring two books on branding and marketing, public speaking, serving on the local chapter board and as an instructor at Southwest CUNA Management School.
“When I began as a teller no one stopped to think I might be the next leader. I came in that first day so motivated to do my best and was handed signature cards to file in alphabetical order. In general, front-line staff never get to go to anything, so it’s still similar to my first experience,” said Wymore. “Yet, we are nothing without them so we all have to look ahead and create ways to get these young people excited about being a part of the movement. Shame on you if you’re not cultivating the next generation, you’ve got to make the time or we’re all screwed.”
She added everyone should feel that what they do matters. It’s a lesson she learned while waitressing as her boss told her that even if it is serving more tartar sauce in a wench costume, to be of service to someone else is ultimately what matters most.
“Let’s face it you’re not in credit unions for the money but because you care about doing work that matters,” said Wymore. “The artist Brian Andreas, who I am such a huge fan of, once told me that I’m a cheerleader for passion and commitment. So we should help others find their purpose rather than settling for what is easy. For those of us in credit unions you have to believe and embrace that you were put here on earth to serve one another. At the end of the day if you’re not passionate about serving a member then you’re in the wrong business.”
She added that fostering the energy and innovative spirit of the next generation will only help further the credit union movement.
“That’s what we want to pass on to younger people, that what credit unions do matters and you don’t have to look further than Bank Transfer Day, which was just the shot in the arm we needed. Anyone who didn’t take advantage of Bank of America’s mistake was either stupid, lazy or both. Now the question is what are we going to do with the attention?”
For women leaders, she feels they should make the most of their differences.
“I think that old boys’ network is dying off, and my advice to women leaders is that you don’t have to be a bitch to be a leader," said Wymore. “Sometimes we women think the only way to be taken seriously is to be one. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Those ‘weaknesses’ of sensitivity, compassion, being good listeners and communicators, are all the attributes of great successful leaders. Especially in the people-oriented business of the credit union industry. So when you get to the top spot make sure you are good to people because that’s what got you there.”
As someone who hears “won’t” whenever someone says “can’t,” Wymore believes anything is possible.
“I think a lot of people use the economy as an excuse, and Apple selling products people don’t even need is one of the greatest examples of that,” joked Wymore. “I mean people actually need banking, but Amazon and Apple are doing better than ever in a horrible economy. It’s harder, absolutely, but that just means we need to get better and invest now rather than sitting back and praying for a way through the economy. Spend the money now so you’re ahead of the game.”
She added that with many banks like Bank of America counting on inertia to hold onto consumers, it presents an opportunity for credit unions to give people that reason to make the move.
As for the continued pain of regulation and compliance she suggested a novel response- simply stop doing some things.
“One reason credit unions have so much compliance or regulation concerns is that we try to be all things to all people. Real estate, IRAs, checking, savings accounts, business lending they all come with a sack full of regulations and maybe it is time to stop and really evaluate if you're offering something for the right reason. So maybe if you only have five IRAs, making the decision that it isn’t the business your credit union should be in and focus those dollars, efforts and limited resources into what will be the smartest moves for you. We’re hardwired to say oh IRAs are down let’s run a promotion to get them up rather than really taking a hard look at it and making the tough decision to not offer it.”
What does concern Wymore and what she has been keeping a close eye on has been near field communication and payments arena.
“That’s the challenge I see for credit unions. With eWallet, PayPal replacing some of those devices like debit card for now consumers need us to move their money. But I’m still not convinced a person with a Steve Jobs-like mind wouldn’t find a workaround,” said Wymore. “We need to question what is our role and figure out a way we can join them or beat them. We can’t afford to just ignore it, or we’ll just become another Borders. Their business model was based on moving books, movies and music–all obsolete courtesy of Amazon and Apple. So we have to ask ourselves the tough questions now.”
She added that now more than ever cooperation is vital.
“The cooperative principle of cooperation among cooperatives is essential. For survival we need to move forward nationally as a brand and move forward in shared branching ATM networks and share in developing a switch that if a card has credit union on it then access is automatically free. Can you imagine what an incredible brand campaign that would be,” said Wymore. “If every credit union were a part of it and consumers could go to any credit union anywhere to do business that would eliminate the perception that credit unions don’t have the access or convenience of banks.”
She added the action and experience would be more powerful than any advertising campaign because it would demonstrate how credit unions are different.