Young, motivated and fearless, these 10 professionals may be just what the credit union industry needs. Some are board or committee members at individual credit unions and others hold leadership roles at the state or national level, but they all have the same goal in mind: bring innovative ideas to credit unions and see that they achieve growth and success.
Click through the slideshow to meet 10 under-40 board and committee members who reside across North America and are making a difference in their credit unions and communities. Do you know of a superstar young board or committee member who isn’t listed here? Tell us about him or her in the comments.
Atom Zeke Avery, 33
Oswego County Federal Credit Union Board of Trustees
Atom Zeke Avery entered the real estate business at the age of 19, purchasing his first property and launching his company, Avery Rental Properties LLC. He’s now the owner of two additional companies, All Season Inn Corp and Beacon Hotel Oswego NY, and has worked as a nuclear security guard.
Also a member of the $49 million, Oswego, N.Y.-based Oswego County Federal Credit Union, Avery entered the credit union governance space after participating in a leadership program for Oswego County.
“Through that program, I met one of the Oswego County FCU branch managers, who realized I was a member of the credit union for many years and suggested their board might be a great fit for me,” Avery said. “I have served on other boards in the past that were not my passion. I realized quickly that financing and helping members achieve their dreams was something I wanted to be a part of.”
Currently, technology is the focus of Avery’s work as an Oswego County FCU Board of Trustees member. He said the board is working to develop an iPhone app as well as an online program that allows members to view all of their financial data, including investments and loans from outside the credit union, in one place.
“This information is very useful,” Avery said of the new program. “When people know their entire financial status, they’ll become better credit union members.”
Luke Watson, 29
Unitus Community Credit Union Audit Committee
Luke Watson, a financial manager for a Northwest forests products company, is a Certified Public Accountant and Certified Information Systems Auditor and is helping to shape the future of the $915.6 million, Portland, Ore.-based Unitus Community Credit Union as chair of its Audit Committee.
Watson became a member of Unitus Community Credit Union in 2008 and was appointed to the committee in 2009; since then, he’s provided input on topics such as new credit union services and board succession planning.
“Unitus actively cultivates young leaders for input on next-generation products and future planning,” he said. “As a result, I’ve been able to offer insight on a number of products that are critical differentiators for younger members, such as remote deposit, shared branching and personal financial management.
“I’ve also had the privilege of taking part in discussions regarding the difficult issues of succession planning and board member term limits. While credit unions that ignore these challenging issues put themselves at risk, so do those that plan their future without input from future stewards.”
Watson holds degrees in accounting and finance, and has worked in corporate finance, public accounting and information technology consulting. He said a credit union’s success can be due in part to appointing leaders who represent the age diversity of its membership pool.
“I firmly believe credit unions with leadership that reflects the age diversity of members have greater credibility in the marketplace,” Watson said. “That’s why I’m proud of the credit union ownership model. When leadership truly reflects membership, I think we’re ready to do something special.”
Jodi Chambers, 38
Canadian National Young Leaders Committee
Jodi Chambers, chair for the Canadian National Young Leaders Committee, began working for Assiniboine Credit Union of Winnipeg, Manitoba when she was 19, starting as a summer student employee and working her way up to her current position of director of business excellence. She joined NYLC, she says, to share her career and leadership development story with others.
“Through the NYLC and our activities, I hope to encourage young people to work for credit unions, and for existing young employees, encourage them to seek out the opportunities that exist,” Chambers said. “I have found that credit unions respect young people, their perspectives and ideas. They’re great places to take risks and try new things.”
As the NYLC chair, Chambers oversees all of the committee’s projects and programs, which include the NextGenCU Leadership Program, a series of professional development workshops that will be held in 2013, and the NYLC Build a Better World Challenge, for which young credit union professionals will aim to raise $250,000 for the Cooperative Development Foundation of Canada’s Build a Better World Campaign
Chambers said she believes young people can make a difference as part of credit union boards and committees by reinventing old ideas and stirring up new energy in the industry.
She added, “Young people can invigorate a board or committee. Consider how drawn people are to young children – they love to be around that kind of energy and inquisitive nature – the same is true for young people serving on a board or committee.”
Josh Roberts, 33
Wisconsin Credit Union League Young Professionals Network Advisory Board and Government Affairs Committee
Josh Roberts wears many hats as a young leader in the credit union industry. In addition to serving as a controller for Enterprise Credit Union, a $32.5 million credit union based in Brookfield, Wis., he’s a member of both the Wisconsin Credit Union League Young Professionals Network Advisory Board and WCUL Government Affairs Committee, as well as vice president for the Metro Milwaukee Chapter of Credit Unions.
His WCUL Young Professionals Network Advisory Board activities include encouraging the expansion of young credit union professional networking in Wisconsin through organized meet-ups, developing educational programs to help familiarize young professionals with the credit union movement and organizing Crash events at the WCUL’s annual convention and Wisconsin’s State Government Affairs Conference.
As part of the WCUL Government Affairs Committee, Roberts’ focus is to meet regularly with state and national leaders to communicate the importance of a strong credit union system and share the committee’s stance on legislative matters that affect credit unions, he said.
“As the current executive leadership in the credit union movement ages and grows closer to retirement, it is vital that young professionals build a solid foundation for carrying on the tradition of the movement,” he said. “If young professionals are not equipped with knowledge of their own credit union and the movement as a whole, they will not have the experience to understand the demands that go into leading a credit union.”
He added that young professionals bring a host of innovative ideas to the table for marketing credit union products and services to a new generation.
“With the advent of new technologies and changes in the economic environment, the ways members use credit unions have changed so much in the last few years,” he said. “It’s key for credit unions to capitalize on the voices of young people in order to remain competitive financial institutions.”
Roberts’ activism stretches outside the credit union industry – he’s involved with in the Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red Cross, the Milwaukee Riverkeepers and Milwaukee Area Technical College, where he earned his accounting degree, as an Accounting Advisory Board member and occasional event panelist.
Heather Paris, 27
Wisconsin Credit Union League Young Professionals Network Advisory Board
Recently appointed to the WCUL Young Professionals Network Advisory Board, Heather Paris loves to share her enthusiasm for the credit union movement. She began her credit union career in 2003 and has worked as a teller, assistant supervisor, relationship development officer and vice president of operations for two different Wisconsin credit unions. This year, she began her current role as operations director for the $218 million Heritage Credit Union in Madison, Wis.
As a board member, Paris helps motivate young credit union employees to immerse themselves in topics and activities such as governmental affairs, philosophy training, leadership and mentoring programs, fundraising and chapter meetings. She’s also volunteered to connect with credit union CEOs with the purpose of encouraging them to motivate their young employees and grant them more responsibilities, she said.
“One of our goals is to convey to credit union leadership the importance of engaging young staff in long-term operations and strategic plans,” Paris said. “It’s important for executives to secure their credit unions’ futures, which will ultimately result in including young and resourceful individuals in their strategic goals and succession planning.”
Paris said credit unions must understand their future members, leverage current young employees and recruit new young employees in order to reach their most common goal: growth.
“Not only do credit unions need to create urgency for young people to become members, they should understand this generation’s expectations and begin marketing to them in new, innovative ways,” she said. “Otherwise, they may face difficulties in young member retention. The bottom line is, credit unions should not be afraid to embrace the spirit and ideas of their young staff and board members, because their creativity may be the credit union’s future.”
Cody Thomas, 28
Ravalli County Federal Credit Union Board
This Hamilton, Mont. native said he was hesitant about joining a credit union board being that he had no professional finance experience. But after a conversation with a sitting board member for Ravalli County Federal Credit Union, a $34 million credit union based in Hamilton, he quickly changed his mind.
Thomas earned a degree in microbiology from Montana State University and pursued a career in science, working as a field technician, lab technician and now as a manufacturing specialist. He joined the board at Ravalli County FCU in May 2011 after receiving an invitation from sitting board member Jim Whitlock.
“I had been a long-time member of the credit union – my parents opened an account for me shortly after I was born,” Thomas said. “I knew the CEO and some of the tellers, but had not been involved beyond my own personal finances. In the end, I joined because Jim convinced me that despite my lack of a financial background, I could be of help to the members as well as learn a lot from the experience.”
As a board member, Thomas said he mainly focuses on financials, policies, succession planning and improving mobile banking at the credit union.
“Ideally, credit union boards should be as diverse as their membership,” he said. “I believe that it is in the best interest of our members to have a variety of perspectives represented on the board.”
Angel Luis Audiffred, 34
Municipal Credit Union Board and Fiscal Committee
He’s also a member of Municipal CU’s Fiscal Committee and says, “I believe that next to knowing the members of your credit union very well, it’s important to understand the financial aspects of your credit union. Younger voices on a credit union board offer a different approach to the many decisions directors must make. Being able to bring this fresh perspective helps improve the decision making process.”
Audiffred, who was born and raised in the Bronx and lives in Queens, holds a degree in advertising and marketing from the State University of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology and is currently pursuing a master’s degree at Columbia University.
His other merits include serving as press secretary and chief of staff for members of the New York City Council, receiving a fellowship from the Council of Urban Professionals and being named a “40 Under 40 Rising Star” by City & State newspaper in New York.
Shawn Fischer, 33
Best Advantage Credit Union Board
Shawn Fischer, a fleet manager for a transportation company in Brillion, Wis., was in the process of applying for membership at the $66 million, Brillion-based Best Advantage Credit Union when he was asked to join the board.
“I was looking to move my mortgage to BACU and provided financial spreadsheets I had created,” Fischer said. “Within a few weeks, I was approached and asked if I was interested in joining the board. I was so involved in my own finances and thought it would be great to see and encourage others to do the same.”
Providing member education is currently at the top of his priority list as a BACU board member.
“Right now, our biggest project is educating our members and non-members about what BACU offers and providing financial literacy to adults and children,” he said. “The decisions they make today could last five or 10 years or more. It’s important they realize what services are at their fingertips at the credit union and how to best utilize them.”
He added that younger board members bring with them an understanding of the new ways in which consumers bank today.
“It’s important to have a mixture of both young and old on a board, as the younger generation can learn a lot from the older generation,” he said. “But young representation is good because of technology and the new ways people think about their finances. In today’s world, we are banking via iPhone, iPad and text. We educate ourselves about our finances via Facebook and YouTube. It’s important for credit union staff and board members to understand new ways of reaching their members.”
Gavin Galimi, 39
University of Southern California Credit Union Board
This Los Angeles attorney, who earned his Juris Doctor from the University of Southern California Law School and currently serves as executive vice president, general counsel, chief compliance officer and chief privacy officer for health care company March Vision Care, says he first became fascinated by financial institutions as a child.
As an undergrad at the University of Southern California, he became a member of the university’s credit union, and when the opportunity to serve on the board arose, it seemed like a natural fit. Galimi had developed a love of volunteering and begun sharing his thoughts and suggestions with USCCU’s CEO.
“The credit union experience was so interesting,” Galimi said. “When I had ideas for USC CU to better serve me – and all students – I tracked down the CEO.”
He continued, “I learned many years ago how important it is to be active in things you enjoy. When you enjoy something, you make time, no matter how busy your schedule gets. I continue to enjoy my volunteer service, even as I continue to demystify what I thought was magical as a child.”
Galimi has led the credit union’s board as director and treasurer for around six years; he also serves, or has served, on several of its committees such as Nominating, Personnel, and Strategic Planning and Implementation. One of his key philosophies is taking the worries of credit union leaders and turning them into solutions, he said.
“Worrying can be taxing, so it needs to be done in a positive and constructive manner,” he said. “That way, the worries get translated into doing things better. One of my worries is what we need to do to serve our members in the future, whether it is three, five or 10 years from now.”
Appointing young board members is critical, Galimi believes, to a credit union’s longevity.
“If one of an institution’s goals is to persist over decades, age really matters,” he said. “Take the idea of an institution whose average age for members increases every year. This fictional institution will die when the last of its members dies.”
Outside of USC CU, Galimi has taken part in a number of associations and organizations, including the Associate of Corporate Counsel’s Health Law Committee, the State Bar of California and the University of Southern California Alumni Association’s Second Decade Society.
Miriam De Dios, 35
The Network of Latino Credit Unions and Professionals
Miriam De Dios is the CEO of Des Moines, Iowa-based consulting firm CooperaConsulting, which assists credit unions with Hispanic outreach efforts, but she isn’t stopping there when it comes to connecting credit unions with this largely unbanked ethnic group.
She’s also a board member for the Network of Latino Credit Unions and Professionals, whose mission, like Coopera’s, is to provide dignified financial services to Hispanics through credit unions, she said.
“I felt that by participating on the board, I’ll be able to continue promoting the collaboration and partnership of all credit union system organizations that seek to help credit unions reach and serve Hispanics,” De Dios said.
As an NLCUP board member, De Dios is currently focusing on setting strategic priorities for the organization and planning for 2013, which includes exploring educational opportunities for board members and partnership options for NLCUP, she said.
De Dios said she believes young voices are critical to bringing innovation and diversity to boards and committees within the credit union industry.
“The credit union industry as a whole remains largely very traditional and needs to continue to innovate and change as the needs of consumers continue to change,” she said. “I believe young voices offer new perspectives and fresh ideas to do just that.”
A graduate of Iowa State University, De Dios has a background in financial services, having worked for both State Farm Insurance Companies and John Deere Credit. She’s also a member of the World Council of Credit Unions’ Global Women’s Leadership Network and serves as a board member for a number of non-profit organizations in Iowa.