It isn’t often you get to wake up doing exactly what you dreamed since you were 12, so for Melanie Vest, chief financial officer at Denton, Texas-based DATCU Credit Union, her journey so far has simply been blessed.
“My parents were accountants and worked at university financial institutions and take your daughter to work day was my favorite day,” said Vest. “To be able to see the process and be in what was just a family-oriented place where they knew my name stayed with me.”
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She got her start at the $607 million credit union as a part-time teller while going to college and quickly worked up the ranks.
“I worked the drive thru part-time, but that was it. I fell in love with what we do and how we are able to really help people,” said Vest. “In a few months, there was an opening in the accounting department. I wasn’t the most qualified but I think they saw my competitive side and took a chance on me. From there, I was willing to do every job and as they say load my boat until it was full, and I’m still sailing.”
She credits her parents for instilling a desire to dream big, work hard and stay dedicated to accomplishing those dreams. She added that sense of self and drive has always been a big part of who she is.
“I think being an athlete, running track in college and the hard work that comes with it definitely fed my competitive spirit and helped shape my leadership style,” said Vest. “Mediocrity was not an option, we always had to run harder, faster, be better while at the same time work as a team encouraging and supporting one another. So while there was opportunity for individual achievement, it was still very much about the team working together for overall success as well.”
Simply put, there are no limits beyond those that are self-imposed and whether it’s her role as a wife, mother or chief financial officer, Vest gives 100% to each.
“The advice shared with me all these years is true. It’s all about consistency and there is no substitute for hard work,” said Vest. “Nothing is ever handed to you, and no one is ever successful on their own. I’ve had great mentors throughout my life, and that I get to give that back and be able to guide and mentor others along the way is one of the best parts of my job.”
Failure has never been an option for her.
“No just means there’s another solution waiting to be found,” said Vest. “There is always an answer and solution to every problem or challenge. It’s just a matter of how hard you’re willing to work to find it and at the end of the day, we will get the job done.”
That tenacity helped Vest and her team to nimbly respond to the changing corporate credit union landscape. She worked hands on with the Federal Reserve and vendors to develop DATCU’s method for handling the huge project and found a way to save DATCU money by eliminating a middle processor. All the necessary changes were implemented without increasing staff. Over the past 10 years, the credit union more than doubled its assets. In addition, departments under Vest’s leadership remained consistent in size with the growth absorbed by implementing efficient workflows, automation of processes and cross training staff to help ensure every aspect of the business was covered.
“I always say that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a student, a stay-at-home mom, an educator or a lawyer, you can avoid being ordinary if you’re willing to exceed expectations and deliver exceptional service to those you serve–both internal and external,” said Vest. “I’d love for more CFOs to ask why. Can we look at the latest challenge in a different way? Take the whole opt-in issue a few years ago. So many in the industry were taking an all or nothing approach. We ended up doing it all in-house, had an 80% opt-in rate and most of the success boiled down to just educating members. So we as an industry need to explore how to spread the word of the value of saving money and value of credit unions. We can be profitable, run just as well and efficiently as the big boys.”
She added that staying true and delivering on core values can help credit unions stay competitive.
“I think it’s important to really keep the members first and have quality product offerings that are beneficial to them. It doesn’t have to be bleeding edge if it really helps and meets the members’ need to save and grow their money,” said Vest. “We have to deliver unique solutions as a way to differentiate ourselves. The competitive landscape has changed in the sense that local community banks and credit unions are both very involved in the community and may look similar on paper. It’s for us to identify and show that credit union difference.”
She added that the greatest challenge for credit unions continues to be regulation.
“I think there we some 200 new regulations passed last year, and what it takes to comply with that is like the Titanic in that it’s not easy to shift and maneuver,” said Vest. “Relevance is huge looking ahead so that means developing ways to listen to members’ needs, actively engaging not just our members but our employees as well. Making sure they feel empowered to share and act on their ideas and recognizing that drive and motivation to be the best and deliver quality experiences.”
She added that she believes the best is yet to come for credit unions.
“Our cooperative nature is our biggest asset. Having a network of peers you can call when stuff like opt-in happens is part of why I think the future is so bright for credit unions,” said Vest. “It’s also a huge benefit to have a network of other successful women who can share their experiences and knowledge. We also each have to continue to learn and make sure we know what’s being discussed in Washington because it will affect what comes across your desk.” n