Rachel Pross Dives Into Opportunities: Women to Watch
Rachel Pross was raised to seize any opportunity that comes her way.
“My parents raised all three of their kids to never settle for less than our best,” said the latest Women to Watch honoree, who serves as director of compliance and legislative affairs at the $831 million Northwest Community Credit Union in Springfield, Ore.
“Honestly being driven is the D in my DNA. It's how I approach life and my career – just dive in, get it done and do my best. Thanks to my parents, my mindset has always been that potential is just as valuable as expertise, and as long as I dig in and learn, anything is possible.”
Making the most of every experience has served her well. She went from dreams of being a professional violinist playing in symphonies to accountant, before finally landing exactly where she belongs.
“I think I had this romantic view of a life in music and seeing the world but the reality of having a family meant needing to make a living and provide stability,” said Pross, who always had a knack for math. “Now, I can't imagine being in any other industry. I love what I do and being a part of this credit union movement.”
It was 2010, when she was asked to step in as CEO to help turn around a troubled credit union in Tucson, that she formed a close relationship with the Mountain West Credit Union Association while serving on the board of the Southern Arizona Chapter of Credit Unions.
Experiences with those groups sparked her interest in legislative affairs, which later fanned into a passion upon attending her first CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference in 2011. Her two passions of music and credit unions also merged later that year when she played a violin solo for the 50th anniversary graduation ceremony at the Western CUNA Management School.
“It was an unforgettable experience to perform for an audience of so many credit union heroes,” Pross said. “It is so critical to connect with others and get involved. Without my connections and resources I’ve developed over the years, it would have greatly hindered any potential for success, because no one person can know everything.”
Everything clicked when Pross made the move in 2012 from Arizona to Oregon to become compliance and legislative affairs manager of Northwest Community CU. She was promoted to her current position last November.
“Uprooting my family and moving over one thousand miles away was a tremendous leap of faith, but I was drawn to the Pacific Northwest for its strong credit union presence and advocacy efforts, and the gorgeous scenery didn't hurt,” she said. “Legislative affairs is the best part of my work, and I feel tremendously honored to represent credit unions in this way. Credit unions are about giving consumers a choice in the financial services market. Being a part of that movement – protecting and empowering people to have that choice – is such an incredible feeling.”
Ironically, the ultimate risk-taker also plays a critical role in compliance.
“The regulatory environment is constantly changing and while credit unions didn't cause the Great Recession, we now share in the regulatory scrutiny of its aftermath, which makes it harder for credit unions to do business. In a way, credit unions have become collateral damage in the wake of reckless lenders,” Pross said. “When it comes to compliance, people don't want to know the nitty-gritty details of every rule but rather how it affects their specific role in the credit union. So the same rules for legislative affairs and advocacy apply to compliance: keep it real and make the message relatable.”
Described by others as a credit union evangelist, she serves on the Northwest Credit Union Association's Oregon governmental affairs committee as well as its regulatory advisory subcommittee. She also serves as board president of the Willamette Chapter of Credit Unions, and its last chapter dinner had nearly double the attendance of previous events.
She's been working hard to bring the chapter's mission again to the forefront by inviting relevant and inspiring speakers to chapter events combined with a focus on making a real difference in the credit union community and the communities of Eugene and Springfield as a whole.
As a legislative key contact for the NWCUA, she also meets with Oregon legislators on a regular basis to keep them informed and updated on credit unions, the critical nature of the industry's income tax exemption, and the value credit unions deliver to the communities they serve. Compliance and tax reform are just two of the issues that keep her up at night as the notepad full of ideas on her nightstand will attest.
“We can't afford to back off of advocacy and we need to have a more-holistic view of risk beyond just the individual segments examiners love to look at,” Pross said.
“Believe me I’m not saying more regulation. I think there's an opportunity to take a step back, look at the big risk picture and see for example how a possible fluctuation in one category can result in a huge ripple in another and come up with solutions on how credit unions can address those issues.”
Pointing to federal government issued guidance regarding banking regulations for legal marijuana businesses as an example, Pross said it raises more questions than answers.
“Until the federal law changes, I’m curious what will happen as it creates another set of challenges for credit unions,” she said. “A lot of people want to open accounts for their dispensaries so what are we going to do now? Is not serving this niche the right thing? Are we essentially creating a black market for financial services? Is there a way to legally make it work for these businesses? Will examiners care if credit unions are complying with the FinCEN guidance if under federal law marijuana is still illegal?”
She added being able to evaluate the current landscape at the global, state and local levels will only help credit unions further their relevance by delivering those solutions that address consumer need. Meanwhile, to Pross, contentment with the status quo represents the greatest challenge facing industry leaders.
“We can't settle into comfortable routines as technology advances exponentially and consumers’ expectations become higher. We just can't afford to get lazy,” she said. “On the legislative front there are always going to be new members of Congress who don't know about our business model and the value we offer consumers as a not-for- profit financial organization.
“Whether we want it or not tax reform is coming and we have to continue to be vocal and constantly fight for our tax exemption. If we stop talking, sharing our story, everyday consumers – especially the underserved – will lose a powerful voice on the Hill.
“Ultimately credit unions provide balance to the credit structure of the entire nation, so our tax exemption is vital not only to credit union members but to consumers in general – bank customers included.”