From Russia With Love: Yakusheva Makes a Difference
Polina Yakusheva can sum up her approach to life and work pretty simply.
“Try something new and different – you only live once,” said the marketing manager at the $165 million Fitzsimons Credit Union in Aurora, Colo.
The talented Russian immigrant originally dreamed of being a famous fashion designer but instead has now found that graphic design and marketing have provided the perfect creative outlet.
“When I came out of college, reality and the economic crash hit, and I realized that graphic designers had tons of competition, so I went into the marketing world,” said the latest Trailblazer 40 Below, who got her start in the financial industry working in community banks right out of college. After moving to Colorado, a job opening at Fitzsimons Credit Union proved to be exactly where she belonged.
“The variety of work I do, from event planning to graphic design, and writing policies to networking, there's never a dull moment. I love that credit unions work with other non-profits. I love being able to make a difference,” she said.
“As a credit union, we support Comitis Crisis Center and Children's Hospital Colorado and that we’re able to work with these organizations is so fulfilling,” Yakusheva added.
Comitis Crisis Center is a homeless shelter that provides long-term housing and care for homeless families and female veterans. The credit union provides free financial literacy to Comitis members and helps them get on their feet by providing them with education and tools to save money.
“It's initiatives like this that truly make me feel like what we do matters and we are making a difference in people's lives,” Yakusheva said. “Credit unions are the underdogs in the financial industry world. Many people don't know what a credit union is. I know before I started here I didn't really understand the difference, so to me educating consumers, building awareness, sharing our stories is just as important if not more important than trying to sell them on your accounts.”
As an advocate of the credit union difference, she is constantly on the lookout for community partners and expanding her network as a way to not only spread the word but also build relationships with new members while deepening those with existing members.
For example, a summer music festival on a Fitzsimons-affiliated college campus has helped build awareness of the credit union among students. For the past two years the credit union has also been preparing its Hispanic outreach initiative and it's now up to the marketing department to get the Fitzsimons name out to this new market.
“I heard someone say that there are no fresh ideas anymore – they’ve all been tried and done. I believe that's somewhat true but something that has been done before, can always get a fresh twist to make it your own,” Yakusheva said. “Credit unions are known to be behind the times, but it's not always true. As credit unions, we may not be the first but I believe we try to always be on top with technological updates and new products.”
She added that with banks constantly upping the ante on technology and online banking, credit unions need to stay competitive.
“Many credit unions talk about their aging membership. Well, in order to attract younger members, we need to have technology such as institution-to-institution transfers, bill pay, online banking, remote deposit capture – it's become a necessity now – a non-negotiable,” she said. “If credit unions don't offer this, but a bank down the street does – guess where those young members are going?”
Always solutions-focused, she chooses to see challenges as opportunities to try a different approach.
“That barrier is simply a suggestion. You don't have to accept it. It might be the way I was brought up but I’ve seen plenty of walls getting to where I am today and it's never stopped me,” said Yakusheva, whose family moved to the United States when she was 9 years old.
“There's this belief that credit unions are old and set in their ways. It doesn't have to be this way. Bring in some fresh ideas, modernize your logo, pump up the energy.”
She said she's been fortunate because the team at Fitzsimons from the board and senior management to peers, have always recognized that in order to grow, changes have to be made, and the have always been open to new ideas. An added bonus has been the support that the marketing department of three has in that everyone understands that without brand awareness, a business might as well close its doors.
“The best way to get ideas implemented is to get a supportive team behind you. The key to that is research and persistence,” Yakusheva said. “When an idea gets shuts down it's usually because of lack of knowledge or fear of failure. When you do your research and back your idea up with facts and numbers, it provides reassurance.”
As one who does her best to lead by example, her advice to young professionals looking to get ahead and have their ideas heard is simple: don't give up and keep learning.
“You should never miss an opportunity to learn more. I always try to learn something new about Fitzsimons or credit unions in general,” Yakusheva said. “There are so many different departments to explore and learn more about. Even if you may be an expert in your particular department, you should want to know more. There is always something new to learn.”
She added that young professionals should continue to work hard and strive to be the very best.
“There's a Russian saying that loosely translated says something like, ‘Water doesn't flow under a laying rock.’ This has always been my mantra,” she said. “Luck rarely just falls into your lap.You have to make your own luck. To get ahead, you have to work, you have to evolve, and you have to learn. If you don't do anything to change your situation, nothing will happen.” n