DALLAS – In one week's time and through a somewhat complicated string of events, several individuals organized two separate opportunities to share the credit union message with Russian, Armenian and Georgian visitors to the United States. The common thread was the participation of a credit union member service representative who moved to the United States from Russia three years ago. The idea for the first meeting began taking shape when an acquaintance of Carol Luebke, Texas Credit Union League's vice president of member relations, mentioned that a group of a dozen Russians was coming to Dallas to participate in a three-week work session on how to organize non-profit associations. Carol's response, "I work for a non-profit association," started the wheels moving on what turned into an invitation for one of the Russian guests, Aleksandre Lubyanoy, to visit League offices and a local credit union. Lubyanoy, a Russian dentist from Volgograd, is interested in organizing credit unions in Russia. At TCUL, he met with Tom Hodge, vice president of sales/marketing, who explained to Lubyanoy how credit unions are chartered in the U.S., the importance of having a governing regulatory agency and the necessity of deposit insurance. "Before we started, he (Lubyanoy) didn't understand the difference between how credit unions and banks are structured. Cooperatives meant something else under the communist system," Hodge said. Lubyanoy also visited Texas Industries ECU in Midlothian, south of Dallas. Natasha Lowe, credit union member service representative, explained credit union operations and answered Lubyanoy's questions. Lowe only recently learned the answers to many of those questions. After graduating from Kaliningrad Technical State University with a mechanical engineering degree, she moved from Russia to the U.S. and worked in a bank for eight months. She didn't know what a credit union was until she accepted her current position, which she has held for almost a year. Lowe says she has a pretty good understanding of credit union operations now. "With only six employees in the credit union, you have to know what everybody else does," she said. The second meeting originated from unrelated circumstances. Advancial Credit Union member Joanne Cherry contacted her credit union because a group of Armenian and Georgian bankers were coming to Dallas as part of an educational program sponsored by the Dallas Committee for International Visitors. Armenia and Georgia neighbor Russia on the west. Each country has its own native language, but most people also speak Russian. The delegation of six bank presidents plus two interpreters was making various U.S. stops, gathering information on how American banks conduct business. "Their primary motivation for landing in Dallas was to visit the Federal Reserve Bank," Cherry said. "I thought we needed to give them a different twist and let them see what a credit union is all about. So I called Advancial and they took it from there." Advancial CEO Gary Jester had just heard about the Russian visitor to Texas Industries ECU, so he made a phone call to CEO Ross Irvin. The two credit unions decided to team Lowe with Advancial's Business Development Director Dave Selsky to host the bankers' visit. The duo was able to provide varying perspectives from a $10 million (Texas Industries) and a $600 million (Advancial) credit union. Selsky was "pumped" following the meeting. What he expected to last about 30 minutes turned into a 2-1/2 hour educational session. "We spent about 15 minutes talking about credit. They wanted to know what a lease was and what a balloon note was. But they were more interested in the shape of credit unions – what they are, what they do and how they impact the community," Selsky said. Lowe concurred. "We talked about electronic transactions – credit cards, debit cards, but they were more interested in the structure of credit unions and how they make money." "They got a little confused," Lowe said. "We had told them credit unions were not about making money, but about pleasing people and that credit unions had been established for people of modest means. When Dave told them that McDonald's was in their field of membership, they couldn't see how that was serving people of modest means. We had to explain to them that the credit union is serving the individual employees of McDonald's, not the corporation. Lowe said she enjoyed the two opportunities to share the credit union message. "The visitors told me they were able to ask me a lot of questions that they didn't feel comfortable asking Americans," she said. Selsky would do it over, too. "I'm a business development guy, so I'm always looking for opportunities to expand the credit union's presence. But that's not what this was all about. There was nothing for Advancial Credit Union to gain here; this was just about helping other people," he said. -

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