The Collaborative Connection

Sometimes Numbers are Important 

Posted by Greg Michlig Thursday, February 13, 2014 10:22:00 AM

Numbers surface so many times in daily life. There are numbers that some choose to ignore—age, weight, debt payments, etc. There are numbers that are incredibly important—anniversary and birth dates, your mom’s phone number, your address, and, lately, the amount of snow we will be getting. Here are some numbers that are hard to ignore...

During the first week in February 2014, New Jersey credit unions appeared in search results on aSmarterChoice.org 2,104 times—nearly half the number for ALL of February 2013. The Banking You Can Trust campaign’s advertising on Comcast.net received a 1.10% click-thru rate, up from the 0.13% average in all of 2013. In short, our repetitive, multi-faceted marketing approach is generating results!

A new campaign as part of our overall consumer awareness strategy began on February 2. In the short time that the campaign has been running, as of this writing, it has generated 209 visits to bankingyoucantrust.com with the average time those users spend on the site being 5 minutes and 58 seconds. While visitors from this particular campaign only represent about 20% of all site visitors, the nearly six minutes they have spent on the site is tremendous compared to the average time spent from all other visitors at 1 minute 35 seconds.

Another powerful number from this experimental campaign is 28%. That is the percentage of visitors from the campaign who are performing credit union searches when they visit.

Stay tuned for more information on this and a formal reveal in early March.

Numbers also relate to Banking You Can Trust in terms of support from our credit unions. We are currently receiving more support from credit unions both in number of contributors and monetarily than this time last year. We are so thankful for this support, as without it, the campaign could not be as strong as it is. If you aren’t contributing to the campaign, please consider doing so. The contribution is small as it relates to the value currently offered to participants and we are laying the foundation for future initiatives that will continue to add value.

It’s also great to see our affiliates rallying together through increased support of other programs this year, as well. More credit unions have contributed to the very popular Reality Fair program and the partnership with the New Jersey Coalition for Financial Education—both of which are New Jersey Credit Union Foundation programs. Well done!

Why it’s important; overall engagement is up. Engagement is the key to creating better informed consumers and turning them into credit union members. Without credit unions’ participation it wouldn’t be possible and we wouldn’t have so many trusted partners to promote to consumers.

Regulatory Reaction 

Posted by Greg Michlig Thursday, January 30, 2014 12:02:00 PM

On Monday evening I decided it would be nice to do a little light reading. Instead, I started in on NCUA’s 197-page Proposed Rule on Prompt Corrective Action—Risk Based Capital. Let’s just say I didn’t make it all the way through that evening. I did, however finish up on Tuesday and, over the past couple of days, have taken in a series of other articles through the trades and from financial analysts.

The most important reading on this topic I have done, however, has been the emails that I have received from the CEOs of a few of NJCUL’s affiliated credit unions (along with several direct conversations). As has been documented in those aforementioned trade press articles, opinions on this rule vary and there are unique circumstances related to the application of the new measures depending on the credit union.

NCUA’s description of the proposed rule is, of course, logical and favorable. As I mentioned to those CEOs who emailed, their input provides necessary context when reviewing the information. As the state association for credit unions here in N.J., it is important to receive such emails and have the direct conversations I’ve had as well.

This is not a comment letter (although NJCUL will submit one) and the concerns with this proposed rule will be more universally fleshed out during the 90-day comment period and, certainly, during the CUNA GAC in a few weeks, but here are a few initial thoughts.

On page 14 of the draft (available here) it states that “Operating a credit union involves taking and managing a variety of risks…” Credit unions have shown that relative to other financial institutions, managing risk is a strength. While there is certainly room for adjustment to measurement of Risk Based Net Worth, this approach seems to significantly impair credit unions’ ability to take and manage risk in a way that will allow credit unions to grow. Furthermore, the proposal is heavily focused on concentration risk and doesn’t appear to take into consideration risk mitigation tools such as, but certainly not limited to, put options or rate structure.

I also find it interesting that the proposal also states, relative to potential additional requirements for individual credit unions, on page 86, that “(the rule) would provide that the appropriate minimum capital levels for an individual credit union cannot be determined solely through the application or a rigid mathematical formula or wholly objective criteria, and that the decision is necessarily based, in part, on a subjective judgment grounded in agency expertise.” Agreed, although there should also be consideration of the subjective judgment of the individual credit union’s management expertise in what could be a very sound risk-based approach that may or may not fit the rigid mathematical formulas and wholly objective criteria imposed through this proposed rule.

See what I did there?

The other part of the section that is bothersome is that, while subjectivity should certainly be an aspect of any major decision, what parameters will be in place to be sure that this subjectivity does not result in additional measures being imposed as the rule, as opposed to the exception? And whom, in particular, will have discretionary authority over whether or not additional requirements are necessary?

I could go on, but I won’t as there is still much discussion that needs to take place to fully understand the ramifications, pros, cons, etc. of this proposal. We’ll stay on it here at NJCUL and will more formally communicate relative to this issue in the coming weeks.

While I’m on the topic, you may have read in Tuesday’s Daily Exchange that I was recently appointed to the American Association of Credit Union Leagues’ (AACUL) Regulatory Advocacy/Compliance Advisory Committee. I am very pleased to be selected for this particular committee, noting that regulatory burden is a chief concern of nearly, if not all credit unions. I am looking forward to being the voice of New Jersey credit unions in this area and hope to positively impact the regulatory and compliance process through my involvement on this committee.

Engaging Young Professionals 

Posted by Greg Michlig Tuesday, January 21, 2014 8:43:00 AM

Age is both very specific and also relative. Depending on the situation, we may each cast ourselves as young or, um…otherwise. This goes for business careers as well.

What is a young professional? Is that label defined by the cutoff for the 40 Under 40 lists or the 30 Under 30 lists? The young professional groups we see and hear of today are said to have evolved from the Yuppies of the past (according to Wikipedia). For reference, Yuppies were defined as being in their 20’s or 30’s.

Depending on your path of entry into the credit union world, you may be a current young professional or, as the calendar has illustrated in my case, a former young professional. Either way, there is a point of reference for each of us and it is important that we recognize that in our industry.

It’s no secret that senior management in credit unions has matured along with the movement. Statistics will tell you that a large number of credit union CEOs are preparing for retirement in the next few years. While some of those positions may be filled by outside talent, many of the next CEOs will come from within. And hence, the position that person leaves will be filled, and so on and so forth.

As a leader, what steps are you taking to be sure that those in your organization are prepared to step up when the opportunity arises? As a young professional (YP), what are you doing to set yourself apart as a rising star? Together, are we effectively building our credit union community with top tier talent that understand and believe in the credit union difference?

You may have read in yesterday’s Daily Exchange that Aspire FCU's Melissa Nesi has been selected as N.J.'s representative for the “Crash” CUNA's GAC program, supported by Filene Research Institute and the Cooperative Trust. (In this case the magic YP age cutoff was 30.) As a participant, Melissa will attend exclusive events, network with the N.J. delegation as well as other YPs from throughout the country and have fabulous exposure to the largest credit union event of the year. She is also going to write about her “Crash” experience in her own words from the perspective of a young credit union professional. We will share her thoughts and photos in a feature story following the GAC.

This is a tremendous opportunity for Melissa, but it is also a quite limited opportunity in that N.J. can only have a single “Crasher.” That said, there are other ways to be involved.

The recent launch of NJCUL’s Creative You presents a YP development opportunity. While there are no age or experience designations for Creative You, the program has certainly engaged some of N.J.’s ambitious YPs in this, its inaugural year. Those participating will have the opportunity to hone their planning skills, delve into innovation processes, and develop and showcase their presentation talents.

Chapters offer an opportunity for YPs and non-CEO’s to be involved on a more local level. They also offer the possibility to gain experience through serving in leadership positions. I have seen chapters and regional groups thrive throughout the country through the engagement of YPs.

This past November, the North-Central Chapter held a meeting in Clark, N.J. where executives, vendors, and YPs were invited to network while enjoying an open bar and buffet. This unique and very informal event was specifically designed to engage YPs. Allowing for opportunities for peer-to-peer connectivity results in sharing of best practices and ideas, and growth of the “community” environment that has always been a tenet of a strong credit union presence.

We also strive to facilitate these peer-to-peer connections through the NJCUL roundtables. While the roundtables are not age specific, there are opportunities for professionals to make connections based on their areas of expertise. In some cases this may result in a YP connection or, perhaps, even a mentoring-type environment where a more senior leader is able to impart valuable knowledge from experience that would assist someone junior.

As I reviewed our educational offerings for 2014, I also had this in mind. You will find the same core operational subject matter throughout our education calendar as in past years, but we have also expanded to include more strategic and developmental topics. Most specifically, keep an eye out for Webinars related to tools for analyzing and assisting emerging leaders as well as some on delving into problem solving techniques and individual skills development.

If you are a “former” like me, how are you engaging your YPs in an effort to develop the next leaders of our movement? If you consider yourself a current YP, step up, be a credit union advocate, express your ideas, and ask the questions on your mind. The evolution of the credit union industry is ongoing, and together, through development and planning, we will ensure there are future leaders who are instilled with the values that make credit unions unique and essential and the skills that foster success. 

2014: A Look Ahead 

Posted by Greg Michlig Thursday, January 02, 2014 10:19:00 AM

Happy New Year! 2013 was certainly an interesting year for me personally and for the New Jersey Credit Union League as well. Actually, for me, I’d say “exciting” would be a more appropriate adjective.

The tail end of ’13 was hectic, to be sure. We prepared and finalized our 2014 budget and strategic initiatives, got the cuGreenLoans pilot off the ground, celebrated the holidays, and continued to spend a significant amount of time with our credit unions throughout the state. That said, I’m not one for excuses, so I’ll simply acknowledge the fact that I did not post to this blog in December.

As for 2014 and those strategic initiatives…this is where I sense the adjective “exciting” applies for all of us here at NJCUL. In August, we started to formally put the wheels in motion to identify what we can and should be doing differently, through all-staff strategic dialogue sessions. We spent a considerable amount of time discussing what we have heard from you, the credit union professionals of New Jersey, relative to our offerings. The NJCUL Board of Directors held a strategic planning session in October, which provided focus as we honed our strategy relative to our vision. Internally, we have processed our ideas in several iterations and have continued the dialogue on an ongoing basis.

Some of our initiatives will see implementation in 2014, while others are being developed to set the stage for what will come in 2015 and beyond. While not putting the cart before the horse with specifics, it is safe to say that we are working on some significant additions to the Banking You Can Trust campaign, designed to drive specific value for affiliated credit unions in terms of promotion and member acquisition. Outreach efforts will be increased in an effort to gather greater insight into the issues most important to you and processes will be implemented to ensure those issues become the focal points that drive NJ EDGE, PLAN, and READ. We will review our business partner platform to identify ways in which we can drive additional value for our affiliates. Metrics are being developed to quantify your involvement and engagement in League-driven opportunities, so that we may more formally recognize your contributions to the credit union community as a whole. I could go on, but the point here is to provide the sketch, not paint the picture.

As we look ahead to 2014, I see opportunity. As many of us have done in recent weeks, literally, the League has figuratively filled its plate full. But we have done so thoughtfully and with purpose, so we are able to accomplish the goals we have set forth. When the annual calendar turns again in just under 12 months, I hope you will look back at the year that was, relative to what we accomplished and positioned at the League and find amongst the adjectives that come to mind…“exciting.”

To your success in 2014!

Thankful 

Posted by Greg Michlig Wednesday, November 27, 2013 11:10:00 AM

Traditionally, this is the time of year when many people pause to take inventory of those things for which they are grateful. On this, the eve of Thanksgiving, I’d like to share a few of those items on my list.

Personally, I am thankful to be starting a new chapter in my life with all of you, here in New Jersey. My entire professional career has centered on credit unions and I am very pleased to continue in this industry alongside all of you. The opportunity to work in a cooperative movement where the common goal is to help people achieve financial well-being and, through associated efforts, live better lives, is tremendously gratifying.

In an environment where time is limited and people are increasingly value-conscious, we at the New Jersey Credit Union League are specifically thankful for our affiliated credit unions. Together, through shared resources, we are able to project a strong, unified voice in consumer, political, and regulatory advocacy. It is the recognition that we are better together that exemplifies the credit union difference and allows us to separate credit unions’ brand from that of our for-profit competitors.

I would be remiss if I did not recognize the League staff in this post. It is only through their continually thoughtful and tireless efforts that this organization is able to serve you through a multifaceted approach each and every day. I am thankful for their professionalism and resourcefulness, and personally, for welcoming me and my family as we have navigated these first six months together.

And, of course, I am thankful for my family and friends. Making a move of the magnitude my wife, three children, and I have made this past year is significant. Without all of their support, it would have been extremely difficult.

Finally, the list of those things for which I am grateful also includes, but is not limited to: ice cream, golf, being introduced to a whole new world of pizza pie, ESPN, music (all kinds), the Green Bay Packers, nights out with my wife, and hugs and kisses from my kids.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. 

How Are You Failing Forward?  

Posted by Greg Michlig Monday, November 11, 2013 11:32:00 AM

Yes, that’s right… failing… are you doing a good job of it? Have you heard of the concept?

It’s a phrase that stuck with me many years ago. I performed a quick online search to see how prevalent this topic is and found that it must have caught the attention of many others as well. There are books, blogs, columns, and full Web sites dedicated to failing forward. I clicked on the top result: www.failforward.com. The following statement is on the homepage: “Failing Forward looks different for different kinds of organizations.” Simple, but accurate.

You don’t really define how to fail, but you know it when it happens, right? It’s taking the concept of “let’s throw these ideas on the wall and see what sticks” to another level. It’s “let’s implement these ideas that are a bit edgy but could be game changing and see what sticks.” Some are simply bound to fail…and that’s okay. It’s what you learn by being innovative that will produce the successes that follow the set-backs.

This topic has come up frequently in my conversations with credit union leaders throughout New Jersey. If your credit union (and the League for that matter) is not looking for ways to move forward, it won’t. And, as the statement says, this will look different for each organization. Risk tolerance levels vary by organization and they should. This is not to say everything is a go-for-broke strategy…but it’s good to set stretch goals and test the limits of your comfort zone.

Now, it should also be understood that the “forward” piece of this strategy significantly outweighs the allotment for “fail.” There needs to be a measured approach to everything and if the results of your efforts show significantly more “fail” than “forward,” adjustments need to be made.

While discussing how this concept has played into the successes of one small-asset credit union I met with, I made a connection to another statement that has stuck with me for many years. It’s something my dad told me when I played high school basketball: “If you’re not getting a couple fouls, you’re not trying hard enough.”

Now, this went against what coaches had been preaching…move your feet, don’t reach, play the angles, DON’T FOUL! But it also made sense to me and has likely played a role in my approach to many things today. I certainly didn’t want to foul out of games and knew that if I was out there hacking everyone, the coach would pull me. But I also became more aggressive and less afraid of picking up a foul (or three).

I remember my final game of high school basketball like it was yesterday. Our team had been ranked as high as #2 in the state within our division and we were in the regional finals. For much of the night I guarded the other team’s top scorer. We had a good team defense and I helped to hold him in check, relative to his usual performances. We went to overtime…and lost. I fouled out at the very beginning of overtime (on what even the radio announcer said was a bad call, by the way).

To use the cliché, I left everything on the floor. Our team was terribly disappointed by what we deemed a failure, but it was also a learning experience. We moved forward and knew that we were stronger because of all the hard work we had put in as a team. We learned that in the grand scheme of things, this would hurt for a while and then fade mostly to the back of our minds. I believe it was a factor in making us more determined in all of our endeavors, leading that group to many successful careers in business.

When you think of it, only one team gets to hoist the championship trophy at the end of each season. Knowing this, athletes choose to “get in the game” despite the likelihood that their last game will be a loss. But that does not deter them from doing whatever they can to make that last game a win because they know they will be better for it in the long run.

Are you in the game or on the sidelines? Do you have the tolerance to fail forward…even a little? Give it some thought. If we all fail forward a little, I believe that as a movement, we can move forward a lot. 

We’re 26th! 

Posted by Greg Michlig Thursday, October 31, 2013 9:28:00 AM

Each month I receive a listing of the Don’t Tax My Credit Union advocacy efforts by each state. League Director of Government Affairs, Chris Abeel, and I discuss these numbers and consider the next steps as we continue to explore ways to engage the credit union community in the campaign.

The numbers are good. New Jersey’s credit union advocates have stepped up and produced significant numbers of contacts to our congressional delegation. In fact, we are well on our way to logging more lawmaker contacts than on any other issue in recent memory. The tally of grassroots campaign contacts has or will soon exceed those in support of H.R.1151, MBL reform, and municipal deposits.

When I look at the comparative numbers to other states, however, I am concerned. New Jersey is 26th in total lawmaker contacts logged through mutual League and CUNA reporting. These would be in the form of e-mails through the CUNA Grassroots Action Center, postcards (as distributed through the League), toll-free calls, and Twitter messages directly to members of Congress. There are certainly contacts that take place outside these measures and perhaps those would move us up a few slots, but the overall positioning on the page compels me to bring this to your attention.

There is another correlation here and to some extent, it justifies where we stand. New Jersey sits at 28th in terms of number of members. So, theoretically, we are mobilizing in the Don’t Tax My Credit Union fight to a level relative or perhaps even slightly better than other states in those terms.

Herein lies the concern: New Jersey is the 11th most populace state and has the 9th most credit unions of any state. To me, this says there is tremendous opportunity to engage consumers and band together for a louder voice both here and in Washington. Our consumer advocacy, in many terms, goes hand-in-hand with our political advocacy. The Don’t Tax My Credit Union initiative presents an opportunity to share the message of why credit unions are different and positioned to be the best financial partner to consumers.

In my last blog post, I touched on the need to take it upon ourselves to proudly share our credit union message whenever the opportunity presents itself. This includes making sure staff and board members are equipped to share the “elevator pitch” of why credit unions, as not-for-profit, cooperative financial institutions, are a unique and present value in addition to low rates and fewer fees. It also means they should be aware of the tools available to them for political advocacy.

It sounds simplistic, but in the highly operational and compliance intensive environment that is the reality of day-to-day credit union life, taking time to discuss the structural difference and social good of our efforts may take a back seat to “getting things done.” If you are already doing this, fantastic. If you are not, I encourage you to take the time to engage your personnel in this conversation. If our boards and internal teams are passionate about the credit union difference, they can ignite the sort of grassroots effort that will move us all forward.

Here at the League, we will continue to look for additional opportunities to boost credit unions’ voice. In addition to efforts to defend credit unions’ tax exemption, we continue to see significant growth in awareness through one of those opportunities—the Banking You Can Trust campaign.

From all reports and metrics available, word of mouth advertising is still the best way to communicate a message. This includes social media and is the basis of viral campaigns. How incredible could it be if a few more people from each credit union staff or board followed @bankingyoutrust on Twitter or shared the www.bankingyoucantrust.com Web site on Facebook and from there had even one friend do the same? I believe those rankings in the 20’s would trend upwards. The pace at which that happens is truly up to each and every one of us.

Unite for Good! 

Posted by Greg Michlig Thursday, October 17, 2013 9:23:00 AM

If you are reading this blog, I’m sure you know that today, October 17, 2013, is International Credit Union Day. It is a day set aside to commemorate the credit union movement’s impact on the financial well-being of its members. It is also a day to reflect on the rich history of the movement and the growth we have achieved by staying true to our mission of “People Helping People.”

This year we join with over 50,000 credit unions representing more than 196 million members, in over 100 countries, under the “Unite for Good” theme. This theme is indicative of the nature of credit unions, where we rally behind our shared values as a movement through collaboration and aggregate strength.

New Jerseyans have been hit hard by the economic climate and the realities of Superstorm Sandy. Along the way, credit unions have been integral in the path to recovery through their community involvement, financial education initiatives, and their traditional focus on members’ needs as not-for-profit financial cooperatives. Many of the programs credit unions have enacted to improve the financial well-being of their members have been developed through shared knowledge and cooperative endeavors that are only possible through a collaborative approach that is truly unique in the financial services industry.

As a movement, we need to take it upon ourselves to proudly share our credit union message. Not just today, but whenever the opportunity presents itself. I encourage you to take the time to look back at the history of our movement, understand where we’ve been and why we continue to be the best financial partner for all consumers. Then, individually, take the initiative to more boldly spread the word of the positive impact we make for our members each day.

I also encourage you to continue to look for new ways to engage in the collaborative process. At the New Jersey Credit Union League we have been working towards this very goal. A key element of our mission is to “create a collaborative environment that adds value through shared services, consumer awareness, and innovative market development.” One new way in which we are doing this is through the recently announced Creative You program.

Creative You is designed to give anyone, from credit union leaders to frontline staff, a forum to share their ideas on how credit unions can continue to innovate and evolve to best meet the financial needs of their members and ensure a robust movement here in New Jersey. Whether presenting concepts relative to the credit union, statewide, or universal level, Creative You affords the opportunity for forward-thinking, ambitious credit union personnel to take the stage and showcase their ingenuity.

This program also provides a venue to foster collaboration between credit unions. While teams may be comprised of individuals from a single credit union, Creative You is also open to individuals wishing to work with professionals from other credit unions in an effort to tackle important issues facing the movement. NJCUL will even work with individuals to coordinate groups upon request.

Whether through Creative You, the Executive Leadership Series, NJ PLAN, or any of the other collaborative initiatives presented by the League, your involvement is the key to our collective success. We are here to lead and we are also here to listen. Participate and encourage others at your credit union to do the same.

So, let’s take a moment to celebrate our history and successes today, more actively share our message going forward, and continue to discover new and exciting ways to “Unite for Good.”

Happy International Credit Union Day!

A Word of Thanks 

Posted by Greg Michlig Friday, October 04, 2013 9:31:00 AM

On the heels of the NJCUL’s 79th Annual Meeting and Convention, there is no doubt that there are many people who deserve recognition for their efforts. The question is, where to start?

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “it takes a village” used in instances like this. If that’s the case, then the village planner for this event would be none other than Yvette Segarra, Manager of Special Events. She’d probably be the sheriff as well! Events like these are a tremendous undertaking and Yvette takes great pride in putting together a program, from start to finish and exhibit hall to annual meeting that does not disappoint. Based on the comments I heard and have received, it was mission accomplished this year in Atlantic City.

The rest of the village is extensive and diverse. It includes the NJCUL Board of Directors, the full staff, exhibitors, hotel staff, speakers, entertainers and, of course the credit union personnel and volunteers who take the time to attend.

Having attended countless credit union conferences and meetings of all sizes over the years and, as a staff member involved in the management of many such conferences, I know what it takes to execute a successful event. Your NJCUL staff was most certainly up to the task.

From processing your registrations to preparing your registration envelopes pre-conference, to greeting you at the registration desk; From evaluating and signing speakers to assisting them with their on-site set up and making sure the rooms were prepared; Whether arriving a day or two early to be sure the hotel and AV was ready or arriving before you in the mornings to make sure everything was in order for the day… there are many things going on behind the scenes that you have no reason to be aware of… I could go on and on. It was “all-hands-on-deck” and throughout the convention I was continually fielding comments assuring me that all hands were performing to an exemplary level.

To be honest, it didn’t surprise me. This staff is comprised of people who work very hard and have your best interests in mind at every turn. They want you to walk away with exceptional value through content and a smile from the fun you had along the way.

I’m sure it sounds like I’m bragging and, of course I have a biased view. If not for the high praise I heard on-site and through follow-up emails, perhaps my tone would be slightly more muted. Either way, it would not have diminished my view of the mission-centric approach of the team here at the League.

I was also told that the conference attendees were as engaged as ever. The exhibit hall was busy (along with the dance floor). The general session room was packed and the breakout sessions were highly attended. Participation in the New Jersey Credit Union Foundation’s silent auction was up. With the sun shining outside and the slot machines ringing below, these indicators say a lot about the dedication of the attending credit union representatives and their commitment to their members.   

Thank you to the board of directors for their ongoing support and participation throughout the Annual Meeting and Convention. And thank you to all attendees, exhibitors, sponsors and partners who helped make the 2013 NJCUL Annual Meeting and Convention a huge success!

And Then There Were Three 

Posted by Greg Michlig Friday, September 13, 2013 10:29:00 AM

There are plenty of quotes by well-known leaders regarding their commitment to lifelong learning. According to Henry Ford, it keeps you young. Einstein asserted that intellectual growth should cease only at death. From Thomas Jefferson to Julia Child, there are many who have attributed the success of their careers to ongoing education.

There are tremendous educational opportunities throughout the movement. Many of those opportunities can be found here in New Jersey, through the League’s EDGE and DNA programs. We’d certainly love to see max participation at our educational offerings, but acknowledge that the day-to-day responsibilities of credit union operations are significant. And, for board members, your time is also at a premium.

As someone who believes strongly in ongoing education, however, I still marvel that more people don’t participate in the very reasonably priced and sometimes even FREE educational and networking events that are offered. To be honest, some of your peers have told me they feel the same.

It’s also notable in other ways. Earlier this week I earned the designation of Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE) through the National Credit Union Foundation’s (NCUF) DE training. In doing so, I became the third person from the state of New Jersey to earn the designation, joining Jim Miller, President/CEO, Liberty Savings FCU, and Pete Manfredo, a credit union (and NJCUL) veteran, currently serving as a Director at NJ Gateway CU.

There are over 1,000 DE’s. My quick calculations when reviewing a list of those with the designation shows that four out of every five states have more DE’s than N.J. I’ve noticed similar results when looking at other participant lists from national programs and contests as well, and I wonder why?

I believe there is much to gain from both in-state and national events. There is value in credit union-focused as well as out-of-industry education. Operational knowledge is imperative, but training in soft skills and having a firm understanding of historical context and the driving organizational and industry principles can provide sometimes forgotten context.

This is where the NCUF’s DE training comes in. While there is certainly meat to the program, brought through case studies and projects related to real-world issues facing the credit unions, there is also a robust focus on the philosophy and guiding co-operative principals of the movement. While many of the historical elements of the training were not new to me, the in-depth discussion of how the events of the past are applicable and relevant to current events was stimulating.

Digging into the stories of Edward Filene, Roy Bergengren and Louise Herring, along with more recent first-person accounts of significant events from Larry Blanchard, WOCCU’s David Richardson, and program director Lois Kitch, provided stirring conversation amongst the group comprised of young professionals and industry vets alike. Hearing of how many of these stories relate to the emerging cooperative financial services movement in South Africa from Nomadelo Sauli, a woman leading the charge there, and who happened to be in my working group for the 6-day program, was extremely insightful and motivational.

Following this experience, I am firmly entrenched in the notion that continuing, life-long education is not only individually valuable, but it can also be inspirational. I perceive the opportunities we offer here at NJCUL to be reasonably convenient and, from what I have seen in the event surveys, strong from a content side. In addition, participation in programs such as the DE training can bring new perspectives to drive innovation or perhaps just rejuvenate a weary soul.

I encourage you to provide us with your thoughts on how NJCUL can compel you to take advantage of our educational offerings to a greater extent than today. And I also hope that we can raise our representation outside the state, for it is through those new experiences that we can bring new ideas and collaborative concepts from not only throughout the country, but the world. In the end, individuals will grow and the credit union movement in New Jersey will benefit.

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