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For the past few years, the Gary Plank Scholarship has allowed the Foundation to send four professionals to the World Credit Union Conference. Amongst other factors, the recipients were selected based on a demonstrated commitment to the credit union cooperative model and to further development within the international credit union system.
This year’s conference was held in Vienna, Austria, bringing together thousands of credit union leaders from countries around the world. I sat down with three of this year’s Gary Plank Scholarship recipients to ask them about their experience at the Conference. All three expressed a deep enthusiasm for the Conference and feel it’s made a tremendously positive impact on their lives.
Tyler Valentine, CEO of Laramie Plains Credit Union and Treasurer of the Foundation Board.
As the CEO of Laramie Plains Federal Credit Union, one of the things that impacted Tyler the most at this year’s World Conference were the many opportunities to interact with diverse groups of leaders from all over the world.
“When you bring professionals with that much diversity into one space within the context of networking and really talking with each other, there’s just no way everyone’s not going to grow from that. The thing that impacted me the most in those situations, was how evident it was that everyone was united behind the same driving passion for what Credit Unions are about and the impact they make in people’s lives. Regardless of where the Conference attendees were from and what title they held, they were there because they believed in the Credit Union philosophy of people helping people and they wanted to learn how to do that even better.”
One of the more practical ideas that Tyler brought back to Laramie Plains came from one of the WYCUP speakers. The speaker talked about how difficult it is to accomplish meaningful work amid the multitude of distractions we all face every day. She suggested regularly scheduled “Get stuff done” days, in which phones are shut off, email is left unchecked, and distractions are held at bay so that concentrated time can be spent working on high value activities.
Tyler was also impacted by the assertion of keynote speaker Simon Mainwaring, Founder & CEO of We First, that the nature of Credit Unions is completely in line with who Millennials are and what they want. However, Credit Unions aren’t communicating with them well enough to get that message across. “One of the messages that would appeal to younger generations is the fact that Credit Unions are the original crowd sourced institutions. The power is in our people, not the wealth of our stockholders.”
In Simon’s address, he advocated a national effort, where Credit Unions from across the country come together to create attention grabbing campaigns that clearly and succinctly communicate the core of what Credit Unions are all about. Tyler agrees that when it comes to the daunting task of creating and communicating a message that creates real interest and engagement with the Credit Union movement, working together on a national level could have a much larger impact.
Tyler strongly encourages anyone considering attending next year’s conference to make the decision to go. He feels there is tremendous value in getting outside your own corner of the world and exposing yourself to the bigger picture. He feels that the conference does an amazing job of challenging world views and allowing attendees to see things in a different way, generating new ideas and solutions that would otherwise be out of reach.
Karen Nadal, Branch Manager, Pyramid Federal Credit Union
The first thing Karen said when we sat down to talk about her experience at this year’s World Conference Meeting was that there were so many great speakers and experiences that she could talk about it all day.
“This conference is such an amazing, energizing experience. It’s life changing, really. I would encourage anyone even thinking about going to next year’s Conference to get there any way that you can. It will completely renew your passion for what Credit Unions are about and what we can accomplish through a movement that truly is world-wide.”
Karen spoke about how impactful it was during the opening ceremonies, to see how many countries were represented at the Conference. With every national flag, she was reminded that it represented an area of the world with a Credit Union. “It was tremendously inspiring to realize that I am not only a part of a national movement. I am a part of a movement that’s having an impact on a global scale.”
One of Karen’s favorite breakout sessions was led by Kaitlin Cleary of Team 624 Communications. Kaitlin discussed how important it is for the Credit Union movement to focus on building trust with younger generations by using members of their own generation to create engagement. She suggested creating both youth and employee advocacy boards with the express purpose of communicating real experiences as real people over social media. She pointed out that members trust people more than organizations and that our members trust our employees as people more than the institution itself. So, it makes sense to engage our people in the task of communicating the tremendous advantages that Credit Unions hold. This approach is especially effective with the Millennial generation who relies heavily on social proof when making decisions about where to invest their time and money.
Like Tyler, Karen was especially impacted by the Simon Mainwaring’s keynote address. “Simon brought up so many great points, but I particularly loved that he said we must be ‘a mission with a company, not a company with a mission.’”
Ever since hearing Simon speak, Karen has been thinking about how Pyramid can tell more stories that the community will connect with. She’s realized that they need to tell stories about the problems in their community and what Pyramid is doing to address those problems in a positive way. By focusing on topics that are impacting the people in her community in a real way, Karen is hoping to demonstrate the people helping people philosophy in a more tangible way, creating deeper interest and engagement.
“We must tell our communities what we stand for before we tell them what we do. If they can understand the WHY behind our work, they will connect with us in a way that can really make a difference. We are here to help our community and it’s our job to make that known.”
Tara Roether, Graphic Designer and Digital Marketer, Landings Credit Union
Talking with Tara about her experience at this year’s World Conference, one can’t help but feel inspired. Her enthusiasm for the experience is absolutely contagious.
Tara especially loved the WYCUP experience at the Conference. “I was sitting there with people from all over the world, and I thought, ‘This is so incredible!’ Everyone there was passionate about the Credit Union movement and driven to make an impact. It was eye opening and amazing. The first day they got us all together and we had sessions about how to brand yourself and how to give a pitch that advances your goals. That was great for me. I learned so much about what it takes to develop myself and go after what I want.”
One of Tara’s favorite things about the Conference was talking with other Credit Union professionals from all over the world, and hearing about their challenges and the things they were doing to address them. For example, she learned that the Credit Unions in Australia are now called Mutual Banks, a recent change intended to better communicate what they are about. Tara feels that access to this type of information and insight is one of the many things that makes the Conference so invaluable.
Tara’s favorite breakout session was led by Mark Meyer, CEO of Filene Research Institute. Mark asked the question, “What sound does a tree make and would anyone notice if it was gone?” His point was that if an organization wants to be noticed, it must cause enough disruption to warrant that notice. He asserted the truth that Credit Unions are by nature disrupters. After all, our central purpose is to serve the underserved! If we are to communicate that truth, we must become digital disrupters as well. It’s how we, as a movement, will not only remain relevant, but it’s how we will make a difference. “My favorite comment from Mark’s session is when he said, ‘There has never been a better time to be a Credit Union because, now more than ever, people need you.’”
Like Karen, Tara also gained a lot of great insight from the breakout sessions led by Kaitlin Cleary, and the keynote address from Simon Mainwaring. “Both of their messages fit together so well. If we are to grow, we must focus on creating brand advocates, not just members. And, the way to do that is focus on being a purpose with a Credit Union, not a Credit Union with a purpose, as Simon so eloquently pointed out. People want to do business with people, not businesses. No one wants to be sold or convinced. They want relationships.”
Tara can’t say enough about her experience at the World Conference and encourages anyone considering applying for the Gary Plank Scholarship to go for it. “Even if you don’t think that you’re qualified – apply. You never know unless you put yourself out there. Be courageous and it will happen for you.”