You have probably heard kids say that when they grow up they want to be a doctor, a firefighter or a football player. I’ve never heard anyone say, “I want to work in a credit union when I grow up!” And I would go so far as to bet money that no child has ever said “I want to work for a CUSO.”
You cannot go to college to get a degree in credit unions. Even at that stage in one’s academic career, the credit union industry is not on many radars. It’s even less likely that they know what a CUSO is. However, gainfully employed and deeply entrenched in the CUSO world is exactly where I find myself today.
A childhood spent in credit unions
I was certainly not dreaming of the credit union industry when I was young, even though I was surrounded by them. My mother worked for a Savings & Loan in Peoria, Illinois in the late 70s. My father was working for a S&L in Waterloo, Iowa. They then met at an S&L conference in romantic Omaha, Nebraska. (Ask my mother and she’ll be quick to point out that she had more financial services experience than my father.)
Fast forward some years, I was in elementary school and my dad had moved into the credit union world. He was dedicated to his craft and it took up much of his time. Our family road trips were no exception. We’d stop at every single credit union office and branch along the way (or so it felt). Whether it was one of his own CU’s branches or the shop of someone he knew in some way, it seemed an endless parade.
I can also vividly recall many Saturdays spent with my dad at credit unions. What this typically meant was a form of forced learning (punishment to a young boy). I would do my homework on my dad’s whiteboard for him to go over and correct me on. This was the most boring thing at the time I could imagine doing.
Dreaming of kicked in doors
Now I look back on those Saturdays and smile. But at the time, I recall it not being as much fun. When my dad asked me what I wanted to do when I grow up, I vividly remember answering “I don’t know but I know I don’t want to do what you do.” He asked why. I answered that I didn’t know what he did all day, but it seemed like the most boring job in the world. I don’t recall his answer, but I know it didn’t bother him, because he loved his work.
Instead, I wanted to be a police officer, and that dream continued to college. I attained an undergraduate degree in criminal justice. My plan was to go the route of corrections officer to gain experience before applying to a federal law enforcement agency. It would be in that role I would ultimately do what I always wanted: kick in doors of bad guys in the middle of the night and storm in, hauling them to jail.
My grand plan was immediately put on hold when I graduated as the State of Michigan put in a hiring freeze on the Department of Corrections. I was working at a bar as a bouncer at the time and was more than happy to ride out that hiring freeze. My parents had another plan and to be honest, I believe they were looking forward to me financially supporting myself which my bouncing career was not doing.
First experiences at a credit union
My dad called me one day and asked what my plan was. He was not impressed with the response “waiting”. He said he knew a guy at a credit union in town (shocking) and “suggested” I talk with him. A short time later, I had been hired as a teller. I thought I’d be there a few months at most and then I would move on. Well, I almost didn’t want to admit it, but I did not hate it. In fact, I enjoyed the job and the members.
I eventually moved to a large credit union in South Florida working on lending and operations. During and after graduate school in Seattle I continued in back office and operational roles. It was that experience that took me to the state trade association, and it was there I found CUSOs and specifically CU*Answers. I had been considering my options and a move back to the CU world when the CUSO opportunity was presented.
It’s a long way from kicking in the doors of drug dealers but I do think I found where I am supposed to be. I feel lucky to work with the individuals that I do, both coworkers and credit union clients. I used to think anyone who told me they loved their job was full of it. My position on that has since changed.
Between me, my CUSO CEO wife, and grandparents with credit union experience, our son, like me, will have the credit union movement preached to him long before he understands it. And although he is probably many times more likely than other kids to utter the words “I want to work at a credit union or CUSO,” I’m certainly not holding my breath for that one! Sometimes it just takes working in one to understand the appeal.