Ask Debbie Wege to describe herself and how she sees the world, and she’ll answer without hesitation:
“I believe in two basic things: collaboration and what’s possible. I have a passion for finding what’s possible; for being a difference maker.”
Wege is the cooperative community advocate for $17 billion asset BECU in Tukwila, Wash. The title positions her as the credit union’s go-to person for promoting the cooperative model.
In that role, she creates and supports programs that drive these principles inside BECU and across its industry and communities.
In the 1990s, Wege helped develop a member assistance team to coach BECU members who were experiencing layoffs and address their financial needs.
These efforts led to the creation of BECU’s first financial education programs, such as “Surviving a Layoff” and “Understanding Credit,” as well as budgeting seminars and educational programs specially designed for youth.
Elements from those programs later showed up in BECU’s “Financial Reality Fairs,” aimed at high school students.
“The fairs are now being partially automated through the creation of an app that simulates budgeting, spending, and saving,” Wege says. “The app will help students realize how the ease of making blindingly fast electronic transactions, especially spending, can create a false picture of financial health.
“Tech actually can make it harder for students to understand finances.
“A credit union’s job is financial education and financial health—helping members and the community find ways to improve their economic circumstances,” she adds. “The expression ‘people helping people’ isn’t complete without two additional words: ‘Help themselves.’”
This year, due to her longtime involvement with the National Credit Union Foundation’s Development Education Program, Wege partnered with other credit unions to bring real-life simulations to BECU, humanizing a variety of financial situations for participants.
Simulations ranged from working with affluent members to underserved populations.
“It provided a chance to walk in members’ and neighbors’ financial shoes,” she says.
Wege also serves on the board of Express Advantage, a nonprofit, social justice organization committed to increasing wealth building opportunities for underrepresented and underserved populations.
One of the happiest parts of her job: “I get to do cheerleading for BECU and the movement,” Wege says. “I believe in the power of the movement. We are better together than alone.”