The Accidental Educator
‘Many of our proposed members do not have a firm grasp on the language, much less the financial system.’
When Emma Smalley sees a need, she rolls up her sleeves.
The financial counselor for Boulevard Federal Credit Union in Amherst, N.Y., constantly pushes herself and her credit union to improve, excel, and reach out to those who most need credit union services.
Smalley is working with NCUA to start a new credit union for poor communities in Buffalo, N.Y., who have limited access to high-quality, affordable financial services.
The city has seen a great influx of refugees and immigrants from all over the world. And while there are some credit unions in Buffalo, none are in the immediate poor, west-side neighborhoods the new institution wants to serve.
“Many of our proposed members do not have a firm grasp on the language, much less the financial system,” Smalley explains. “?The idea of these smart, kind, and industrious people walking into a big bank and unknowingly signing up for high-fee checking accounts was enough to keep me up at night.”
With support from her husband, friends, the Credit Union Association of New York (CUANY), and the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, Smalley’s plan got underway. The credit union could be up and running by the summer of 2015.
“Starting a new credit union is beyond rare, and I think Emma’s ability to think outside the box and strive for the highest goals really make her unique,” says Cara Carlevatti, vice chairman of CUANY’s Young Professionals Commission and member development coordinator at Great Erie Federal Credit Union, Orchard Park, N.Y.
“I admire Emma’s tenacity and dedication to her craft,” she continues. “She is genuine and really wants to help the underprivileged residents of Buffalo’s West Side neighborhoods.”
Smalley has made the credit union movement’s mission her own.
Since starting as a credit union teller, she has pushed herself and her credit union to improve.
With encouragement from her manager, Smalley started Boulevard Federal’s financial education department. She also earned her Developmental Educator certification from the National Credit Union Foundation.
“I got into financial education by accident,” Smalley says. “I was a loan processor, and I was really discouraged when people had bad credit because they didn’t understand how it worked—no one told them the rules of the game.
“To me it seems basic that financial education is important,” she adds. “What other area really affects everyone? Peoples’ ability to properly handle their finances has a huge impact on the quality of their lives.”