Joni Senkpeil

A Fierce Collaborator

Small CUs improve members’ financial lives and boost cooperative strength of the CU movement.

April 6, 2014

What’s Joni Senkpeil’s approach to serving credit unions? Together we’re better.

Her passion for credit unions, especially small ones, is evident in her every activity.

Senkpeil is director of small credit union development at the Illinois Credit Union League. She started the Small Asset Size (SAS) Credit Union Advisory Group, which aims to foster a stronger small credit union community.

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These individuals exemplify the credit union philosophy of “people helping people” and have gone the extra mile to make a difference in their communities.

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Joni Senkpeil, Illinois Credit Union League.

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Senkpeil launched a regional “lunch and learn” workshop series designed for small credit unions. The workshops are formatted strategically to minimize travel, time away from the office, and hotel expenses for participants.

Believing credit unions needed a single source for resources, she also was instrumental in developing content for the league’s Small Credit Union Center website, including best practices, information on grant funding, strategic planning services, and common business templates.

Through her work, Senkpeil has given small credit unions a vital forum to network and help each other.

“We hold these workshops all over the state to build awareness of what’s happening in different areas,” she explains. “We listen to what issues are important and bring in experts at workshops to address them.”

The SAS Credit Union Advisory Group holds conference calls to identify opportunities for collaboration, she adds, such as having larger credit unions serve as mentors for smaller credit unions. “We promote success stories about innovative concepts and share best practices.”

Senkpeil can’t envision a life without credit unions. “When I think about this industry built on a foundation of people helping people, run by volunteers, on a not-for-profit model, I can’t imagine turning my back on it. It’s absolutely my passion.

“When I walk into a smaller credit union, it’s amazing the effort, time, and devotion folks have for helping members,” she continues. “It’s difficult for them, but their desire to help members is so much more important. It provides so much inspiration to help credit unions where I can.”

It saddens Senkpeil to see the number of credit unions decrease, with smaller institutions more likely to disappear. The regulatory burden, growing sophistication of technology, and pressures of daily operations make it difficult for small credit unions to carry on.

“But they’re still needed,” she says. “Having fewer doesn’t make them less viable or important.”

Small credit unions play a big role in the financial lives of their members and add to the cooperative strength of the movement, notes Senkpeil. “The majority of credit unions are small and they’re a very powerful tool for lobbyists. But most important, they tirelessly serve their members.”