If being a hero means helping people, then Tom McWilliams is happy to be one. Certainly, the word is a bit grandiose for his taste, but McWilliams embraces the responsibility of supporting the credit union industry—both its members and employees.
As the senior vice president of the Mississippi Credit Union Association, he does that by leading education programs. He’s also the chairman and education director for the Southeast CUNA Management School, which prepares the next generation of industry leaders. He loves the exponential impact of the work—how educating one leader can transform a credit union and the lives of all the members it serves.
“I’m a lifelong learner. I love education. I’ll continue to learn and expand and develop and grow and seek new opportunities,” says McWilliams, who has worked for the league for more than 30 years.
“At our league,” he adds, “that’s what our education department is all about—showing people how to be better managers, better leaders, and better employees so they can better serve their credit union members.”
Education should be a higher priority in the industry, McWilliams says. Increased competition and rapidly evolving products and platforms have transformed financial services, and McWilliams knows many credit unions—particularly small credit unions—struggle to stay current and competitive as technology grows both more crucial and more complex.
He also realizes that when credit unions face financial constraints, cutting training programs can seem like a necessary decision. But for McWilliams, that’s a short-sighted move.
“When you’ve got a member standing in front of you, you’ve got to serve that member,” he says. “But we have to change that mentality. We’ve got to help credit union leaders understand that and learn how to improve their organizations. And then they can survive.”
McWilliams worked in a bank before moving to the credit union industry. Decades later, he still marvels at the difference between their philosophies.
Both offer financial services, but McWilliams believes credit unions’ core business represents something more fundamental and profound.
“When you’ve been in this business this long, you’ve seen lives change,” he says. “You’ve seen where credit unions have made a difference. We have made lives better.”
The way McWilliams sees it, credit unions are full of people just like him, all working hard and doing what they can to make life a little easier for friends and neighbors. Moreover, while McWilliams is proud to do work that can reach so many people in so many places, he fully believes he has benefitted as much as anyone.
“We all need someone to help us along the way. I think that’s one thing people need to accept,” he says. “We all need help. People in credit unions have helped me along the way. They’ve made me a better person. I just want to give back.”
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