Kate Laud is always on the lookout for smart, interesting people.
When she finds them, the Opportunities Credit Union president/CEO does her best to hire them at the $60 million asset credit union in Burlington, Vt. Once they’re in the door, they must see a path forward, as Laud believes providing viable growth opportunities improves staff retention and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at the credit union.
Retention, succession planning, and DEI allow Opportunities, a CDFI that serves mainly low-income members from 42 countries, to mirror the community.
“We live in an area where there are a lot of new Americans, so there are different communities of folks who've come from places like Congo, Nepal, Vietnam, or Iraq,” Laud says. “It's a broad spectrum of ethnicities. The standard image of the old white Vermonter certainly is still present, but you don't have to scratch very deeply to find someone who's extremely talented, speaks multiple languages, and can bring that ability to what we do.”
The best way to hire new, diverse talent is to get out in the community and meet people, she says. That’s been difficult due to the pandemic, but she works with organizations such as the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.
Meeting people is the first step. Then it comes down to integrating their talents with the credit union.
One member from Africa has interviewed for some positions, but they haven’t been a good fit. But Laud tells him about open positions and thinks it’s only a matter of time before they find a spot for a talented, multilingual member with a law degree and master’s degree.
Hiring someone from a tight-knit community can radiate in several ways. One of Opportunities’ mortgage originators is a Nepal native who grew up in a refugee camp. Borrowers learned to trust the multilingual employee, who knows the Nepali community in Vermont well.
When interest rates dropped to near-historic lows in 2020, mortgages became more affordable to many people who had been renting. The Nepali mortgage originator leveraged that situation, and more than 30% Opportunities’ mortgages in 2021 and 2022 went to new Americans from the Asian community.
“It was a win, win, win,” Laud says. “We got more loans. He's on commission, so he’s successful. And people in the community who were renters were buying homes. That's an example of hiring the right person, contacting the community, and building the credit union.”
The mortgage originator was promoted to senior lending manager. That’s a crucial part of Laud’s succession planning strategy. Of the last three senior team members to retire, Opportunities filled two of their positions with in-house employees.
“Our strategic plan commits us to promoting from within,” she says. “I could hire someone who worked for a big bank, who knows all about operations and loan services. They could come in and it could take them nine months to figure out why we do what we do.
“If I can take someone from inside, they’re thoroughly aware of our culture and we can spend that time giving them the skill training they need. This keeps with our mission to have a staff who reflect our membership.”