Phyllis Ford is committed to XCEL Credit Union being the primary financial institution for its members “by providing the highest quality affordable products and services delivered with honesty and integrity in a convenient and secure manner for generations to come.”
Achieving that goal is challenging when members age 60 and older still cherish branch visits and personal chats with staff about their families, while younger generations want technology and convenience with little personal interaction, says Ford, board chair at the $204 million asset credit union in Bloomfield, N.J.
Products that appeal to young members include digital wallets, remote deposit capture, mobile banking, smart cards, and online bill pay.
“Every board conversation about growth centers on the challenge of attracting generations Y and Z,” she says. “We believe the secret is recognizing how the target generations like to do business.”
Ford says other challenges facing credit union boards include:
Strategic planning sessions are crucial to understanding XCEL’s current position as well as its strategy for the future.
“If done correctly and honestly, it can be a painful process,” Ford says. “The resulting strategic plan is a living instrument.”
Being effective as chair requires interacting with volunteers and staff at XCEL and elsewhere. Ford says taking advantage of opportunities to learn is crucial.
“Most importantly, directors must be open to new ideas,” she says. “They must remember past mistakes and not be limited by those experiences.”
No matter how many digital products you have, Pat Tollefson believes members must know they can still get the human touch when they want it.
Tollefson was appointed to the board at $808 million asset Corporate America Family Credit Union in Elgin, Ill., in 2022.
Previously, she served on the board at $194 million asset Area Federal Credit Union in Aberdeen, S.D., for more than 25 years, including 15 years as board chair.
Tollefson recommends tapping every educational resource while networking with other credit union leaders. For her, that included past participation in the National Association of Credit Union Chairs and CUNA’s Volunteer Leadership Committee.
Staying in touch with the young consumers who represent the future of credit unions is critical. Tollefson enjoys conference presentations that offer insight into generational differences.
In one session, Generation X participants explained they were “latchkey kids” accustomed to taking responsibility from a young age when they came home to an empty house and tackled chores without supervision. Generation Y participants said they had
“helicopter parents” who hovered over their activities, which affected their decision-making skills.
“That kind of information has always intrigued me,” she says.
Tollefson works as an independent insurance agent specializing in commercial accounts. She also volunteers at community organizations, including an economic development board and the Boys & Girls Club.
Practicing mindfulness and gratitude allows her to balance those responsibilities, Tollefson says.
She grew up on a family farm where she learned the benefits of the cooperative movement at a young age. Today, she says credit unions have to work harder to share that message in a way that resonates with young, digital-savvy consumers.
“You have to show them you are community and environmentally minded,” Tollefson says. “You have to tell a story and get buy-in from them. I don’t care if you offer a debit card that gives them points back or plants a tree on their behalf, you have to give them a message they can relate to.
They want more because they’re making decisions for themselves and for those who don’t have a voice.”