Jim Schaefbauer started his career as a computer programmer. Whether it’s his formal training, a natural ability, or influences of both, Schaefbauer has the capacity for breaking down complex subjects into understandable bits and making them memorable.
He started in credit unions as a board member at the former Noridian Employees Credit Union in Fargo, N.D., early in his career when he worked at the sponsor company as a computer programmer. In a unique arrangement, when Noridian Employees merged with a larger credit union, Schaefbauer joined the continuing organization as vice president of member services.
“When we merged, they needed two employees because they wanted a senior leader in their Eastern market,” he says. “Our credit union only had one employee. As the board chair, I was really interested in credit unions. I thought it would be a great opportunity.”
Why change careers after 24 years in information technology? “I love the people-helping-people philosophy,” he says.
The career switch has worked out well for Schaefbauer, who’s now president/CEO at $93 million asset United Savings Credit Union in Fargo, N.D.
Schaefbauer has developed a niche locally sharing the benefits of credit union membership and the importance of good credit with local organizations, including the vibrant college community in the Fargo-Moorehead area.
Through community connections and networking, he has gained entry to North Dakota State University and Moorhead State University, where through financial education presentations he stresses the relationship between good credit and a smooth career path.
“If these young adults want to work in finance, one of the first things a company will do is pull their credit report,” Schaefbauer says. “If your credit report isn’t up to snuff, you’re not going to get the job, plain and simple.”
Just as importantly, Schaefbauer shares insight on how young adults can maintain and build good financial health. He digs into concepts such as credit capacity and explains how the credit scoring system works.
“I tell them stories,” he says, recalling a young adult member with C credit who wanted to buy a truck. Schaefbauer explained how paying down a $400 balance on a credit card with a $500 limit would improve his auto loan rate.
“He paid it down, and the next month we got him a better loan rate on that same truck,” he says. “I told him, ‘That’s the credit union difference. We work for our members.’”
United Savings recently began offering financial education for a local cultural diversity resources group that connects new Americans with local resources and opportunities.
The credit union provides financial literacy information, as well as insights on commercial lending and working with the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Schaefbauer stresses that the sessions don’t focus on sales. “They can go to any financial institution they want,” he says. “There’s no pressure from us. But we’re here to help them.”
To that end, Schaefbauer and United Savings’ four loan officers are certified through the CUNA Financial Counseling Certification Program.
“If we’re going to position ourselves as experts, we want something that establishes our credibility,” he says. “The certification provides us with a credential, so we’re not just somebody sharing our opinion.”
For Schaefbauer, the rewards are self-evident. Like a proud father, he loves sharing stories of member success.
“One member attended a class and within a year went from not-great credit to a solid credit score,” he says. “She said, ‘You made this happen for me.’ If you want to put something in my coffee that makes me go every day, that’s it. It’s the difference we make in our members’ lives.”