MELISSA HARPER is a die-hard Rick Springfield “groupie.”
“I’ve been following him since I was 11 years old,” explains the vice president of training and development for Magnolia Federal credit Union, Jackson, Miss. “He’s genuine, down to earth and sings from the heart. He engages his audience. You’re not an observer at his concerts, you’re a participant.”
In the same vein, Harper wants the members of the credit union and the counties that it serves to be active participants in their own financial lives.
“I would like our credit union to be the place that people in our area go to for their financial needs,” she says. “I also want to see us help the state get out of the financial hole that it’s in.”
Financial literacy and wise financial choices are critical elements in filling that hole, Harper says.
Many of her members and community citizens desperately need financial literacy, Harper says. “It enables them to be in control of their own financial lives. Now they have hope; they know they can do better. Everyone needs someone who cares about their financial health.”
Credit unions will take the time to help people reach their financial goals, but banks typically will offer them products so long as they meet the credit parameters, she adds.
As an example, a Magnolia Federal member was $500 overdrawn, but she needed to take a bereavement trip. The credit union provided her a loan to cover the overdraft and make the trip. “A bank wouldn’t have done that,” Harper says.
That’s why she trains employees to ensure they know their jobs well enough to help members with their financial needs. Knowing their jobs is also key to employee satisfaction, adds Harper, who developed the credit union’s extensive training program.
Since implementing the program, the credit union’s turnover rate is nil, compared with high turnover not so long ago. In fact, the credit union didn’t have a training program until Harper was named training coordinator in 2007.
Beyond training employees to deliver the best service to members, credit unions also need to get the word out about what makes them different from banks, particularly to the younger generation, Harper says. The average age of a credit union member is rising, which Harper blames on not educating younger people about the difference between a credit union and a bank.
“Don’t forget why we are here,” she advises other credit union leaders. “We’re unique. The minute that we forget that, we become just another financial institution."