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Teresa Freeborn receives 2020 Herb Wegner Memorial Award

November 7, 2019

In recognition of her passionate leadership and unwavering dedication to living out the credit union principle of “cooperation among cooperatives,” the National Credit Union Foundation (the Foundation) is pleased to announce Teresa Freeborn, President and CEO of Xceed Financial CU, El Segundo, Calif., as a recipient of the 2020 Herb Wegner Memorial Outstanding Individual Achievement Award.

Freeborn will be one of three Herb Wegner Memorial Award winners honored at the annual fundraising gala hosted by the Foundation at the Marriott Marquis on February 24, 2020 in conjunction with the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C. Tickets and sponsorships are available for this must-attend event by clicking here.

“Teresa is a ball of energy who lights up any environment in which she engages,” said John Gregoire, Chair of the Foundation’s Wegner Awards Selection Committee and President of The ProCon Group. “The impact she has made upon credit unions she interacts with, as well as the whole of the credit union movement at large, is undeniable. Her leadership of the Open Your Eyes Campaign is just one, but a very important example, of her vision and her impactful leadership that has earned her this prestigious award.”

Exemplifying Cooperation Among Cooperatives

Known throughout the international credit union movement for her visionary perspective on the future role of credit unions as cooperative institutions, Freeborn’s 40-year credit union career has consistently demonstrated an uncommon commitment to collaboration. She believes strongly that as cooperative institutions, credit unions should be models of teamwork and reliable collaborators for the movement’s greater good.

“This impulse to collaborate with peers to address industry challenges and to improve people’s financial lives has been a hallmark of Teresa’s character for as long as we have had the privilege of knowing and working with her,” said Members of the Board at Xceed Financial Credit Union.

Freeborn has touched all four tiers of the system—locally at multiple credit unions, statewide in California and province-wide (in British Columbia, Canada), nationally, and internationally. Locally, her impact can be seen through her current role as President and CEO of Xceed Financial. Under her leadership, Xceed has been a role model for its strong and consistent support of professional organizations that represent credit unions and their members, as well as organizations that educate consumers and help to boost the skills of credit union professionals.

Statewide she has been active for many years with the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues, serving as past chair and board member. She has had a particularly strong impact in the Leagues’ government affairs activities, proving a tireless and passionate advocate on behalf of issues affecting credit unions and legislation affecting members and consumers at-large. Importantly, she has encouraged other Xceed Financial executives, associates and board volunteers to join her in advocacy efforts and in service to the credit union movement.

Freeborn is a long-time champion of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, having served as a member of the Credit Union for Kids Advisory Board – Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, participant and past chair of the annual Wine Auction Committee, and member of the Credit Union SacTown Run Committee. Through these and countless other activities over the past decade, she has helped to raise millions of dollars for children in need of medical care.

On a national and international level, she regularly leads workshops, delivers presentations and participates in conference panel discussions, including events with CCUL, CUNA, SCCUA, WOCCU, and various credit union organizations and industry business partners. She freely shares her insights on credit union best practices, industry challenges, marketing trends, advancing women in leadership, and more.

Freeborn is also engaged with the Filene Research Institute where she was an inaugural member of the I3 group and a past member of the Research Council. She championed significant credit union contributions to Filene by becoming the first of natural person credit unions to contribute significant monies to further innovation work on behalf of credit unions nationwide. She frequently offers her credit union as a beta test for new innovative initiatives. Most recently, she led Xceed Financial to step up as a founder to provide a multi-year sponsorship of Filene’s newly created Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion which is designed to dig deep in to how these issues impact talent and products in financial services while advancing inclusion and equity in all tiers of the credit union system.   

Wherever she has seen a need for leadership, whether it be spearheading countless delegations to Washington, D.C. and state capitols to lobby for the movement’s interests, leading numerous fundraising campaigns for the RMJ Foundation and Children’s Miracle Network, or orchestrating other cooperative initiatives, Freeborn has stepped up. Her example inspires the next generation to recognize that the movement’s future relies not just on the efforts of industry organizations and staff, but on individual credit unions and credit union leaders contributing, cooperating, and doing their part to make a difference.

Cultivating the Next Generation of Leaders

Freeborn is a passionate believer in uplifting the next generation of credit union talent. She is a mentor to several young women and men who aspire to advance in their leadership roles in credit unions and has introduced a number of widely respected, innovative leadership development and internship programs at Xceed Financial, which contributed to its being named a “Best Credit Union to Work For” by Credit Union Journal for four years straight.

Over the course of her career, Freeborn has devoted considerable personal time and effort to nurturing the careers of talented women who report to her and to leading industry efforts focused on expanding leadership opportunities for women. Many credit her efforts to sound the alarm about gender imbalance among credit union leadership with generating the first industry-wide data on the subject. Freeborn is equally passionate about broadening the credit union movement’s appreciation for the importance of diversity, inclusion and equity in credit union workforces, and in board volunteer and staff leadership, including industry business partners.

She is a champion for the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), serving as an inaugural member in WOCCU’s Global Women’s Leadership Network (GWLN) and a past member of WOCCU’s World Leadership Development Committee. She has presented her views on the advancement of women in leadership at many of their events and has been instrumental in the formation of Sister Societies.

The first Sister Society was launched in California and Freeborn traveled throughout the state to talk about the issues and inspire others. She then traveled to New York, D.C., the Midwest and Canada, starting a Sister Society in Vancouver to help ensure all women had an opportunity to participate locally in GWLN. Through her support, GWLN hosted its first Executive Readiness Summit for 50 select credit union leaders in 2017 and it continues today.

As a sought-after speaker about advancing women in leadership, Freeborn regularly delivers hard-hitting, warm and witty presentations that illustrate and offer solutions to the shortage of women in leadership. She is known to be direct in asking, “why aren’t women at the table?”

“No one has done more than Teresa Freeborn to raise the credit union system’s awareness of gender imbalance and no other person has done more to support other women by her own example,” said Lucy Ito, president/CEO at NASCUS.

Among the notable events at which Freeborn has been asked to speak on the topic of advancing women in leadership roles include the Women and Leadership Colloquium, an interactive event hosted by Filene Research Institute at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, the Cornerstone Credit Union League’s Conference, the New York Credit Union League’s Conference, and the Global Women’s Leadership Network, and WOCCU conferences.

Driving Consumer Awareness

Early in Teresa’s four-decade-long international credit union career while still Vice President of Central One Credit Union in her native British Columbia, she developed and led a research-based awareness campaign for credit unions province-wide. This ground-breaking, cooperative advertising program helped dispel common consumer myths about credit unions, such as membership in credit unions is very limited and that credit unions don't offer the same protections as banks do. This innovative communications program surpassed every objective and goal and fundamentally changed the image of the category of British Columbia credit unions as viable alternatives to for-profit financial institutions.

Soon after moving to the U.S. in the year 2000 to take a leadership position with Kinecta Federal Credit Union in California, Freeborn led the California League’s initiative on creating credit union awareness in the state after years of desire and no action. She applied that same focus from her experience with innovation and measurable results leading to a multi-year, widely respected, statewide cooperative credit union public advocacy program.

In December of 2016, Freeborn was sought after to serve as the Chair of CUNA’s Creating Awareness Advisory Group, charged with providing input on strategic direction and helping to garner support and buy-in among credit unions for CUNA’s efforts to facilitate the generation of greater public awareness for credit unions and greater appreciation for the credit union difference. Like the other industry leaders involved with the Group, she believed that the confluence of stagnant market share, advancing technology, regulation, consumer expectations, and non-traditional competitors had brought credit unions to a crossroads and this initiative was needed now more than ever.

Stepping up in 2018 to also represent District 6 on the CUNA Board, she wrapped up the Advisory Group’s activities earlier this year with a report to CUNA members attending the Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) in Washington D.C., and the national roll-out of the Open Your Eyes to a Credit Union awareness campaign. Her market research savvy and courageous leadership have provided a framework for success unlike any similar initiative of the past, and the all-digital campaign is well-situated to work hand-in-hand with individual credit union marketing to combat the myths that prevent consumers from choosing to bank with a credit union.

“Navigating the political, strategic and monetary obstacles inherent in such a campaign would deter any average industry leader, but not Teresa,” said Caroline L. Willard, president/CEO of the Cornerstone Credit Union League. “She has poured herself into this effort, encouraging the same statistically sound research that has been her secret sauce for decades. If anyone could get the Awareness Initiative off the ground, Teresa (and CUNA) could.”

Determined to reverse credit unions’ decades-long stagnant market share and ensure that credit unions remain a viable choice for consumers in the future, Freeborn, while on CUNA’s board, is now serving as chair of CUNA’s newly created LLC to oversee this long-term category-building initiative and is frequently asked to present her perspective on the initiative and its rationale at conferences, and in news media interviews.

This is the second detailed profile on a 2020 Wegner Award winner, the previous profile on John Fiore is available here