‘It’s made us a better credit union’
Staff at Members Choice take the FiCEP proctored exam.

‘It’s made us a better credit union’

Financial counseling certifications give employees confidence to apply credit union philosophy.

February 15, 2021

Many credit unions talk about meeting members where they are. At $279 million asset Members Choice Credit Union, Ashland, Ky., President/CEO Cheryl Deborde wants each employee to meet members fully prepared to make a difference in their financial lives.

Twenty-eight of the credit union’s 61 employees have been certified through the CUNA Financial Counseling Certification Program (FiCEP). Certified counselors are trained to help consumers who are experiencing financial difficulties.

Just as important, they help members understand the difference in how credit unions approach financial wellness with their members.

Another benefit: it can help credit unions reduce charge-offs and delinquencies.

"We want to hold true to the philosophy of people helping people," Deborde says.

That directive came from the credit union’s board of directors, says David Deborde, Cheryl’s son and Members Choice’s manager of governance risk and compliance.

"No matter where you work in the credit union, the board wants you to support that credit union philosophy," he says. "That means no matter where we encounter our members, we want to help them meet their financial goals."

Members Choice has also turned to CUNA for other certifications. More than 75% of its employees have earned CUNA certifications.

"When people earn these certification, they come back to their jobs and they’re excited," Cheryl Deborde says. "They want to share what they’ve learned. They participate in the CUNA Councils and communities. Every day, they’re interacting with people from other credit unions across the country. Operationally and process-wise, it’s made us a better credit union."

That philosophy requires a commitment to education, says Don Neikirk, Members Choice board member. "Education gives our employees the confidence they need to help our members solve their financial problems."

"Attending the training and earning the designation allows your credit union to differentiate itself from other financial institutions and be more confident in helping members build a stronger financial future," says Amanda Schumacher, CUNA instructional design manager.

Members Choice has adjusted its business model to better serve the financial needs of its members. "We’ve switched from a model of just trying to pump out loans to giving the right product to help a member get in the right place financially," David Deborde says. "There’s been less emphasis on sales and more emphasis on service. That was a big paradigm shift for us."

He adds that members often bring along underlying financial difficulties when they come to the credit union for a loan. That’s an opportunity for Members Choice employees to make a difference.

"We see people that are up against it with credit cards and other debt," David Deborde says. "We offer them better alternatives."