From cheerleader to board leader

Guadalupe Lara understands the credit union difference from personal experience.

May 2, 2023

Guadalupe Lara’s introduction to the credit union movement was quintessential: Turned down for a vehicle loan by her local banks, she turned to a credit union. The resulting positive experience turned her into a self-described “cheerleader” for the credit union movement. She has since transformed that passion into members on the board of Credit Union One, Ferndale, Mich.

In this Q&A, Lara offers insight on her passion and leadership style in her current role as board chair at the $1.8 billion asset credit union.

Credit Union Directors Newsletter: How did you become involved in the credit union movement?

A: After I finished graduate school I was seeking an auto loan and was denied at two banks. I met the Credit Union One (CUO) Southwest Detroit Branch Manager Nettie Parker at local Hispanic event. She asked me why I seemed sad. I shared my story, and she asked if I had applied at a credit union. I told her I did not want another rejection. She was so kind and insistent that I applied and got the loan and my first new car. I became a member and have been a cheerleader for Credit Union One since that day.

Q: What is your full-time job and how does it inform your credit union volunteer work?

A: I am a licensed master social worker and worked at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, part of the Detroit Medical Center, a corporation comprised of eight hospitals. I worked my way up to director of social work and later corporate director of social work for the eight hospitals. In my role I was involved in building community relations between Detroit’s diverse cultural groups. One day Nettie Parker asked if she could be on my NPR radio show to talk about financial literacy for young people. For twelve years I was the volunteer co-host of an award-winning bilingual program for Spanish and English-speaking audiences that aired weekly on Sunday afternoon. I was very happy to share my platform with people who wanted to improve our communities. Credit Union One later asked me if I would do a Spanish language commercial about the services at CUO. From there I was asked if I would serve on the board of directors. I was elected to the board in 1992 and have served as board member, vice chair and in 2022 was elected chair.

Q: What do you find most rewarding about being a volunteer credit union board member?

A: Everything I do at CUO is rewarding, but I especially enjoy the member services we provide and getting their surveys back that show their satisfaction. For 2022 our overall satisfaction among members was 96%. It is very satisfying working with our excellent leadership team and board members to be at the pulse of our members’ needs. Our cooperative philosophy and strong financial management are the foundation of CUO.

Q: What are your credit union’s top strategic imperatives currently?

A: Our Digital First and One Experience are key strategic initiatives that keep us competitive and build member loyalty. We maintain balance between digital and in-person and phone service delivery.  We are committed to employee coaching and employee growth to make the member experience seamless throughout CUO.

Q: What are your credit union’s great challenges?

A: Our challenge is managing through a high inflation and a rising interest-rate environment. In spite of these challenging times, our team and the board remain committed to meeting our members’ changing needs.

Q: How does your credit union meet the financial well-being needs of its membership?

A: We meet our members’ financial well-being needs through our Digital First service model that provides a remarkable experience consistently across all delivery channels. It is deeply rooted in analytics and automation across our entire operation. It is an engagement strategy that has created extraordinary experiences based on each member’s life events and seamless service delivery.