In The Race To Excellence, Here’s Why Credit Unions May Be Winning

&l;p&g;Last week was CO-OP Financial Services&a;rsquo; 2018 THINK conference, THINK18. The THINK conference is an annual event and one of four mediums of CO-OP. These mediums help the credit unions in CO-OP&a;rsquo;s nationwide network drive innovation, collaboration and partnerships to better serve the credit union&a;rsquo;s most important partners, its members. The THINK conferences are billed as &a;ldquo;an innovation platform built to foster a more progressive credit union movement.&a;rdquo;

&l;img class=&q;wp-image-577 size-full&q; src=&q;; alt=&q;THINK18&q; data-height=&q;492&q; data-width=&q;940&q;&g; From Left to Right: Bobbi Rebell, Erin Lowery, Tonya Rapley, Brandon McAdams and Kari Wilfong

And that&a;rsquo;s exactly what it is. This year&a;rsquo;s theme was &a;ldquo;A Race to Excellence,&a;rdquo; complete with one of history&a;rsquo;s best racers.

&l;strong&g;THINKing about new media&l;/strong&g;

For starters, THINK18 kicked off with a tip of the hat to new media with the blogger panel &a;ldquo;Running a Financial Marathon.&a;rdquo; The panel was led by Tonya Rapley of &l;a href=&q;; target=&q;_blank&q; rel=&q;noopener noreferrer&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;the My Fab Finance blog&l;/a&g;, a longtime advocate of credit unions and their mission.

Erin Lowery of &l;a href=&q;; target=&q;_blank&q; rel=&q;noopener noreferrer&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;the Broke Millennial blog&l;/a&g; and author of the best-selling&l;em&g; Broke Millennial&l;/em&g; book, was on the panel and shared her experience with credit unions. Lowery said, &a;ldquo;Credit unions help you move towards a healthier financial journey by educating their members for the long term and not just for right now.&a;rdquo;

It&a;rsquo;s this long-term financial planning that&a;rsquo;s specifically needed in the LGBTQ community, &l;a href=&q;;&g;as studies show we admittedly don&a;rsquo;t save and invest enough money&l;/a&g;, even more than the general population. To that end, Bobbi Rebell, CFP and host of &l;a href=&q;; target=&q;_blank&q; rel=&q;noopener noreferrer&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;the &l;em&g;Financial Grownup&l;/em&g; podcast&l;/a&g;, said, &a;ldquo;Either you control your money or your money controls you.&a;rdquo; Getting this financial control is how credit unions can help the LGBTQ community thrive.

That&a;rsquo;s why we were excited when Kari Wilfong, chief financial officer and chief administrative officer at CO-OP Financial Services, who was also a panelist, stressed afterward the importance of credit unions serving all their members, including LGBTQ members.

&l;strong&g;THINKing about LGBTQ people&l;/strong&g;

With the main event hosted by money expert Jean Chatzky, THINK18 delivered on other major expectations. Most &l;a href=&q;; target=&q;_blank&q; rel=&q;noopener noreferrer&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;LGBTQ people don&a;rsquo;t trust financial services firms&l;/a&g;, either because we believe they don&a;rsquo;t want to or don&a;rsquo;t know how to help us. However, 58% of us stress about money on a weekly basis and &l;a href=&q;; target=&q;_blank&q; rel=&q;noopener noreferrer&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;fewer of us today say we&a;rsquo;re adequately prepared for retirement&l;/a&g; than in 2012.

Without a proper financial plan, one that often requires the assistance of a financial services professional, our LGBTQ community will continue to struggle making the progress we need for our financial security. Credit unions would seem to be an ideal solution, as they&a;rsquo;re non-profit businesses dedicated to serving their members, not clients, and credit union members are the heart of credit unions. This was apparent throughout the five-day conference.

It was inspiring to meet a few credit union leaders, including CEOs of individual credit unions at THINK18 who are LGBTQ and out to their employees, colleagues and members. However, there are some who are still shy about their sexual orientation or gender identity. This could be a matter of personal preference, but if it&a;rsquo;s based on fear, &l;a href=&q;; target=&q;_blank&q; rel=&q;noopener noreferrer&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;it&a;rsquo;s preventing them from giving their all at work&l;/a&g;.

Samantha Paxson, CO-OPs&a;rsquo; executive vice president and chief marketing &a;amp; experience officer and the brainchild behind the annual THINK conference, agreed that credit unions are a great fit for the LGBTQ community. Paxson said, &a;ldquo;Credit unions are the most open type of financial institution to serve your community.&a;rdquo;&l;/p&g;

For LGBTQ people who live in the 31 states where they can still be denied services, employment and housing because of their LGBTQ status, there may be a chicken and the egg scenario. As Paxson says, &a;ldquo;Denying anyone services would go against the fabric of these institutions.&a;rdquo;

Unfortunately, many credit unions aren&a;rsquo;t large enough to reach out to the LGBTQ community as they would like, as Wyman Davis, who works in the Project Management Office for IT at CO-OP Financial services, shared. In these cases, it might be up to the LGBTQ person to connect with a credit union and be comfortable sharing their whole story to get holistic help with their financial plan.

For the time being, the problem may go a bit deeper. In one discussion about inclusive marketing, a leader of a large lending institution&a;nbsp;serving credit unions, claimed there was enough inclusive marketing if one looked. Financial services, in general, has made progress with being inclusive, but with marketing and putting LGBTQ people in the C- and E-suites, it has not.


&l;strong&g;THINKing with excellence&l;/strong&g;

THINK18 was full of excellence. Most notable was Chatzky&a;rsquo;s interview of Olympian Michael Phelps, who shared personal insight in his journey to excellence. Among many touching moments, Phelps shared insight on his struggles with depression. Melanie Lockert, of &l;a href=&q;; target=&q;_blank&q; rel=&q;noopener noreferrer&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;the Dear Debt blog&l;/a&g;, asked for his advice on &l;a href=&q;;&g;helping people who are suicidal&l;/a&g;, as those who die by suicide are &l;a href=&q;; target=&q;_blank&q; rel=&q;noopener noreferrer&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;eight times more likely to have debt&l;/a&g;. Phelps responded, &a;ldquo;Simply reach out to people who seem depressed, and talk with them. They need to know someone&a;rsquo;s there.&a;rdquo;

Futurist Thomas Frey shared with the audience his predictions of what our future and the future of technology will look like. While many are morning the loss of industries that haven&a;rsquo;t yet died due to automation and technology, Frey is excited by the growth of industries that don&a;rsquo;t yet exist and will potentially replace the jobs of today with millions of jobs.

In talking one-on-one with Frey after his presentation, he &l;a href=&q;; target=&q;_blank&q; rel=&q;noopener noreferrer&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;cited Richard Florida&a;rsquo;s work&l;/a&g; as an example that &a;ldquo;studies consistently show that cultures and businesses that are inclusive of all people are more successful.&a;rdquo;

As with most of life, there&a;rsquo;s much progress to be made in financial services, including with credit unions, for LGBTQ people. But, credit unions&a;rsquo; missions are to serve all their members, and all means all.

There&a;rsquo;s potential for more diversity in credit unions for both employees and members. For most of the credit union leaders we talked with, this level of diversity is the goal. As Davis, who&a;rsquo;s an out leader at CO-OP, said, &a;ldquo;Diversity is the way up.&a;rdquo;&l;/p&g;