Getting people through their worst day

It’s amazing how just a few words spoken at the right time in your life (when you are ready to receive them) can make all the difference in how you view your career, your purpose, your mission.

My first boss, Mr. Beazely, told this serving wench at ‘Enry Beazely’s Fish-n-Chips that “We are put on this earth to serve one another. If you are serving others, even if it’s just giving them tartar sauce for their fish – you are doing work that matters.” That day I vowed to always do work that matters. And so after graduating from high school I interviewed at what I thought was kind of a small bank, to be a teller. I very quickly learned that a credit union was anything but a bank. That we were founded on the principles of people helping people, and chartered to promote thrift and make loans for provident and productive purposes. We do work that really matters.

Along my credit union journey I was fortunate enough to have Sarah Bang (now EVP of Industry Relations for CO-OP) as my boss and mentor. I was a young girl, and one of the first hires at the Oregon CU League without a college degree.  I saw myself in management someday and she did too. So she worked through my “imposter complex” and helped me believe that if you “Act like an expert, you will become one.” I’d like to think Sarah’s words encouraged me to write two books, teach marketing at CUNA Management School and start my own consulting business.

Tom Sargent (retired CEO of First Tech CU) helped me through a difficult time when I made a colossal mistake at work. He told me that people that never make a mistake are not taking chances. And I took a big chance, and he admired that. Instead of getting fired, I got commended and continue to be a risk taker in the spirit of making things better.

So last year when I met the Chief of the Volunteer Fire/EMS department in my little town, I knew I would once again be guided by a mentor. This was something that was not on my radar at all. I have zero medical background, and quite frankly not a big fan of fires. But he told us the purpose of our Volunteer FIRE/EMTs: “We help people get through their worst day with dignity, without judgment and we return home safe.” What could matter more than that?

I have seen many people on their worst day. A woman on vacation with grandkids, hiking in the mountains only to trip and fall and crack her head open.  Another woman who 5 years earlier lost her husband to a motorcycle accident only to find herself in another. This time she suffered a compound fracture. Or an elderly man that fell in his garage and was not found for hours. Cold, confused, alone, and unable to get up.

Recently I found myself talking to a group of executives at a credit union and the conversation turned to lending. Our bread and butter. One of their issues is they had become quite risk averse in their lending. And given their field of membership, their reputation was changing from one known for “giving people a chance” to only lending to A paper credit.

I remember being a loan officer, and how good it felt when you could help someone get through their worst day.  Back in the day (I’m talking the 1980s when there was no such thing as a credit score or a community charter) we made personal loans all the time. And some of these were very personal. I can remember loaning an older woman money to bury her husband. A single mother of 3 needed a new refrigerator. A young man needed new tires to “Get to work and keep his job.”

Financial planners advise their clients to have an “emergency fund” for when life happens. Even though we understand this advice, it sometimes just doesn’t work to develop that emergency fund before you find yourself having a very bad day. We’ve all been there … and most of us don’t have those funds on hand. In these situations, the power of the cooperative spirit – people helping people – begs us to look at these loans as a person. Not a piece of paper.  Remember, what we do matters.  Look for a way to help your members through their worst day, and they will appreciate it the rest of their lives.

Denise Wymore

Denise Wymore

Denise started her credit union career over 30 years ago as a Teller for Pacific NW Federal Credit Union in Portland, Oregon. She moved up and around the org. chart ... Web: Details

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