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The Triple Win of Young Professionals Serving as Board Members 

red darts on target
By Bill Kennedy

4 minutes

Boards get stronger, aspiring executives learn lots, and the industry has great talent ready when current leaders retire.

Having young credit union professionals serve as board members at another, noncompeting credit union is a huge win-win-win. 

The first win is that young professionals learn key skills from board service that they can’t learn in middle management roles, including strategic planning, budgeting and how a board works with the senior management team. 

The second win is the incredible benefit that credit unions get from having people with fresh perspectives—and knowledge about things like technology—at the board table.

The third win is that having young people serve as credit union directors not only strengthens today’s board governance but also prepares them to lead the industry as the expected wave of executive retirements continues.

I know about this win-win-win from personal experience. Joining a credit union board when I was 31 supported my career development. I believe so much in the potentially positive impact of board service on young professionals that I’ve recommended it to many of the hundreds of future leaders that I’ve mentored. 

What Young Professionals Learn

Young professionals can gain skills and experiences from serving on a board that they won’t get in their day-to-day operations work. 

For example, serving on a board provides practice in thinking strategically and setting down a strategic plan. A middle manager might only get to strategize for one department or group. But a director must think strategically about the organization overall—a skill a C-suite leader needs.

Similarly, young professionals serving as directors will be asked to consider the organization’s overall budget, not just the budget for a single area of the credit union.

Being on the board also gives young professionals a chance to serve on the asset/liability committee, where they can build their understanding of credit union financial management, including interest rate risk, credit risk, liquidity risk, extension risk and enterprise risk management—all critical skills necessary for a CU executive to have. As a board member, young professionals could also be part of hiring a new CEO, giving them insight into that key process. And, pending timing, would the young professional have demonstrated readiness to be in the running? (Read this recent CUES article about recruiting executives from the board.)

Finally, any new CEO can tell you that working with the board is an important thing to get good at fast. Imagine how building that relationship quickly could be helped when the CEO has previously sat on the director side of the table. 

What Boards Get

Credit unions talk a lot about wanting to attract and retain younger members, but most boards don’t have a young person on their boards. Let’s get rid of the unwritten rule that only people who are over 65 can bring wisdom into the boardroom.

Young professionals bring their own life experiences to bear on their board work. Because they have grown up with technology, it is second nature to them. Wouldn’t you like to have a digital native advising your board?

Your Next Steps

Cutler Dawson is a good example of someone who went from serving on a credit union’s board to leading the organization. When Dawson became a board director for Navy Federal Credit Union, he didn’t yet have credit union experience. But after he showed his character and business acumen, the board brought him on as the organization’s CEO in 2004. (He served until his retirement in 2019.)

Obviously, there are no guarantees that young professionals with board experience will get a CEO spot. But it’s likely that young professionals from one credit union can add value at the board level at another—and that what they learn through that experience will serve their careers and help their credit unions. 

Consider coaching your young professionals to look strategically for a credit union board on which to serve—one that doesn’t create conflicts of interest. If a board seat isn’t available or if the available boards aren’t ready to welcome a young member, encourage young execs to try to serve on the supervisory committee or as an associate board member. Those are great ways to contribute and learn as well. 

Once you’ve done this, you can watch the young professionals grow—and the boards benefit! I’d love to hear how doing this works out for you. Email me from the link in my bio below.

CUES member William Kennedy is CFO/VP/finance at $468 million Securityplus Federal Credit Union, Baltimore.

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