Young professionals in the credit union movement are typically go-getters, industry advocates, and aspiring or rising leaders who have earned (or would like to earn) the notice and respect of their higher-ups. Young professionals who are members of the Cornerstone YP Program are spotlighted throughout the year to help you get to know these up-and-comers.
Colton Gibbs is a financial educator and staff writer for Education Credit Union in Amarillo, Texas. Gibbs has spent six enriching years in the credit union industry.
His favorite aspect about working in a credit union is the community impact. His passion is evident when he describes the essence of his job: "Guiding someone closer toward their goal, showing them tools they can use to help themselves, or offering hope to people whose situation is desperate is the reason I come to work every day.”
Gibbs’ connection with the community extends beyond his professional obligations. He dedicates his time to Heal the City, a nonprofit healthcare facility catering to the uninsured.
“I volunteer by teaching financial wellness classes twice every month from 6 to 7 p.m.,” he said. “My audience is mostly underbanked and credit-invisible adults who do not know what a credit union is. With the help of a volunteer translator, I get to reach people with financial fundamentals that they have never heard or considered before.”
In terms of technological evolution, Gibbs advocates for the growth of self-monitoring software and budgeting tools within credit union apps. He said the transformative potential of such features could help many improve their personal financial wellness.
“Education Credit Union offers Money Management, a free feature that our members can sign up for that logs each debit card transaction, then sends our member a monthly report that breaks down their spending into categories and percentages so they can see how they really spend their money,” he explained. “They can also set budgeting limits and savings goals; the feature alerts them when they are nearing any thresholds they’ve set for themselves.”
However, it's not just about embracing new technologies; it's about merging the wisdom of generations. Gibbs highlights the importance of adaptability, especially in a cross-generational workspace.
“The most successful young professionals I have worked with make it a point to adapt their communication style to their intended audience as needed,” he said. “Adaptability is a trait that can help any person of any age navigate
their way to their vision of success in any field.”
If given a choice, Gibbs would pick a superpower inspired by the “Animorphs” series he enjoyed growing up: the ability to transform into any animal. “The idea of experiencing the world and gathering information through other senses, whether flying, swimming, or galloping, would be incredible,” he said.
Gibbs is currently reading “The World We Make” by N.K. Jemisin. He is currently binge-watching old It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia episodes while enjoying the new episodes from the most recent season each week.
One accomplishment that he is proud of involves Cornerstone. “At the credit union, I helped 23 staff members get certified as financial counselors through Cornerstone,” he said. “I facilitated weekly study sessions for our employees,
created practice tests to help them retain the information, and designed an implementation strategy that I still maintain to enhance the financial wellness of our membership and community at no cost.”
Richelle Ray is an information technology project manager at Education Credit Union in Fort Worth, Texas. With a robust 9-year career in the credit union industry, Richelle stands out as a forward-thinking leader in the credit union realm.
For Ray, the allure of working in a credit union is twofold. “One of my favorite things about working at a credit union is the opportunity to make a meaningful impact in people’s lives,” she said. “Credit unions have a unique mission of serving their members and communities, and being a part of that mission is incredibly rewarding. Another aspect I greatly appreciate is the sense of community that credit unions foster. Being a part of this community-focused approach makes me feel connected and proud to contribute to the betterment of the areas we serve.”
Looking to the future, Ray envisions a credit union landscape profoundly influenced by digital transformation.
“Growing the usage of digital transformation in credit unions is critical in enhancing services and competing in the marketplace,” she said. “This would include providing seamless online banking experiences, mobile apps with advanced functionalities, and digital payment solutions to meet member expectations.”
Her belief in the power of AI and machine learning is evident: “The utilization of artificial intelligence and machine learning can help automate routine tasks, improve fraud detection, and provide more accurate risk assessments.”
Her perspective on the role of young professionals bridging the generational divide is enlightening. Ray believes that by promoting knowledge sharing across generations, team members can “learn from one another, bridge generational gaps, and collectively benefit from a wider range of expertise.”
While her leadership qualities lead many to believe she's a natural extrovert, Ray shares that people are often surprised to learn she’s an introvert. “As an introvert, I draw energy from within and find solitude or quieter environments replenishing.”
If she could give her 14-year-old self some life advice, Ray said she would encourage herself to embrace her individuality, dare to dream big, and believe in her abilities. She added, “Prioritize self-care and cultivate a mindset of gratitude and appreciation for the blessings and opportunities in life.”
Vania Vazquez is the vice president of marketing and business development at South Texas Federal Credit Union in McAllen, Texas. With seven years in the credit union industry, Vazquez has risen through the ranks, embracing a range of roles and making a positive impact in various departments. Today, she proudly holds a position that not only recognizes her talents but also brings her close to the heart of the credit union movement.
Her favorite facet of being part of the credit union world is the sense of community and collaboration.
“What I cherish the most about working in the credit union industry is knowing that I can always rely on fellow professionals from other credit unions across the region, state, or even the country, for help and guidance,” Vazquez said. “I truly value this, as it's a unique attribute not commonly found in other industries. Having someone else who completely understands the challenges you face is truly priceless. It makes it easier to fully dedicate yourself to your work.”
While Vazquez has never personally benefited from having a mentor, she's no stranger to mentorship. She recently mentored three high school students and leveraged her experience and lessons to offer guidance on the unique challenges women can encounter in the business world. Through mentoring, she hopes to instill confidence, resilience, and a can-do spirit in these young minds.
Vazquez started as a teller and now oversees marketing, business development, and human resources. She acknowledges that the invaluable insights and resources acquired through Cornerstone League conferences have been pivotal in her professional growth.
“Attending conferences organized by Cornerstone League has helped me discover a whole world of credit unions resources that I would have never known existed had I not made myself available for these opportunities,” Vazquez said.
Social responsibility is another area where Vazquez ‘s passion shines through. She has actively collaborated with nonprofits throughout her career and has been instrumental in organizing a range of supply drives, from supporting animal shelters to organizing toy drives for children. She believes in proactive community engagement.
“I firmly believe that this is the most straightforward way to assist those in need, as both our staff and members willingly contribute without hesitation,” she said. “The sense of fulfillment we gain from creating a positive impact in our community is truly rewarding.”
While she's deeply entrenched in the present, Vazquez also has an eye on the future. “Recently, I enhanced my career by joining our local chapter of credit unions as a Young Professional liaison. I’m hopeful this new project will broaden my knowledge and network within other credit unions in our area.”
If Vazquez could pick a superpower, it would be teleportation. “Picture spending your morning in Paris eating a croissant by a cute café, then admiring the green landscape in Ireland in the afternoon, and lastly enjoying a night out by the sea in Ibiza,” she said. “When will AI grant me this?”
Reflecting on her journey so far, Vazquez is proud of her choices and accomplishments, professionally and personally. “I am proud of the choices I’ve made so far and the solid support system I have built in my personal life,” she said. “Additionally, I’m proud of how far I’ve come in my professional career since my graduation from university. What's even more fulfilling is the realization that I'm actively putting into practice what I studied for during my time in school.”
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