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Rick Craig, retired president/CEO of America First Federal Credit Union (AFCU) in Ogden, Utah, will receive the 2013 Herb Wegner Memorial Award for Lifetime Achievement later this month in ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Craig has been a leader, advocate, and teacher in the credit union movement for decades. He participated in a Q&A with Credit Union Magazine about the award and his career.
CU Mag: What does it mean to you to win the Wegner Award?
Craig: It is a wonderful recognition of the combined efforts of so many people over so many years.
Although it is an individual award, it wouldn't have been possible without the significant contributions of the great team at AFCU, Western CUNA Management School, Credit Union Executives Society, Filene Research Institute, CO-OP, etc.
CU Mag: You've done a lot in your career in the credit union movement. What are you most proud of?
Craig: It was helping the individual members during the Great Recession. The easy thing would have been to write off the loans—and many we eventually had to. Each person who had financial difficulties had unique circumstances and, in most cases, desired to meet their financial obligations.
We established a department just to help those members restructure their loans. When they finished paying they had an increased sense of self-worth and the credit union was better off as well. Those will be loyal members in the future.
CU Mag: You've made an impact on the movement through advocacy. How important is it for credit unions to engage politically?
Craig: What the legislature permits or prohibits will be the rules and regulations that we will operate under in the future.
Political advocacy is so vital in helping credit unions determine their future and not those we compete with. I would encourage each credit union to form a political advocacy group of employees, volunteers, and members, and keep them informed on issues that can impact their credit union.
That way, you will develop a list of involved members you can turn to when you need them to contact members of their legislative bodies.
We don't know what the next issue will be, but we can be assured that there will be a next issue. We can't leave it to just the trade associations, leagues, and lobbyists. They need our help. We all have to be involved.
CU Mag: What was the most challenging issue you've had to deal with during your credit union career?
Craig: The Great Recession.
CU Mag: For the next generation of credit union leaders, what do you see as the biggest challenge?
Craig: Change. We will be OK if we always put members and their needs first.
CU Mag: Any advice for new and emerging credit union leaders?
Craig: It all comes back to a story I once heard by Boyd K. Packer (a leader in the LDS Church).
“A merchant man seeking precious jewels found at last the perfect pearl. He had the finest craftsman carve a superb jewel box and line it with blue velvet. He put his pearl of great price on display so others could share his treasure. He watched as people came to see it. Soon he turned away in sorrow. It was the box they admired, not the pearl.”
At AFCU we always recognized that the credit union was simply the box and the member was the pearl, so everything we did focused on how we could help the member.
So keep your eye on the pearl.
The Herb Wegner Memorial Awards, presented by the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF), will be held Feb. 25 in Washington, D.C., during CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference.
The Wegner Awards are named in honor of late CUNA CEO Herb Wegner, whose dedication, innovative ideas, and deeds truly revolutionized the way credit unions serve their communities.