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Double Interview with Royal Credit Union’s YP Activist, Amanda Farnham, and mentor, Jennifer McHugh

Updated: Jan 21, 2020

When we saw the news of a Young Professional Credit Union Activist position being created at Royal Credit Union we immediately thought this is exactly what the movement needs. With average member ages increasing, lawmakers ages increasing and board members aging this youth charged advocacy in action is exactly what the movement needed. We truly hope other Credit Unions and Leagues take what Royal and the Wisconsin League have created and implement their own YP Advocacy Groups. We sat down with Royal’s YP Credit Union Activist, Amanda Farnham, and her advocacy mentor, Royal’s Director of Public Affairs, Jennifer McHugh, to discuss how this all came about and what is next for this YP Advocate.

Amanda with Wisconsin Representative, Ron Kind

I can’t recall the last time we have been so excited to see something new like this happen for a young professional. Tell me about how this idea came about? What are some of the advantages to having a YP in the role when it some to advocation?

Jennifer – With this program all the credit goes to our forward-thinking CEO, Brandon Riechers. This was his idea, he is our lead advocate in the Credit Union space and he came up with the idea. Royal for the past 4 years has been bringing in high school students on state-level advocacy trips for the past several years. We have a very robust student-run Credit Union program which includes a K-12 and 6 high school locations. So we have had a ton of success with the youth in our advocacy efforts. Brandon thought it would be beneficial to create a program for YP’s that would include not only advocacy at the state level but also at the federal level in DC, so he said let’s develop a program and we ran with that idea.

We settled on this year-long activist position that would give a YP the opportunity to develop their skills in a meaningful way with multiple trips to talk to lawmakers. We specifically designed this program to start now to help grow the Hike the Hill event in DC. The next trip for the YP CU Advocate will be in January to the Wisconsin Credit Union League’s state Government Affairs Conference in Madison. The, in March, Amanda will head back to DC for CUNA GAC. It’s great to take an active and engaged young professional, give them a new experience and help with their career development. It also helps them to really understand the Credit Union movement and drink the CU Kool-Aid. We want them to think of their work in credit unions as a career, not just a job, and want to stay in the industry for a long time. It benefits the Credit Union by having YP’s voice their concerns and hearing it directly from their mouth, it’s not me, a 40 something year old, it is coming right from the YP and they get to voice what they have to say right from their mouth. Overall, I believe it strengthens the movement. The lawmakers hear directly from the YP’s.

Amanda with Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin

That is incredible, when I first saw this, I was like every Credit Union at least at the League level needs to do this. Amanda, this is something that all credit unions should be doing. Amanda, can you talk about the application process and what lead you to apply and what that was like.

Amanda - The position was announced internally and talked about at our Royal YP Group meeting, we have our own YP Group here at the Credit Union. Jennifer came and talked about this opportunity for all of us who were active in Royal’s YP Program. It was an application process and then I needed my supervisor sign off for their support. Once I got the blessing I focused on the issues I knew were struggles for YP’s. After working in the CU industry for the past 6 years, developing and growing my knowledge and passion for Credit Unions over that time I wanted to ensure the YP’s had a voice at that table and were able to express our concerns. I want to be sure that not just my opinions are voiced, but that I also voice the concerns of other YP’s as well. I am not only bringing my own opinions but also bringing the opinions of all the YP’s as a whole.

I know you will be traveling quite a bit, meeting with a lot of people, and shaking a lot of hands right from the start, what are some of the issues you will be primarily dealing with.

Amanda – An initial task is research some of the issues Credit Unions are facing today. I’ve looked into the tax status, data breaches and data security issues that are currently affecting credit unions right now. Then I will be looking into what is not only affecting the Credit Unions but also what is affecting the YP’s at Credit Unions as well. Preparing advocacy issues is a continuous learning experience. Right now I’m researching the college student debt crisis. I’m also working on setting up different ways of communications with YP’s and doing blogs and Twitter (Click to follow her journey) for others and YP’s to follow along with. In addition to social meeting, our first blog just went out a few weeks ago for the YP’s to read and engage with.

Can you talk a bit more about the process of bringing in high schoolers involved in the advocacy?

The Royal Credit Union Hike the Hill group. Pictured L to R: Jennifer McHugh, Melissa Wilson, Amanda Farnham, John Sackett. (Royal & CUNA Board member)board

Jennifer – In our high school locations we hire tellers and also students that are there to focus on marketing and communication. We ask who is interested in credit union advocacy and gage their interest. We don’t take trips to Madison or St. Paul until Q1 of the following year so we have a curriculum we’ve developed for them to follow from the beginning of the school year until it’s time for our visits. I will meet with them for an hour a few times to work on their message and teach them how to look up who their representatives are. They also get homework to do some research on their representatives and we do a lot of role playing to see what issues they want to talk about. A lot of times they really want to talk about financial literacy since it isn’t a requirement to be taught in their schools so they generally talk to the lawmakers about that.

We role play and help them come up with issues they want to talk about like access to financial literacy. We have had really good success and the students have been amazing. You should see the lawmaker’s eyes light up when they see the youth and well-spoken they are on important issues. Who better to advocate about students than the students themselves.

Can you talk a bit more about Royal’s YP group and how your league and chapters have embraced this initiative.

Jennifer – I serve on Wisconsin’s Government affairs committee at the league, so I work very closely with them. I told them about our to create the YP CU Advocacy program and they were fully supportive. They just featured it in their weekly newsletter. Our hope is getting out in front and be a leader with this and will encourage other CU’s to follow suit. As always, we are a cooperative movement and always happy to open our playbook to let other credit unions to see how we set this up and got it going. The biggest thing you have to ask yourself is are we ready to make this financial commitment? At the end of the day we at Royal feel this is an investment worth making for YP’s and the movement. Since we operate in both Wisconsin and in Minnesota, next year we will be expanding this opportunity to a Royal YP in both states. Amanda will be helping me refine this program and improve this for the next group of YP’s and mobilize her peers.

Jennifer and Amanda at the Lincoln Memorial. We went on a night monument tour our first night in DC

Amanda – Our internal YP Program started in 2013 it was my first year at the credit union and I got involved right away in the YP program even though I wasn’t sure what it was. It has grown tremendously ever since and today we currently have about 60 members. We have been focusing on volunteering and having advocacy sessions. We get the opportunities to host events for other YP’s and have been given a ton of flexibility to grow the YP group. We really want to create a space where people are interested in getting more involved My goal is to have monthly meetings to just talk about advocacy and what is going on in the industry and specifically what that means to YP’s.

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