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Ben Hering - Innovator and Collaborator

Have you ever met someone who lives and breathes Credit Unions so much that it drives you to further embrace the movement and the Credit Union lifestyle even more? We have, and his name is Ben Hering. Ben is currently the Director of Engagement Minnesota Credit Union Network. He has been a part of Filene’s i3, he has CRASHED Big.Bright.Minds, and over the past two years, he has helped to grow the CU Forward Day initiative in Minnesota. He is also working hard on helping other states realize the CU Forward Day concept and get it started in their states.

He recently was part of using innovative ways of thinking, taking his two passions – Credit Unions and Beer – to help create the Minnesota Handshake. The Minnesota Handshake was a collaboration among many people at the Minnesota Credit Union Network and local breweries. They created a beer that they offered at the Minnesota State Fair this year in collaboration with Indeed Brewing where $1 from every glass of beer sold went to financial literacy projects across the state of Minnesota. Not sure about you, but I’m exhausted just thinking about all that Ben has done! He was able to squeeze us in to his busy schedule and chat with us a bit on how he got his start, i3, CRASHING and of course CU Forward Day! Check out our time with Ben below!

How did you get your start in the credit union industry and what keeps you here?

I got my start in credit unions by working at a bank. Enough said. 😊

In all honesty, it was my experience working in a retail environment for a large financial institution that inspired me to look deeper into how I might help people with their money in a more equitable, consumer-centric way.

Cue credit unions!

I started at Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union, whose tagline, “Not For Profit. For People.” really resonated with me. I started in a branch setting – working with members on everything from making a deposit, buying a car and owning a home. From there, I grew my experience of serving members in a branch to helping the credit union re-launch their business development program to spread awareness of our cooperative. Now, I get to work with all credit unions in and around our state through my role as Director of Engagement with the Minnesota Credit Union Network.

Through my involvement with various organizations and within our business community, I’ve found that credit unions are truly unique in the financial industry in our willingness to cooperate and collaborate.

That is what keeps me here. In working with credit unions, no one is just a “cog in the machine” – everyone’s role in our organizations matter deeply to how we serve our members. It’s invigorating knowing our potential to change the lives of people and seeing what we can do when credit unions come together to do so.

What did you take away from the CUNA YP conference?

Umm... All of it?

I mean, I didn’t have a ton of expectations going into the experience. However, it was one of the best conferences I’ve ever been to.

We are so lucky not only have the support of our organizations to come together and learn from one another, but the group of professionals at this event… wow. The CUNA YP conference made any inkling of doubt in my mind about the future of credit unions dissipate entirely.

This is a movement. We have a force to be reckoned with – these energetic credit union nerds.

Tell us your experience with CRASHing? What did you CRASH and what did you take away from it?

My first and only experience truly “crashing” a credit union event was Filene’s annual conference, Big. Bright. Minds. I cannot tell you how meaningful and career changing the experience was… but I will try.

I was just getting my feet wet in business development for my credit union when I came across Filene Research Institute and the Cooperative Trust. Aside from its cool branding, Filene’s content spoke to me – the research was pertinent and the opportunities to grow in the industry seemingly unique. So, I reached out.

I applied to crash Big. Bright.Minds. in 2014 in Tucson at the University of Arizona. I was selected and then joined ten other bright young professionals - all of whom are now doing amazingly incredible things. Our fearless leader was James Marshall, the leader of Cooperative Trust at the time, who is also continuing to rock the credit union world.

The programming was a whirlwind of research symposiums, prospective prototype pitches, networking and new people. Also, a chili cook-off. Yes. Chili. Cookoff. It was a teambuilding activity we participated in on the set of Old Tucson, where we got to create a chili out of sparse ingredients, formulate a “commercial” and present that commercial on a stage in front of everyone. Insanity.

I’m still quite close with SO many of the people I met.

(Hold on. I just got a text from one now.)

This experience eventually led to me applying for and being accepted into the i3 program.

The experience was inspirational and intense, exhausting and rejuvenating. It was quite magical.

You beam with pride when talking about your time with the i3 program– tell us why we should all apply and what was the biggest thing you took away from this experience?

If you REALLY want to understand why someone drinks the credit union Kool-Aid, apply for a national credit union program and you’ll figure it out quite quickly.

Filene’s i3 program stood out to me, and as mentioned, I had gotten a good taste of it during my crasher experience. The two-year commitment is a deep dive into innovation, working in teams comprised of the smartest credit union folks on creating solutions to problems facing our members. You learn how to properly identify pain points, ideate effectively, prototype and test, and bring an idea to market. Ultimately, the program helps credit unions test (and fail) in a quick way while breeding innovation competency in our industry.

However, the reason you should try out for i3 is for the people. As with crashing, the connections I made will last a lifetime. These people and the learning have proven to be invaluable in my growth.

CUForward Day is an extremely rewarding and impactful day, so for those who do not know give us the elevator pitch on CUForward and tell me the level of excitement when you saw the Illinois Credit Union League implementing their spin on CUForward Day for 2019?

Ah… CU Forward Day. It’s a simple concept. It’s credit unions coming together to spread kindness, to pay-it-forward to our members and people who deserve a “thank you”. We’ve condensed our actions down to highlight the impact we might have on one day – the second Monday of October, a federal holiday. Some participants volunteer at local nonprofits all day, others host food and fund drives or choose to work together on giveback initiatives.

Some of our best stories come when CU Forward Day participants randomly spread kindness – like paying for someone’s gas, or picking up the tab at the grocery store.

No matter what you do on CU Forward Day, the coolest part about it is the collaboration and cooperation we see between credit unions. It’s a genuine, tangible, display of the type of business we are. It’s just… it’s so heartwarming.

Of course, this amazing idea is growing! Mark Cummins, our President & CEO, has been the biggest advocate of providing resources to other states to help launch kindness initiatives for their credit unions. Seeing what Illinois has done through CU Kind has continued to inspire our team and has given us a good reason to come together as neighboring states.

We’re seeing the momentum now grow beyond the Midwest – it sounds like Mississippi credit unions are joining the movement as an extension of their L.E.A.D. program, too! I think it’d be amazing to see the CU Forward initiative turn into a national credit union movement. 😊

What would you like to see change in the credit union industry?

Continued openness to collaborate and cooperate with each other. Some existing initiatives, like the Open Your Eyes campaign, Shared Branching, and the growing concept behind CU Forward Day, are a start.

Nevertheless, we can do more. We can be more open, more collaborative, and more cooperative.

At the end of the day, we still only have around 7-8% of the market share in the financial world. I think we can all agree that people are better off at a credit union. I truly believe that continued and more collaboration will help us reach more potential members. I’d love to see us push the envelope on what cooperation looks like.

What other passions do you dedicate your time to outside the CU industry?

Well. I’ve worked for a local brewery for the past several years – Indeed Brewing – which recently teamed up with Minnesota credit unions to create a beer that will provide support for our foundation.

I’m currently the board chair for DRIVE, the young professional’s group of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber. This helps me stay connected and work with other up-and-comers to envision what growth and development looks like for our community.

I enjoy music and art. I play the trumpet with a few outfits and love to paint.

Climbing, specifically bouldering has grown into a passion of mine to relieve stress and stay healthy. That and running (my wife is a crazy runner/marathoner, I just try to keep up occasionally).

So yeah. Not much. 😊

CUltivate is people helping people with our mission to spread the word, connect the people, and give an outlet to share your stories. Know someone in the industry we should interview? Drop us a line at


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