• cultivateyp

Josh Smith - Advocacy in Action

I met Josh Smith at the beginning of my i3 journey as he was selected to be part of my cohort. While I never had the opportunity to work on an individual team with him, his knowledge and passion about the industry is second to none. Josh is the Executive Director, Credit Union Advocacy at SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union in California and is gearing up for the first virtual GAC. I was so excited to get the chance to chat with Josh over zoom to catch up and talk about his experience in the credit union industry and everything i3. Enjoy my chat with Josh below

Tell us a little bit about how you got your start in the credit union space and how you ended up in your current role.

I ended up in the movement kind of by accident. I started at Disneyland like a lot folks from Orange County. I was going to school at the time and made friends with an individual that worked at Disney part time, but his full-time job was at the credit union. At the time, I was going to school but wanted hours that were more flexible and so I asked him if I could get a job at the credit union. He was able to help me out and get me a job as a teller, which allowed me to find that more set schedule for school and I’ve developed within the credit union from there.

It’s somewhat funny; when I was younger, I used to get a ride home from my teacher because my mom watched her kids. She would stop by the credit union on Fridays to drop off her check since the credit union serves school employees. I would come in to the branch I currently work out of and I remember that the lobby seemed so big at the time and now I walk through that lobby on a daily basis and it’s crazy how it all came full circle.

That’s a great memory and full circle moment. Did you always know you wanted to go into advocacy?

I went to school originally as a history major and then transitioned to a communications and public relations not really knowing what I wanted to do. I’ve always loved politics from a historical standpoint, but I never did any type of internship in DC or was super politically active.

I really came into the advocacy after I left the branches. I worked in what we called Membership Development. It always peaked my interest because I really enjoyed helping people see what the credit union could do for them and their family. Serving in our branches, I was able to see firsthand what the credit union could do for our Members – school employees and their families. After being in Membership Development for 3 years, the opportunity came up in advocacy and I loved the idea of being able to do what I loved, but on a larger scale. Instead of helping one person at a time, I could engage with a group of people while also helping key decision makers understand what the credit union can do for their constituents. Showing them how the credit union movement, not just SchoolsFirst FCU, makes a real difference for their community.

I went from being able to deliver a value statement about our credit union to one person, to delivering a message on the value of my credit union and the credit union movement as whole. It really feeds my professional passion to have the opportunity to do that.

Love that – what keeps you in the credit union movement?

Well, first off, I work for an amazing credit union, one that invested enough in me so I could go to college and not straight into the workforce like my parents did. They gave me a job that allowed me to sustain myself and grow my financial wellness all while attending school.

I’ve also been very fortunate to be given opportunities to develop myself professionally. I love my credit union, I love the people I work with, I love the culture, and I love what I do. SchoolsFirst really does believe in the people helping people philosophy and I love seeing that carried throughout the credit union movement. It’s really an honor to be able to advocate for such an important cause.

In my job, I always try to tie the difference SchoolsFirst FCU makes back to the credit union movement’s history and philosophy. I work alongside counterparts at other credit unions and I really enjoy being able to collaborate with them on how we can help connect the dots for people, specifically legislators and staffers. Being able to help them understand what we mean when we say credit union difference and showing them how we are making it a reality for Members is truly rewarding. Overall, it’s still a lot of fun and rewarding, both professionally and personally.

It’s so great to hear and see your passion for the industry and your role in it. What are some other accomplishments you have in the credit union industry?

I’ve been very fortunate to do many things such as CRASH the GAC, attending Development Educator (DE) training, complete Western CUNA Management School and Filene i3. All of those have really opened my eyes even wider and really stretched me to grow. To be able to have those opportunities and engage with like-minded professionals. It highlights the differences between our credit unions but also shows our foundation and the similarities that we all share.

You have had some great experiences. What advice do you have for young professionals that want to have the opportunity to CRASH or apply for these types of events but might be hesitant or afraid of getting turned down?

As I said before, I’ve been very fortunate to pursue the opportunities I have been given. I’m thankful to have a leadership team that truly embraces the credit union movement and these opportunities as well.

The most important thing a YP can do is to grow their network and understand the importance of finding a mentor. It’s so important to align yourself with others that share your passions and to be hungry to find new ways to grow. If you are expanding your network, and always listening, you will hear about these opportunities.

It’s also important to look for scholarships through your credit union, league, or the conference host to be able to attend. You need to embrace any opportunity to learn more. It’s not about a checklist and doing things a specific order (ex. Crash the GAC, DE, and then i3) – take every single opportunity regardless of the order it comes in to get out there and learn more. It’s all about staying curious.

That is spot on. You just finished up your last cycle of Filene i3. Tell us about your experience being an i3er and what it has done for you?

It’s taught me patience and reinforced the importance of asking questions. I3 is a rewarding challenge, but there is a lot of heavy lifting involved. There’s so much great information out there and so many great things being done. Not just in the financial services space but all over.

I just saw a Harvard article that talks about letting consumers choose how they pay off debt. For example, they get to choose what specific expense they are paying towards on a credit card when they make their payment and not just be chipping away at the total balance. It’s just such a different way of thinking about something our Members do every day and i3 looks at things like how we can rethink our processes while staying true to the credit union difference.

I3 also gave me the opportunity to challenge the process. I know a lot of times we say to trust the process; with i3 and being in it for 2 years; I think you earn the right to question the process. If you don’t challenge the process, you can’t make those small incremental changes, which is a big part of innovation.

Challenge the process. Love it. What do you think are some of the struggles of our generation in the credit union space?

I think our generation is still trying to balance all the information available at our fingertips. Understanding how we can process, filter and apply all that data in an effective way can be challenging.

I also think we are coming to a point where we need to do a mind switch for ourselves. I know I personally have been a mentee far more often than I’ve been a mentor. I’ve had amazing people invest in me. Now it’s getting to the point that my mindset needs to switch and spend more time mentoring. We will spend more time helping the next generation of professionals coming up establish themselves and establish their own relationship with credit unions. We need to start embracing that we are the leaders and start passing our knowledge on to the next generation. We need to be proactive in how we help the next generation.

Back to your day to day; How do you suggest young professionals get more involved in advocacy?

Know what you love and what speaks to you. Your trade associations can be a great resource. Looking internally at your credit union too – here at SchoolsFirst, we have a built-out infrastructure for advocacy within our credit union with a lot of resources.

I’ve also been fortunate to work at a credit union that is part of the California Credit Union League. , which has an amazing advocacy team. They really helped me gain the knowledge and experience to embrace advocacy.

You just have to embrace whatever in house knowledge you have, make the most of your internal infrastructure but also embrace your external resources as well. More often than not, you will find people that want to help you embrace advocacy.

The first ever virtual GAC just wrapped up. What did you think of it? Do you think our advocacy efforts were recognized by representatives the same as being in person?

Given everything going on at home and in Washington, I was so happy with how well CUNA and the California Credit Union League did with this year’s GAC. The virtual option, in my opinion, will never take the place of in-person advocacy, but our collaborative efforts really did make the most of the situation and I’m incredibly happy with the final product. We spent most of our legislative meetings highlighting the story of what credit unions have done for our Members during this pandemic, which is such a powerful way to quantify the credit union difference. Virtual or not, the message is inspirational and seemed to hit home for the legislators and their teams.

That’s so true. What other passions do you dedicate your time to outside the CU industry?

Spending time with my son and my wife. Related to your earlier question about challenges, our generation right now is trying to find that work life balance. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to maintain a pretty a good balance in recent years. When it’s my free time, I’m taking my son to hockey, going on bike rides, or just enjoying family time. With everything as crazy as it has been the last year – it’s so important to have that quiet time, family time and recharge time.

So thankful for our time today, any thing else you want our readers to know?

I hope that if there is any way I can help others find their opportunities that they will reach out.

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


49 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All