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Tom Blanford - Advocacy in Action

Tom Blanford is a vital part of the credit union footprint in the Midwest. Having put in the time in the community and the financial services industry for over 12 years it is difficult to find someone who is more involved than Tom. His involvement with dozens of nonprofits, legislation, and being the voice of reason to protect financial choice just scratches the surface of Tom’s day to day. Tom is currently up for re-election of the Cedar Falls City Council and is spending the next few months meeting with the residents of Cedar Falls to hear their thoughts and ideas. We aren’t quite sure how he fit us in, but we were able to snag a bit of his time to talk about his roles and advocacy efforts in the credit union industry.

You do so much for the community and the credit union movement. This could intimidate some people. Tell us who you are, what do you do, extra responsibilities outside your 9-5, and why you do it?

I currently serve as the commercial banking manager for Collins Community Credit Union. In this role, I oversee our business banking and business development divisions. I have the opportunity to travel through all of our markets in Iowa as well as visit vendors and other credit unions across the Country. I have been with the credit union for almost four years and in the financial industry for twelve years. I also chair the credit union’s advocacy committee and help lead our advocacy efforts at the state and federal level. Outside of the credit union, I serve on several nonprofit boards including; the Cedar Bend Humane Society, the Cedar Valley United Way, the Rotary Club of the Cedar Valley, and the government affairs committee for Grow Cedar Valley. I believe that everyone has a responsibility to give back to their community and contribute to the success of where they live and work.

Well said Tom, what made you want to come to a Credit Union?

I started my career at a small credit union in the Cedar Valley, I have always believed in the credit union philosophy of “people helping people”. To me, credit unions represent the ideal model for financial services, by empowering our members and working to achieve their long-term financial well-being, we are not only benefiting our company but also improving the communities we serve.

What is your proudest moment since working at the Credit Union?

Before taking over the commercial banking department, I was fortunate to help create the Cedar Falls branch. I am extremely proud of the team we have in Cedar Falls and the great work they do. The people in this branch work well as a team and are very committed to the success of this branch and our community.

What drives you to be such a big advocate for the Credit Union movement? What are some of the things others could be doing to be more involved as well?

Compared to other industries, ours is relatively small and relies almost exclusively on volunteer advocacy. I believe strongly in what credit unions can offer, our focus, and dedication to member success is unlike any other company you might work for. To protect that unique business model requires us to be engaged each and every day.

There are a number of ways to get involved; the movement needs every skill set we can get. I would encourage everyone to vote, not just in presidential election years but also for Congressional offices, state legislative offices, and even local races. Educate yourself on the issues and work to learn about opposing viewpoints. You can also attend town hall events, volunteer for a campaign, contact elected officials, or even consider running for office yourself.

You have spent countless hours volunteering in not only your community but also all around the state of Iowa, what drives that passion and what are some of the organizations that you feel impact you the most?

I believe strongly in public service, and that everyone can and should contribute in some way. Regardless of your age, experience, interests, or skillset; there is a way for you give back. When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to participate in a program through the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa. It was designed to provide high school students with experience in nonprofit management and working with a diverse group of fellow directors. From there I joined the board of directors for the American Red Cross and expanded my community involvement each year after that. I would say that I am most impacted by the work we do at the Cedar Bend Humane Society. As a volunteer, I have been able to work with injured and abandoned animals to complete their rehabilitation and find them new homes. There aren’t a lot of professional connections or business opportunities working with shelter animals, but you get to see the impact of your work each and every day.

Back in March, you had the privilege to travel to Washington D.C. to attend CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC). Tell us about some of the things you were able to accomplish and your experience while you were there. What would you tell others thinking about attending in the upcoming years?

During last year’s GAC, I joined the Iowa delegation to meet with Senator Grassley, Congresswoman Finkenauer, Congresswomen Axne, and Congressman Loebsack to discuss the importance of credit unions in Iowa and our contributions to the state’s economy. I was also able to meet credit union advocates and executives from several states, fintech leaders, and other executive leaders. Our keynote speaker for the event last year was Secretary of State John Kerry, I had the opportunity to meet him briefly and thank him for his service. The GAC is an excellent opportunity for anyone interested in credit union advocacy. I would encourage anyone interested in learning about the credit union movement to consider attending, either as an attendee or through the Crasher program.

What has helped you with staying involved in professional development as well as the CU movement as a whole?

I encourage everyone to take advantage of the professional development opportunities offered in our industry and your community. Even if the topic does not sound like something you are interested in at the time, the knowledge you gain can be useful down the road. The most successful employees are those with a broad experience base in diverse fields. I try to attend as many opportunities as possible, from ICUL activities, local credit union chapter meetings, legislative town halls, and regional security group meetings.

What is next for you?

I currently serve on the Cedar Falls City Council and am up for reelection this year. I will spend the next several months knocking on doors and meeting with residents to hear their ideas for our community. I am also looking forward to continuing to grow our new commercial banking department and identifying new opportunities for the credit union’s future.

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 #CUltivateTheMovement

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