MADISON, Wis.–Heritage CU Marketing Director Cindy Schrader ventured to Belarus to share her marketing expertise as a member of the World Council of CUs’ Global Women’s Leadership Network. While she went to Belarus to teach others, she said she also learned a lot herself. CU Journal caught up with her after her travels to ask her about the experience.
CU Journal: Of the things you saw while in Belarus, what surprised you the most (both good and bad)?
Schrader: Probably the most surprising thing for me was to see a whole other place on this earth. I have traveled in the U.S. and Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Mexico, but never to Europe. It was so great to see another culture, to talk with people about everyday life. You get time to put things in perspective. Things seem simpler over there. It seems less stressful. One thing I noticed is they don’t have pile of “things they are going to get to” on their desk. It is a laptop and what they are working on.
Another thing that surprised me were the bathrooms! Wow! That was interesting.
CUJ: You were there to teach others, but what did you learn from this experience?
Schrader: No. 1: I learned that I LOVE credit unions more than I did before my journey! When you are speaking in front of others it is interesting to “hear” yourself. You don’t have time to think through your answers. You speak from your heart and experiences. I am so proud of the company I work for. I truly believe in our values and mission. I spoke to students of the University of Belarus, and one of the comments that stand out in my mind is how passionate I was about credit unions.
CUJ: Did you have a pretty good idea of what you would be doing/focusing on before you arrived? How did that change once you got there?
Schrader: We had done some e-mailing before I got there to understand their movement and challenges. I also found out what marketing efforts they were doing. I envisioned us talking about what we do, what they do and me helping them move forward to more effective marketing in the many channels we use. When I got there, there were 20 people staring at me for information. OK! Luckily, I had prepared presentations on many different topics. I went through four of my presentations on the first day!
CUJ: What were some of the similarities (both in terms of CUs and in general) between Belarus and the U.S.–and what were some of the differences–that most struck you?
Schrader: There are many challenges to the credit union movement in Belarus: lack of awareness about credit unions, higher rates on loans, and credit union members do not have a government guarantee on their savings. Credit unions pay a social tax rate on their profits that banks do not have. Because of the high cost of their financial resources, both profit tax and higher savings rate, the interest rates on loans is mostly higher than banks. Credit unions are seen as an alternative to banks. If a person cannot get the financing they need with a bank, then they will seek assistance from the credit union. In the U.S., credit unions are not an alternative so much as a better choice. We both struggle with the lack of awareness of credit unions, but in Belarus it is definitely on a much larger scale.
Being so new to the movement the Belarusian credit unions have a great opportunity to grow. They are spreading their message through members, the business association and education. It is a brand new idea to many people and they are grasping the concept. I think it is a matter of time and resources for the credit union system to grow. In the States we enjoy support of our fellow credit unions and an unbelievable amount of resources in comparison to those of Belarus.
CUJ: Why were you chosen for this trip and/or why did you choose to go on this trip?
Schrader: Our CEO, Bob Lestina, has worked for WOCCU in past years and continues to do consulting work with WOCCU. There was a time, last year, where we had a branch manager seminar. Heritage invited Mark Cifuentes to talk to our branch managers and tell how WOCCU helps credit unions worldwide. I was extremely inspired by the work of WOCCU and expressed to Bob that I would love to make a difference on a broader scale. He said WOCCU was looking for a marketing executive to travel to Belarus to help with their marketing efforts. From there, the conversations began.
CUJ: What practical lessons did you teach? What marketing advances can credit unions there expect to realistically accomplish in the next year or two?
Schrader: Hopefully, I taught them how to think differently. To put themselves in the shoes of the person they are trying to reach. People buy, or react to the idea or the dream of the credit union products. They are not “buying” the loan; they are “buying” their personal dream, whether it be a car, home or vacation. As I said before, they are considered a higher-priced alternative to banks, so they need to find out who the people they are serving are and look for more like them. They do not have MCIF systems, but they need to define whom it is they are targeting. With limited resources in staffing and marketing budgets it is important to define their target market. They do not have the luxury of large marketing campaigns.
CUJ: How did the experience make you feel? What did you learn about yourself in the process? How has it changed your perspective?
Schrader: I felt alive. At work, I feel more like I am doing my job than making a difference. In marketing, you do not get interaction with members. To be telling the American, marketing, credit union stories to a group of credit union professionals was so inspiring. Each one was providing a dream for a member, but I think they thought of it much more as a loan or a savings account. To give them ideas on how to grow their credit unions and help Belarusians with their financial needs was rewarding. I know why so many credit union employees stay with credit union–they truly believe in the idea, the philosophy and feel good about what they do.