MADISON, Wis. — James Marshall has some serious jet lag.
The 26-year-old Brit has spent the last year crisscrossing the globe in an effort to build and promote The Cooperative Trust, the young CU professionals' group previously known as the "Crash Network."
Marshall's globetrotting is due in large part to the fact that he still maintains a home office in London, having shuttled back and forth between the United States and the UK at least four times in the last 15 months, spending weeks at a time in the U.S. working with CUNA and credit unions.
"There's nothing like face-to-face," he told Credit Union Journal, speaking from Madison shortly before hopping onto another trans-Atlantic flight back home to London. "There's nothing like doing business in person. But with all the circumstances, the Trust is at the best place it can be and we've done the best job we can do."
Among the highlights of Marshall's first year on the job were hosting the biggest group of young professionals ever to attend CUNA's Governmental Affairs Conference.
The group's origins date back several years to when a small group of CU staffers under age 35 "crashed" the GAC, and that coterie has grown ever since then. Originally known as the "Crash Network," the group rebranded as the Cooperative Trust in 2012. Marshall took over the helm last summer, replacing longtime leader Brent Dixon, who left to continue his education.
When Marshall took over as head of the group, he told Credit Union Journal that one of his main goals was to find ways to make the Trust more self-sufficient. Whereas Dixon was focused on big, ambitious ideas, said Marshall, the focus would now be on pragmatism and business development.
In July, around the time of Marshall's one-year anniversary on the job, CUNA Mutual Group committed $35,000 to the Trust as part of a drive to increase young professionals' engagement with state leagues. Marshall described the money as "essentially a 'rent-a-crash' program" wherein the Cooperative Trust will run programs for state leagues and CUNA Councils at various conferences as a way to help deepen engagement with the under-35 crowd.
These funds will also allow the Trust to have a presence at "nontraditional" industry events, such as Filene's big. bright. minds conference and the recent CU Water Cooler Symposium in Austin.
"The job now is to convince credit unions and organizations 'Great, I'm glad you're sending young adults to join things like CUNA councils and committees, but what about the other things that go on at credit unions,' said Marshall, offering innovation projects as just one example. "The job now is about really diversifying the portfolio and making sure we hit on every competency we can."
In addition to the funds from CUNA Mutual, CUNA has also committed $250,000 to the Crash Network over three years, and Marshall said he is still working on a grant-funding strategy, as well.
More Than Just Money
Another of Marshall's original aims was finding ways to increase engagement among Cooperative Trust members when they're not together at conferences.
One way the group has done that has been through creating unique hashtags for each event it attends, such as #CrashIACU for the recent Iowa CU League convention or #CrashCUWCS for the CU Water Cooler Symposium. Those hashtags not only help connect members via social media and keep them engaged with one another, but when combined with more "official" hashtags for each event, help connect Trust members to their more established peers at those events.
The group has also revitalized its blog and website, "recruiting some pretty prominent people from the industry" to offer their voices on its blog, such as Filene's director of innovation, Matt Davis, Chris Morris of the national CU Foundation, and more. In addition to bloggers, the site's online community has more than 60 different forums, according to Marshall, and the top 10 have "content curators" who volunteer their time to help spur conversations and debates on those threads.
"We really want to drive the community and drive engagement so we don't have to always have everyone in the same place," said Marshall.
The bigger picture, however, is about finding ways for the Trust to create value for people and institutions that aren't direct participants in its activities.
"We already create value by getting young people involved in credit unions, but in terms of physical output is where our next focus is," he said. "What can we actually give back to the credit union industry? Credit unions believe in us, associations believe in us, trade groups believe in us; what can we give back? What research outputs can we provide around young adults and credit unions?"
Among the first few ways the group plans to do that are through "3ntrust" (pronounced "entrust"). That innovation program takes previous ideas from Filene's i3 Innovation Hub "that didn't go through our alpha lab in the first place, and putting it back through the Cooperative Trust and young adults' lives to see if we can't come up with something exciting that credit unions can use," said Marshall.
One element that remains in limbo is a planned mentoring program to help better connect young CU staffers to experienced professionals who can help them in their careers.
While the group did implement a mentorship program late in 2013, the model was "very labor intensive from my end, trying to manage all of those relationships," said Marshall. "We're going back to the drawing board with it, and with funding from CUNA Mutual Group and their support, we're working to put together a mentorship program that's easier to distribute, and we're going to hand it out to all of the leagues and associations," with CUNA Mutual providing those resources to each league so it can build its own program.
The Trust has also launched "CU Career Core," a program focused on recruiting recent graduates to credit unions. The program includes tuition reimbursement, said Marshall, and recruits these employees on a managerial track while also allowing CUs the opportunity to help address the student debt problem.
Marshall said no timeline has been set for rolling out that program yet, but anticipated it would happen sometime before the end of the year.
Across The Pond
Marshall continues to work back and forth across the Atlantic, and though he had initially hoped to be based in Madison by the end of year one, he said his visa application is being processed but an ETA for a stateside arrival is still unknown.
"It hasn't affected the Cooperative Trust's advancement," he added. "I've been very well supported by my colleagues at Filene, and the Trust is really now in a fantastic place. With the relationships with CUNA and CUNA Mutual Group, we're really well poised to move forward over the next 12 months."