As a credit union leader, you’re charged with continually finding new ways to modernize systems and practices and retain top talent, all while serving your members’ needs. At ACT Advisors, we wondered how we could fundamentally support the credit union mission by supporting the success of the executives, like you, who drive it forward. 

Why Credit Union Executives?

You have unique challenges and financial portfolios that are more complex than the average professional. As compensation for managing day-to-day operations, addressing problems, and serving members and employees, CU executives often receive specialized benefit packages with multiple, often intricate plans and savings options. We’ve discovered a lack of resources and support among credit union executives to strategically balance personal finances and professional objectives. 

C.U. on the Show

In addition to the information ACT Advisors already offers credit union executives, we’re launching our new podcast, “C.U. on the Show.” Doug English, CFP® and ACT Advisors’ founder, hosts the series. In a series of interviews with experts and other credit union insiders, Doug will share how you can reduce your risk, keep key talent, and take a strategic approach to your personal financial wellness while upholding the mission of credit unions.

The guest today is Jim Gowan, former chief officer of sales and marketing at CUNA Mutual and former chief operating officer at Credit Union 24. This episode is now available to stream wherever you get your podcasts. In it, the pair discuss Jim’s extensive experience and the knowledge he gained working with credit unions all over the country.

Listen to the full episode now to get your bearings on Doug and Jim’s credit union backgrounds, upcoming topics, and how the industry has evolved and will continue to change in the age of COVID-19.

Audio Transcription

Speaker 1: (00:02)

Hello, credit union executives and everyone in credit union land. This is Doug English. Welcome to the show, where we give up-to-date information on how you can reduce risk, keep key talent, and take a strategic approach to your personal financial wellness. Hosted by me, Doug English, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and former credit union insider with Act Advisors. Today, we have another insider to credit unions. Jim Gowan is with us. Jim is the former chief officer of sales and marketing for CUNA Mutual and former chief operating officer at Credit Union 24. How are you doing today?

Speaker 2: (00:49)

I’m doing great. Doug, how are you? 

Speaker 1: (00:51)

I’m doing super great. 

Speaker 2: (00:53)

Talking with our credit union friends out there. It’s certainly been challenging times for them. Absolutely.

Speaker 1: (00:59)

Well, I know we’re going to work together on this podcast to try to make things maybe a little bit easier for them.

Speaker 2: (01:06)

Absolutely awesome.

Speaker 1: (01:09)

Well, with your long history in credit unions and the credit union movement, I thought you’d be the perfect first guest to help us kind of look through your history and the history that you’ve seen in the credit union movement for why we are creating this podcast and what we’re hoping to do to help people with it. So take us back, Jim, take us back to the early days of the Gowan family in Wisconsin, the cold winters, and your experience working with credit unions.

Speaker 2: (01:40)

Well, Doug, it starts a lot earlier than I’d like to admit because it’s been a long time, but my dad actually worked for CUNA Mutual for 25 years. So I grew up around credit union people and people who serve credit unions. Obviously a lot’s changed over that time. And there’s been a lot of evolution of credit unions and the spot they fill in society. But, you know, if I look back to the early days of credit unions, it was that they’re different than banks and you know, they’ll do things that banks won’t do for you. And I remember when I got my first car, you know, my dad said you can get a car, but I don’t have any money to pay for it. So you got to pay for it on my credit, and he gave me a loan.

Speaker 2: (02:20)

And I know full well as a high school student with a part-time job, no bank would have given me that loan. So it was pretty unique, you know, I started learning at such a young age about credit unions and the part they serve in our society. And it’s only gotten better since then. So I’ve really been excited and passionate about credit unions ever since then. Obviously, you know I got involved in the credit union space as well. And a lot of people probably don’t even know this about me, but I actually started at CUNA way back when I was at the end of high school and early into college. And I spent a number of years there, learning about credit unions. And then, after I graduated from school, I got into the insurance business with a different company and I didn’t really like it very well. And because of all the people I knew from growing up in credit unions, I actually walked into the head of sales at CUNA Mutual at the time and said, hey, do you have any openings? And he got me a couple of interviews and lo and behold, they thought I was worth taking a risk on and hiring me in the northeast part of Wisconsin as a sales rep.

Speaker 1: (03:35)

Wonderful. Yeah. Well, so you started out on the business-to-business side, working with credit unions. Okay.

Speaker 2: (03:43)

Yeah, I was a group sales representative. That’s what they called them back then. And I spent about four years doing that. And then I became a sales manager for Wisconsin, did that for only a year, and then was promoted to the national account VP out in the mid-Atlantic area, which was a real eye- opening experience, because at the time the credit unions weren’t that big in Wisconsin, but all of a sudden I was working with the Navy, federal employees at the Pentagon, Pennsylvania state employees, Maryland state employees, the largest credit unions in the country. And it was very different working with them compared to the smaller credit unions I was used to working with. But again, it was a great learning experience. And I created a lot of great relationships with those people over the years.

Speaker 1: (04:30)

Jim, the leaders of the credit union movement always struck me as servant leaders, folks who are really there to help with the mission of the credit union movement. And of course, to benefit the members ultimately with your 30 years in credit unions. I know you have many stories of the leaders of the credit union movement, but tell us a couple of those stories that just easily come to mind.

Speaker 2: (04:57)

I’d be happy to do that. The thing I learned early on, which really became evident when I started working with real large credit unions, is that you really need to do a good job of understanding the credit unions’ needs. Because they’re all different, understanding their financials and what drives the financials, what are the risks they’re facing? And you know, I’ve had so many great relationships with executives of all size credit unions, and it’s really been things that are lifetime events for you. Oh, one of the early ones I had in a smaller credit union, but a CEO got really sick and had some major surgery and really was facing a real tough time in their life. And I remember sitting down with him and he was talking about, he was concerned that if he died, his 401(k) wasn’t going to be enough for his surviving family.

Speaker 2: (05:53)

And at the time, there were really no options other than the 401(k) for credit union CEOs. And lo and behold, shortly after that, the 457s became available for credit use. And this was like an angel looked down on him and this man called me for years, even after he retired. And thankfully he lived a lot longer than he was anticipating, but it was just so gratifying to see that you could really help someone in a time of real difficulty for them. And that’s really been my mission and working with credit unions, you really got to do everything you can to help them succeed. And they all have different challenges. In some of the large credit unions, you’ve got to navigate your way around. And I remember one specific situation in a large credit union in the Southeast.

Speaker 2: (06:50)

I spent a lot of time working with them and the CEO was an older lady and just a real spark plug. But boy, she could wield a heavy hand when she needed to. I developed a great relationship with her staff as a national account VP and then our CEO at CUNA Mutual had asked me to come in and work on a field reorganization. And so when I did that, I had transferred my relationships with these credit unions. Well, the person replacing me was from a different part of the country. And we went in to visit the CEO, and he was just amazed when we walked in there that every person we interacted with knew me by name and gave me a hug. And he wasn’t really comfortable with that, but we spent three hours there introducing him to different parts of the credit union.

Speaker 2: (07:44)

But what was kind of funny about the story was we walked out and he looked at me, he says, I don’t think I can replace this relationship. And that’s the kind of thing that I’ve just really loved about credit unions all these years, you know, you don’t always agree a hundred percent of the time. You don’t always have the right solution and you’ve gotta be willing to say if you don’t, but you know, you build that mutual respect and you’re committed to helping credit unions succeed. And I think that’s really what drove me throughout my career, and why I’m excited to be working with credit unions. 

Speaker 1: (08:16)

The spirit of the industry is something special. And you know, those touchy feely times seem to be over for now. I’m not sure if you get out to credit unions that anyone’s going to touch you right now. 

Speaker 2: (08:36)

It’s all a different world today.

Speaker 1: (08:43)

Why Jim? I know when you and I first met, it was in the Southeast during your years down South. So tell us a little bit about your time down this way. 

Speaker 2: (08:56)

Well, Doug, I gotta say that was probably some of the best times I ever had in working with a team as well as working with the credit unions. It was a lot of fun. People worked hard and we accomplished great things, but it wasn’t always that easy. When I first moved down there, we had a lot of problems in Florida and we had to make a lot of changes because we just weren’t doing the job for credit unions in Florida. And a good example of that is a one time I went into this credit union for the first time, and I knew the CEO had come from a different part of the country and did not like CUNA Mutual. So it was hard to get the meeting, but we finally got it and were sitting in their boardroom with all his executive team and he looked up at us and said, I want to see a demo of your loan processing software.

Speaker 2: (09:43)

And we weren’t prepared to do that. So our salesperson didn’t do a good job of really positioning the meeting, but I sat up and said, well, we’re not going to give you a demo because we really want to understand what you’re trying to accomplish and what your needs are before we tell you what a solution might be. And I thought we were going to get thrown out of the credit union, but he sat up and looked at me and he goes, you know, this is really a different CUNA Mutual. So we sat there for two to three hours meeting with his leadership team and to this day, that credit union is still a good supporter. It’s someone I communicate with every now and then, but it was just a different mindset, a different way of doing things.

Speaker 2: (10:28)

So that was really a neat experience and helped us turn the tide in Florida. Another good story was, I was going to Mississippi to meet one of the larger credit union CEOs there. And our salesperson and service person there told me this guy is an old NCUA examiner, and he’s just going to bust your chops, all the premiums and dollars. And so I said, okay, great. We wound up meeting up with him. And it wasn’t two minutes into the conversation when he says, so where are you staying? And I said, I’m staying at the Shoney’s Inn. And those of you who were in the South know that as a real low-end hotel. And I was just kidding him. But then I said, but I’m really worried about my Mercedes out front. He just about died, because for CUNA Mutual to have a Mercedes, which I didn’t have a Mercedes, he just about died. And then we just burst out laughing and he goes, oh, you got me, you know, but that was the kind of relationship that was really neat that, you could have some fun, but you still got down to business and got things done. And you helped me at the credit with needs.

Speaker 1: (11:37)

Yeah. The Southeast marketing division was the work hard play, hard division. Right?

Speaker 2: (11:43)

Absolutely. It was a great time.

Speaker 1: (11:45)

You know, we did have a lot of fun then. I think from there, you went up to Madison and became the chief officer of sales marketing for CUNA Mutual. Tell me about your time there and how it all kind of wrapped up.

Speaker 2: (12:03)

Well, you know, I certainly enjoyed still getting to work with people all over the country, working with credit unions all over the country. I was very active in national credit union forums, on a number of board of directors for some of our subsidiary organizations. So it was a great learning experience, but I also got to meet more and more people and again, see the passion that’s out there for helping credit unions succeed. It’s not always the easiest job because you had a lot of the internal stuff you had to deal with as well as the external stuff. But, you know, I enjoyed my time. And one funny story was we were sitting around our executive leadership team table. So I was there and all the product leaders and so forth. And the CEO asked each product leader to put themselves in the credit union CEO’s mind.

Speaker 2: (12:55)

And say how important their product is to them on a scale of one to 10, 10 being high, when they wake up in the morning. And it was kind of amusing for me, who’d been out working with credit unions for years, to hear some of the feedback. Some were saying eight or nine and one even said 10, and that was the person who handled the bond, because credit unions have to have a bond. So then the CEO asked me, he says, well, Jim, what do you think about these ratings? And I said, you know, as much as I’d like to believe them, when credit union CEOs wake up in the morning, we’re not anywhere near their top 10 and thinking about an insurance product or of that nature. So certainly we help them succeed, but they’ve got a lot bigger things on their plate.

Speaker 2: (13:43)

And so we had a very lively discussion around that, but that’s one of the things I think a credit union CEO has got to figure out, too, is how do you balance all that? You know, what are the things you want to drive internally, but what are the things that are gonna help you create your mission and accomplish your mission with your community, with your members, with your employees? So there’s a lot more things that go into running a credit union than just, okay, I gotta get more loans out the door. I got to do this or that. And so to me, it paralleled a lot of that and you’ve gotta make some strategic decisions internally so you position yourself right in the marketplace.

Speaker 1: (14:24)

Yeah. Especially today, right? In the times of COVID when you can’t even have your a member service reps in front of your members in the kind of more modern way of branching where there’s not a lot of physical barriers anymore, but now all of a sudden you need the physical barriers so the challenges of running the credit union are great.

Speaker 2: (14:47)

You know, Doug, that’s so true. And, you know, the credit union I belong to here in Madison, they have done just a phenomenal job of working really hard to still build relationships with our members. And they’re so personable. As a matter of fact, I have written to the CEO a number of times over this last year, just saying, you know, so-and-so is just unbelievable when you interact with them, and you don’t know how much they appreciate hearing those things because they’re working real hard to figure out and navigate this very unusual situation that we’ve never had before.

Speaker 1: (15:25)

Yeah. Well, the member feedback is critical for every credit union.

Speaker 2: (15:32)


Speaker 1: (15:36)

Well, Jim, when we were talking about setting up this interview, you told me a story about when you reached the end of your career and CUNA Mutual and that experience. Can you share that with our listeners?

Speaker 2: (15:48)

Yeah. I’d be happy to, Doug. You know, that’s primarily one of the reasons why I’ve joined up with you is because you’re really trying to help people navigate things toward the latter part of their careers. When I left CUNA Mutual, my job was eliminated. And I got a package that put together a lot of things, including different comp plans, 401(k), separation dollar bonuses and those kinds of things. And, you know, I went on my way. Well, I have never seen that kind of diversification of income nor that amount of income in any one year. And so what happened is I left and I had no one to help me how to navigate those waters. What is the best way to put money aside and use money going forward? I obviously worked with a financial planner locally, but most financial planners had no idea what the requirements were with the various deferred comp plans that I had and so forth.

Speaker 2: (16:57)

So I really felt like I was out in the ocean by myself. And, you know, when I look at all the things available to two credit union CEOs now, it’s a difficult world to navigate financially for them. But the other challenge they have is they’re so busy doing all the things they have to do day to day to run their operation, make their members happy, their employees happy, that they very often don’t have the time to spend on their own financial wellbeing. And again, a lot of times they’re working with a local financial planner who has no idea, for example, what executive benefits for CEOs are and how they integrate into the overall financial plan. So I really related when you and I first talked about this. I really could have used that kind of help when I left CUNA Mutual. Luckily, I had a long time left in my career that I could navigate the waters and figure it out. But you know, when people get to a retirement age, they don’t necessarily have another career they’re going to or anything. So if you’re not preparing for those things, it can be really nasty in the financial outcome. So, for me, a light bulb went on when that happened.

Speaker 1: (18:17)

Yeah, we hear those stories from the credit union executive CEOs a lot. And the executive suite of a credit union has different benefits than virtually any other entity with the 457 B and AF, and then the traditional 401(k) plan. It is a place where there are more complexities to the plans to the way the money goes in the way the money comes out. It’s just not a simple thing. And so that’s why we started this podcast. What we intend to deliver to the credit union leaders is highly valuable educational content over a series of interviews about what you can do to position yourself for success in the executive suite of a credit union. And that’s gonna be pretty broad based. We’ll talk to recruiters, we’ll talk with health and wellness experts. We’ll talk with experts on collateral 457 and we’re going to deliver information that’s going to help you make the best of the benefits packages available in the credit union industry and figure out how you’re able to make the best outcome for each and every one of you. Well, Jim we’re out of time, any final comments for our listeners?

Speaker 2: (19:43)

Well, Doug, as I said earlier, I’m really passionate about working with credit union executives around the country. And one of the things I’d ask is that if there’s anybody out there listening to this, if they’ve got ideas on guests we should bring onto this show, other ideas of needs they have that aren’t fulfilled in the marketplace around their financial future, we’d certainly appreciate you reaching out and giving us feedback on things that are important to you because that’s what it’s all about. We’re here to help you navigate the complex world you live in. So thank you for listening.

Speaker 1: (20:19)

Thank you, Jim. That’s all the insider credit union information we have for this episode. If you can’t wait for the next episode, we’re always available through our website That’s See you next time on the show.

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