From Robbery to Advocacy: Rachel Pross Honored as Young CU Pro of the Year

“My nature is to dive into things head first,” said Rachel Pross, AVP of Risk Management for Oregon State Credit Union. Most of her colleagues in the credit union movement would probably say this understates the case.

Pross, who serves as AVP of Risk Management for Oregon State Credit Union, was awarded the Young Credit Union Professional of the Year Award at the NWCUA’s Amplify Awards Dinner in October. Her nomination cited her relentless dedication to advocacy, including publishing articles in the Huffington Post to share the credit union difference. And one CEO said she “single-handedly” changed the culture of a credit union she served.

But it took a robbery for Pross to find her fullest passion for the credit union movement.

Coming from a background in law firm accounting, Pross was offered the role of CEO at a struggling small credit union in Tucson, Arizona, where she lived with her husband and kids. Her job was to steer the organization into compliance with updated rules and regulations, address net worth issues, and work with the Board to determine next steps for strategy and relevance—ultimately a merger with a larger, culturally-similar credit union. 

Diving into the CEO role head first, she enrolled in Western CUNA Management School (WCMS) and connected with other CEOs through the regional credit union league.

Then one day there was a man in a mask pointing a gun at her tellers.

When the ordeal was done, one employee left and several took leaves of absence. When it came time to reopen she was desperately short-staffed. With few options, she called the CEO of a large credit union about two hours away that she happened to know used the same core system. She asked if he could spare one or two employees, and said she would pay their salary, travel, food, lodging—whatever was needed.

The other CEO wouldn’t agree to the deal. Instead, he sent five employees and would not accept a dime from Pross’s smaller credit union.

“That CEO didn’t know me at all,” said Pross, in an article for the Huffington Post. “He had my back because I was a ‘credit unioner,’ and credit unioners are family.”

That, said Pross, was her “aha moment.”

“The cooperative nature of credit unions was really foreign to me,” she said, “and really incredible.”

Through WCMS and attending her first CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference, Pross got to see the national, cooperative nature of credit unions, and she was hooked. “I was ready to run for Congress that afternoon,” she joked.

In 2012 Pross was offered a chance to build a compliance and governmental affairs department at Northwest Community Credit Union. She and her husband were both avid hikers and had been considering a move to the Northwest for a while. And this new role would allow her to focus on what had become one of her greatest credit union passions—engaging in advocacy to preserve and promote the credit union difference.

At Northwest Community she was asked to give a talk at a management meeting on her areas of expertise, and she decided to include a section on the ABCs of credit union advocacy—how to affect the laws and regulations that impact credit unions.

The credit union was just launching a new employee orientation platform, and the CEO asked Pross to share her advocacy message with every new cohort of recruits. “Sometimes we’d have a whole room of people from banking and I’d see light bulbs go on,” she said. “People got the difference in ways they hadn’t before.”

They would say things like, “I really understand that I’m not just a teller, I’m part of a movement.”

During her tenure at Northwest Community, Pross continued to dive head first into advocacy, joining her fellow advocates at Credit Union Days at the Capitol, Hike the Hill, and CUNA GAC, and joining the NWCUA’s Oregon Governmental Affairs Committee. She even spoke on the connections between compliance and advocacy at CUNA’s national regulatory compliance conference.

“It’s so important to build good relationships with our policy makers,” she said. “When things come down the pipe that affect the financial services industry, we want our legislators to know how they will impact credit union members.”

“We’re constantly in the crosshairs for our tax status,” she continued. “We know we’re a smarter choice, and our competitors know. It’s critical that we talk about this issue and keep it in front of people, especially credit union employees.”

Pross had served with Oregon State Credit Union CEO Rick Hein on the Oregon Governmental Affairs Committee and at many advocacy events. “I got to watch Oregon State in action,” she said. “Their culture of passionate advocacy really spoke to me. You could say I had a credit union crush on Oregon State.”

So when the opportunity arose to take on the role of AVP of Risk Management at Oregon State, Pross dove in head first. “I also have the opportunity to lead the credit union’s advocacy efforts,” she said. “It’s already a rock star program, so coming in to lead it is really exciting.”

Pross said that she sees risk management as a huge area of opportunity for credit unions. “We’re moving away from a risk management paradigm where it’s just checking boxes the examiners give us,” she said, “and instead we’re quantifying risk and using that analysis to drive revenue and find opportunities.”

And she always finds ways to tie her work back to advocacy. “Two huge risk areas are taxation and regulation,” she said.

The night of the Amplify Awards, as the hosts started describing the Young Credit Union Professional Award winner, they mentioned speaking at a national compliance conference this year. “I was thinking—I was there. Who else was there?” she said, scanning her recollection to figure out who the winner might be.

Then they mentioned the Huffington Post and she realized they were actually talking about her. But the biggest surprise came a moment later.

“When my husband walked out on stage I just about had a heart attack,” she said. “He’s an introvert and hates speaking in front of people. I can’t imagine what it took for him to do that.”

Questions about this story? Contact James Pearson: 206.340.4790, jpearson@nwcua.org.

Posted in Advocacy News, Compliance News.