Washington Credit Union Regulator Linda Jekel to Retire
Respected regulator leaves behind an impressive legacy known for tackling change and advancing policy for state-chartered credit unions.
Ask Linda Jekel about her job, and the first thing she’ll tell you is she loves it.
The Washington State Department of Financial Institutions Director of Credit Unions enjoys the challenges of serving consumers’ financial needs, and it’s something she’s going to really miss. Jekel has announced she’ll retire at the end of 2018.
“It is the best job,” she said. “Every day, there’s always something new. I highly recommend it!”
As DFI’s Director of Credit Unions for the past 16 years, and as a regulator with the DFI for a total of 29 years, Jekel has seen her share of new developments in Washington’s financial sector.
She leaves a proud legacy around Washington’s credit union field of membership and member business lending rules, which have allowed for economic growth.
“The biggest change came when credit unions were authorized to expand field of membership, allowing for greater diversification of a credit union’s membership and ultimately their portfolios,” said Jekel.
Another big change, according to Jekel, was the rise of member business lending, which encouraged credit unions to diversify their loan portfolios, support their communities, and local businesses.
“Washington’s member business lending has grown faster than the national rate,” she explained.
It’s advancements like these that have contributed to Jekel’s legacy as a reputable and nationally recognized regulator. She’s worked on behalf of Washington’s citizens, credit unions, and their members to advance individual and financial industry well-being and testified before Congress and the state legislators on numerous occasions.
“I’m most proud of building an examination culture that works in partnership with credit unions as opposed to being the policeman,” reflected Jekel. Plus, she prefers to take a “no surprises” approach to her work. “I try to do that with my staff and with credit unions before making a change. We try to let them know about it and consider their comments or input.”
Over the years, Jekel expanded her industry experience by taking volunteer leadership roles, serving as a board member for the National Association of State Credit Union Supervisors from 2003-2016 and serving as NASCUS’s chair from 2005-2007. While serving as chair, she played a pivotal role in getting the organization’s adversarial relationship with NCUA back on track by uniting both parties to sign a document of cooperation, which she created.
She was awarded NASCUS’s Pierre Jay award in 2012 in recognition of outstanding service, leadership, and commitment to the credit union dual charter system.
“Most of the past awardees were retired when they received this prestigious acknowledgment,” said Northwest Credit Union Association AVP of Regulatory Advocacy, John Trull. “Linda won in 2012. The acknowledgement by her peers speaks to her expertise and leadership.”
Plus, she’s always upfront and makes decisions within a reasonable time frame. “It never feels adversarial in her communications,” Trull said. “She’ll always give you the reason for her decision when you make an inquiry.”
As part of her regulatory duties, Jekel kept close watch over credit union advancements in Washington.
“Credit unions are in a competitive industry,” explained Jekel. “My goal was to monitor how their charter can be improved to serve their changing needs, to ensure that consumers remain protected by a strong exam program, to train specialized examiners to have the expertise to understand consumer protection law, and to be open to new ideas.”
Some of those new ideas centered on the goal of reducing regulatory burden for credit unions, which under Jekel’s watch, resulted in:
- Implementation of “The Box,” which allowed credit unions’ use of an online tool to upload exam documents and eliminate paperwork. It also allowed more examiners to work offsite and offered improved security.
- Reduced collection of asset assessment fees from quarterly to a semi-annual time frame and implementing an online system where credit unions send fees (rather than DFI pulling fees from credit unions’ accounts), which eliminated the need for ACH and account numbers and resulted in increased security for credit unions.
- An encrypted email delivery of exam reports, electronic transmission of consumer complaints, website compliance exams, and more.
“You don’t want credit unions so distracted by regulation that they can’t perform the services meant for consumers,” Jekel explained.
Her dedication to serving consumers was a central theme throughout her career.
“Linda’s focus in every project or initiative is to ensure it benefits the consumer,” said Troy Stang, NWCUA President and CEO. “We’ll always remember and appreciate her work that fortified the Credit Union Movement in Washington state.”
Washington’s Credit Union Movement continues to thrive in large part due to a strong charter that stands out as an example to other states.
“We’re one of the best in the nation,” said Jekel about Washington’s charter. “We have a broader field of membership with service statewide. This gives consumers more choice in Washington.”
“In addition, Washington allows for safe and sound member business lending, giving credit unions the opportunity to grow their portfolio,” Jekel added. “Washington also offers opportunity if credit unions want to experiment within their powers, such as taking on a particular investment, starting a subsidiary, or offering special services.”
On a more personal level, Jekel feels passionate about financial education, and she is optimistic about the future.
“I was one of the founding members of the Financial Education Public Private Partnership in 2004 and our goal is to help teachers provide financial education to their students,” Jekel said. “After the Great Recession, we expanded our training program to reach more teachers. Our strategy is to provide personal finance lessons to more students with an outcome that will prevent them from making bad financial choices later in life. A study at the time said that children can grasp the concept of growing money between the ages of four and six, so it’s never too soon to teach them about making smart money choices,” added Jekel.
She also believes that the future of the credit union industry holds great promise.
“Every generation wants an opportunity for fair financial services at reasonable cost. Credit unions can do that without worrying about the needs of stockholders and can concentrate on the needs of their members.”