Interested In 'Financial Stuff,' Except The Paycheck

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During a recent gathering of community members, many were surprised to learn that Robert Wilkinson was "just" a volunteer.

"They could not believe that someone so devoted to the credit union would do so without earning a paycheck," said Attiya Chaundary, secretary of NationsHeritage FCU, Attleboro, Mass.

Since 1973, when Wilkinson first learned about his CU's philosophy through its primary sponsor, Texas Instruments, he said he has been hooked.

"I've always been interested in financial stuff," Wilkinson said. "And the idea of people helping people who were in need appealed to me."

Board president since 1995, Wilkinson has served on various committees-mostly as chairman-including the executive committee, investments committee, the ALM committee, the Personal Services Agency and Personal Services Group. He was also responsible for spearheading the Executive Retirement Compensation Plan.

"I was still very young-26 or 27-when I requested an appointment to the board of directors," he said, explaining that once involved, it became a personal challenge to help the CU succeed.

"I remember the first annual meeting," Wilkinson recalled. "My wife and I just had a baby. She was about six months old and made the quorum."

For his dedication and efforts, Wilkinson has been named NAFCU's Volunteer of the Year for a CU with less than $150 million in assets. He will join other honorees during a special ceremony at NAFCU's 39th Annual Conference and Exhibition, July 12-15, 2006 in Toronto, Canada.

Wilkinson said he was completely surprised by the award and humbled by the announcement. "I truly felt I wasn't worthy of it," he said. "There had to be others around me who had done more."

He said much of the credit goes to the $87-million CU's CEO, Maureen Tebo, for her part in creating a strategic plan that saved the credit union from failing when its primary sponsor downsized.

"Texas Instruments went from a workforce that had 6,000 in Attleboro...to about 1,000 to 1,200 people here in 1996," he said. "Our membership based started dropping as many took early retirement or were retrained in other skills."

He said the team's plan to apply for a community charter is what saved the CU from going under. Staff and other volunteers agree that its success is, in part, due to Wilkinson's passion for the movement.

Their list of proof is long.

"As chairman of the board, Bob does not only work with the management team to relay and accomplish strategic plan initiatives, but he has also taken several measures to institute board governance and to strengthen the strategic focus of the board," Chaundary said. "He constantly advocated the importance of director education requirements to board members in an effort to keep the board current of policies and regulations."

Chaundary said that Wilkinson was instrumental in promoting the VAP educational program to the board and instituting it as a requisite if board members wanted to attend regional and national credit union conferences.

Wilkinson said while he didn't come up with the idea for a 360 degree board review, he liked the idea and has taken the reins to ensure members are doing their jobs.

He has also been responsible for bringing in speakers and instructors to educate board members to help them become more confident in their roles. And, when it comes to education, Chaundary said, he makes sure members get their share.

"Bob has always been an avid advocate of member education so that members are fully informed about NHFCU services and can make better decisions about financial matters," she said.

Member education topics have included IRA's, investment planning, identity theft and college planning.

Chaundary also credits Wilkinson as the ideal liaison between members and the board.

"Since he has been part of the NHFCU Board, most members know him and are not intimidated approaching him with concerns," she said. "In fact, Bob responds directly to member concerns and some members are even known to call him at home with questions and comments."

The staff has also become familiar with the board leader through his attendance and participation in staff meetings.

"He is a strong promoter of staff training to improve service standards and knowledge and expertise," Chaundary said. "He regularly attends and speaks at staff meetings giving clear examples of member service expectations."

And, because he knows that there are a lot of other terrific volunteers within the movement with great ideas, Wilkinson called for a quarterly meeting with other area CU board members to share best practices and discuss common issues.

Bringing In Expertise

"The last meeting was held at NHFCU and attended by management and board members of four credit unions," Chaundary said. "The agenda included outside speakers on identity theft, credit reports and legislative issues."

Chaundary and the others who nominated him for the prestigious NAFCU award said it wouldn't be complete without pointing out Wilkinson's dedication to his community and his country as well.

Recently retired from the Rhode Island Air National Guard, Wilkinson served a brief tour of duty in Iraq in 2005. He is an active member of the Rhode Island Civil Air Patrol and the local Veterans Council.

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