IN DEPTH: Tomorrow's Star Recipients Look Back and to the Future

Nina Hallock
2017 Tomorrow’s Star Award recipient, Nina Hallock, Great Basin FCU Commercial Loan Officer

A week from today, on Nov. 7 during the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues’ REACH Conference, Great Basin FCU Commercial Loan Officer Nina Hallock will be honored as the 2017 Tomorrow’s Star Award recipient.

She is joining a group of 38 future leaders that have been recognized with this award since it was first presented in 1993. Over the years, some of the criteria has changed, and today, the Tomorrow’s Star Award honors those ages 35 and under from California as well as Nevada.

We wanted to see where each of these recipients were today and how they perceive the credit union movement and its future. Some, frankly, we were unable to locate. Of those we did, we found some had left credit unions entirely. A few others went to companies working with credit unions. At least 14 have remained within the credit union movement. Whether in credit unions or not, all those we found have become leaders in one shape or form.

One of those who left the credit union industry is Jeanne (Kim) Denton, who was the E-commerce project manager at what is now Xceed Financial CU in 2002 when she received her award. She didn't stray too far from the financial services field, now working as a financial literacy educator. Back in 2003, she won the World Council of Credit Unions' WYCUP Scholarship and then founded a networking group for young credit union professionals group in Los Angeles. She also was selected for the Filene i3. Even though she's not working in the industry, she says "I am in front of financially mindful audiences often and the young Millennials are quite in tune with their personal finance. It’s quite satisfying to be able to make the strong recommendation or give supporting confirmation that credit unions are a wise consumer choice."

Here’s a snapshot of a few past recipients, starting with one of the first recipients, Kathryn (Koepf) Davis, who went from marketing manager at CommonWealth Central CU when she received her award to president and CEO of BALANCE today.

Kathryn (Koepf) Davis—1997


What role/title did you have when you received the award? Is that different today? What are some of the highlights in your career since you received the award?
So this was such a special award to me as it was early in my credit union career! I had been the Marketing Manager for CommonWealth Central CU in San Jose and had been recently promoted to VP of Marketing. I remember being so honored that my boss, CEO Wayne Bunker (who just retired from Provident CU) ,would think so highly of me (and my work), but also that from an industry perspective I was so touched to be recognized as a future leader. I would go on to spend the next 20 years working inside credit unions, with my most recent role being Senior Vice President for Xceed Financial CU. Today I am the President and CEO of BALANCE, a nationwide non-profit financial health provider. I have the good fortune to still work with many credit unions as we offer financial coaching, education, and workshops  specifically designed for credit union members.

How do you perceive the credit union movement as being today?
I still very much feel a part of the credit union community and think they are an amazing group of people to call friends and colleagues. From a member perspective my family and I continue to do all of our banking with two credit unions.

How do you see the credit union movement going in the future? What do you see as your role in this future?
I think now more than ever credit unions are needed and I hope to be a part of that continued evolution in any capacity I can serve!

Valerie (Spiro) Hopkins—1998

What role/title did you have when you received the award? Is that different today?
I believe my title was VP of Administration at Service Plus FCU ( about $35 million in assets and 27 employees). Today, I’m the VP of Human Resources at Arrowhead CU ($1.2 billion in assets and 370 team members).

What are some of the highlights in your career since you received the award in 1998?
I graduated in 1999 with High Honors from Western CUNA Management School (WCMS); was the WCMS Graduate Assistant in 2000; and graduated with MBA in 2001. I spearheaded and managed many projects to grow the credit union or enhance positive company culture, including: FOM expansion, reduced mortgage loan turnaround time by 16 days; HRIS conversion to improve efficiencies, and employee access; reduced Workers’ Compensation premiums of more than 50 percent; provided rich medical benefits and was able to give back to the team by absorbing the increase with no plan changes for three years in a row; as well as implemented real time, online recognition and rewards program resulting in 96 percent engagement.

How do you perceive the credit union movement as being today?
Our movement is growing in assets and members. The number of credit unions continues to shrink for a variety reasons. Managing credit unions requires leadership and greater expertise due to increased regulation, compliance and the tremendous responsibility of protecting member data, and preventing fraud which directly impacts the bottom line. This demands positive relationships with regulators and law enforcement.

How do you see the credit union movement going in the future? What do you see as your role in this future?
I see continued consolidation and continued growth as credit unions continue to provide excellent service to their members by hiring the best people, training them well, taking care of the team when the members take care of the organization; continue to serve the communities in which we do business and where we live; and provide services the members need to continue to build a positive and lasting financial relationships. Data breaches and fraud will unfortunately continue as well—we need to respond appropriately to preserve our members’ trust.

Adam Denbo—2000

What role/title did you have when you received the award? Is that different today? Any other highlights in your career since you received the award in 2000?
At the time I received the award, I was manager of computer operations at Wescom CU. Today, I’m managing consultant at Samaha and Associates, which helps credit unions nationwide with technology and payment systems. I’ve been with Samaha for 6 ½ years. Prior to that, I was CEO of CA Agribusiness CU for 5 ½ years, and before that was AVP of technology at Orange’s County CU.

Since 2000 when I received the Tomorrow’s Star Award, I became a 2002 graduate of Western CUNA Management School (WCMS), served as the Graduate Assistant for the WCMS Beta class in 2003, received the Kim Bannan Eternal Flame Award in the individual category in 2007, and became the industry’s first political officer at Orange’s County CU in 2004 (according to CU Times). In addition, since 2000, I have been the WCMS auctioneer every year—I go back each year to help raise funds for the WCMS graduating class’ auction night. I also serve as an emcee and auctioneer for various chapters.

How do you perceive the credit union movement today?
I think it is going very strong. Of course, assets are increasing; membership is increasing. There’s a greater focus on efficiencies; more than ever before. And the need for credit unions to really forklift their technology is of utmost priority so they can continue to defeat and gain market share against banks and non-banks.

How do you see credit union movement going in the future?
I do see continued consolidation. I see increased co-opetition. And an increase in technology and efficiencies.  In terms of the philosophy—it is becoming more and more diluted as Millennials are less dependent on the relationship and more on the availability of technology. I see less of a face-to-face member relationship happening and more of credit unions providing the same type of member-centric service from a technology perspective. 

What do you see your role in that future as being?
As technology consultants (at Samaha & Associates), our role is to continue to guide credit unions to top industry technology providers so they can choose the best solutions. We are here to serve as a guide to help credit unions be more competitive in this arena.

Eric Bruen—2005

What role/title did you have when you received the award? Is that different today?
I’m still the CEO of Desert Valleys FCU, though in 2005, it was called Searles Lake FCU.

Any other highlights in your career since you received the award in 2005?
There are three that come to mind:
First is being able to chair the Shapiro Group and lead in the development of the Shapiro Summit as well as the growth and maintenance of the committee as an important resource for Shapiro credit unions. Being able to help small credit unions is a point of pride for me.

On an individual level—it was being inducted into the Credit Union House Hall of Leaders (which recognizes credit union leaders whose commitment has made a significant impact on the credit union movement at the local, state, or national level) in 2015. That meant the world to me; just because of the role politics play in the support of credit unions.

Another highlight is being at the REACH conferences in 2011 and 2016. I enjoyed sharing my story with other leaders and being able to perpetuate the credit union passion with others.

I’m also a three-time League Award winner. In addition to the Tomorrow’s Star Award, I also received the Distinguished Service Award in 2015 and the Kim Bannan Eternal Flame Award/individual category in 2009. In 2011, I also received the PAC (now Advocacy) Award in the small credit category.

How do you perceive the credit union movement today?
It’s different. As a movement it has lost some of its passion in exchange for sensibility. I think we are still passionate for our members, and we believe in the credit union model. But, instead of blindly following it, we spent our time utilizing practical strategies for accomplishing that mission. That “touchy-feely” nature is gone; replaced with sound business policies that tries to preserve the member-centric nature of credit unions. We’re less of a movement than we were 10 years ago or 20 years ago. We are now more of a unique business model.

How do you see credit union movement going in the future?
We’re in extraordinary danger of consolidation endangering the nature of smaller credit unions. The more we lose smaller credit unions to larger ones, the more risk there is to the idea of a movement. That’s not the fault of larger credit unions; it’s simply the nature of the business. The grassroots aspects of smaller institutions vs. larger institutions is going to be different. I think the credit union model is extraordinary. I get to impact people’s lives every day. There’s no greater job in the world than one in which you get to impact someone’s life. We need to keep reminding ourselves that we have to hold on to those ideals as part of our core.

What do you see your role in that future as being?
I need to embody an old spirit in a young mindset. Remaining passionate is what I can really help bring to small credit unions. Keep reminding them of the wonderful opportunity we have as credit unions.

Wendy Zanotelli—2009

What role/title did you have when you received the award? Is that different today?
I received my award in 2009 and was COO of UNCLE CU at the time. At that time, UNCLE had four branches and $250 million in assets. I am currently the Senior Market Area Manager for Golden 1 CU with more than $11 billion in assets and 74 branches, 41 of which I oversee.

What are some of the highlights in your career since you received the award in 2009?
I actually left credit unions for about four years to become a CEO of a non-profit organization. Though I learned a lot and did a lot of good work there, I missed credit unions and was happy to rejoin the industry a little more than two years ago. Some of my career highlights after the award were:

I served as Interim CEO for UNCLE for a year, during some of the most financially challenging times in the financial services industry and led our credit union to improve our financial position during that time. Going from a $250-million organization with four branches to managing 41 branches of an $11-billion organization has been a fun and exciting endeavor. I was honored to be a part of the committee that led the Golden 1 Center partnership project, including the build-out and launch of the Golden 1 Center branch, the most cutting-edge and technologically-advanced branch in our network. The continuous revitalization happening in downtown Sacramento as a result of the Center has been amazing to watch and experience and we are so proud to be a part of it. According to a report recently released by the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, Downtown Sacramento has seen a 38 percent growth in employment, a 51 percent increase in foot traffic (on event days) and more than $71 million spent in downtown in the last year. I am proud of my small part in that and I love seeing our credit union making huge impacts in the local communities we serve.

How do you perceive the credit union movement as being today?
I think credit unions have gotten a lot more sophisticated in recent years, while still being able to stay true to our mission of people helping people. As has been the trend for years, increased regulation is making it harder for smaller credit unions to stay in business, but larger credit unions are able to take advantage of being small enough (relative to the big banks) to be nimble and take advantage of emerging technologies. I think we still struggle with the age-old issue of not articulating well how credit unions are different than banks and how our core is service, rather than for-profit. If this were more widely known, everyone would be a member of a credit union!

How do you see the credit union movement going in the future? What do you see as your role in this future?
I’m proud of being a part of the credit union movement. I love what we stand for and all that we do for our members. Credit unions will continue to evolve while staying true to the member experience. I’m looking forward to what the future holds for our industry.

Jay Lee—2010

JAY LEE—2010
What role/title did you have when you received the award?
I was concurrently the Risk Management and Technology Officer for CalCom FCU, Shared Technology Officer for City of Downey FCU, Operations Officer of Mattel Federal CU, and Technology Administrator for the Southern California Credit Union Alliance (SCCUA).

Is that different today?
Yes and no. I am still part of multiple credit unions under our shared CEO Jon Hernandez. I continue to be Operations Officer for Mattel FCU and Technology Administrator for SCCUA. I am now Vice President of Data and Risk Management for CalCom FCU and, since 2015, Nikkei CU. City of Downey FCU has since merged with CalCom FCU.

Any other highlights in your career since you received the award in 2010?
I graduated with honors from Western CUNA Management School and was the recipient of the Charles M. Clark Memorial Award. I received the CUNA Credit Union Compliance Expert designation in addition to the NAFCU Certified Compliance Officer designation. I served as a volunteer for the Leagues' Beach Cities Chapter as part of the Board of Governors, serving as the Information Officer, and I had the honor of being one of the many young credit union professionals to represent our credit union system at the World Council’s Young Credit Union People Program in Glasgow, Scotland. As part of the administrators of the SCCUA, I led a group of 22 credit unions to collaboratively search and request for proposals from several core system providers. Although not all 22 credit unions went the same direction, it was ultimately a win for every participating credit union being able to leverage and bring our strength in numbers onto the negotiating table. We also organized the SCCUA’s first collaboration conference, and every year thereafter, bringing in noteworthy speakers and providing a bigger forum for credit unions to network and start collaborating.

Since 2010, I have also continued to offer my time and expertise in assisting other credit unions with their technology, operations, compliance, and accounting needs. With Jon Hernandez, we co-facilitate planning sessions for small and mid-size credit unions year after year. We have done over 40 planning sessions for credit unions in the last decade. I like to think that we have contributed our small part to the success of the credit unions we facilitated for.

How do you perceive the credit union movement today?
My perception of the credit union movement has always been positive. Most of the people in the industry genuinely strive to live the “People Helping People” mantra. I believe the industry can do a much better work in seeking ways to collaborate with each other and we can start by improving awareness of what a credit union is.

How do you see credit union movement going in the future?
It is going to be a very challenging future for credit unions as more and more non-bank competitors enters the payment space. I also see an opportunity for credit unions to provide the younger generation of Americans an alternative to the for-profit banking industry. The credit union movement’s not-for-profit and mission-drive “People Helping People” philosophy resonates to the younger generation. The credit union leaders of today must also groom the leaders of the future and instill a value of open collaboration among credit unions.

What do you see your role in that future as being?
I can see myself stepping up into various leadership roles where it is needed; mentoring emerging leaders; and fostering collaboration. I believe it is by collaborating that credit unions can continue to thrive. Credit unions should remember our most basic purpose. We provide a place for people to pool their financial resources so that they can help one another, especially those of us of modest means. Credit unions should do the same and collaborate; pool our resources and help each other—“Credit Unions Helping Credit Unions”.

Paris Chevalier—2011

What role/title did you have when you received the award?
I was Vice President of Marketing for Xceed Financial when I received the award in 2011.

Is that different today?
Yes, I’m delighted to report that in 2014 I was promoted from Vice President to Chief Marketing Officer for Xceed. At the time, I also became a member of the credit union’s Executive Management Team.

Any other highlights in your career since you received the award in 2011?
A lot has happened in the past six years! In terms of my role at Xceed, it’s broadened considerably. As Chief Marketing Officer, I’m now responsible for all aspects of the credit union’s brand and culture. Among my areas of oversight are research and development, creative direction and brand messaging, product development, associate training, talent development and culture, public relations, and governmental affairs, as well as research and analysis, and implementation of marketing and communications programs across the full range of traditional and digital media channels.

Internally, I’ve also taken the lead on Xceed’s involvement with our charity of choice—Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. This means that I’m now spearheading our team’s participation and fundraising in connection with the CU SacTown Run, and I serve on the CMN Advisory Board of Chlidren’s Hospital Los Angeles.

I’ve also been pleased to increase my industry involvement, as I’m now a member of CUNA’s Marketing & Business Development Council Executive Committee.

How do you perceive the credit union movement today?
Credit unions continue to be a fantastic alternative to the big, profit-driven banks! While they’re focused on squeezing every penny out of their customers, we really stand out for our advocacy on behalf of our members and our genuine commitment to their financial wellness.

How do you see credit union movement going in the future? What do you see your role in that future as being?
No doubt about it—fintech is a major disrupter, but that offers tremendous opportunity and future potential for credit unions. Now that everything is digital, we can play in the same space as giant financial institutions and our smaller size is actually an advantage. We’re nimble and clever, and as a workplace credit union we can continue to compete by shifting how we deliver financial services and how we configure our products and services to meet and even anticipate member needs. Frankly, credit unions that don’t use fintech to drive their business and member experiences could easily fall by the wayside.

As a marketer, I see my role in the future of the credit union as much larger and broader than I did even just a few years ago. A lot of that can be traced to fintech—technology now is inextricably linked to member experiences and nothing is more fundamental to the brand than a member’s experiences with it. That’s driving some very exciting collaboration between multiple disciplines within the credit union. Few people would have predicted that when I began my career—back then, marketing and technology were viewed largely as support functions, but that’s all changed now!

Brandi Stankovic—2015

What role/title did you have when you received the award? Is that different today? No changes here.

Acting human resources executive at Boulder Dam CU and managing partner at Mitchell Stankovic & Associates

What are some of the highlights in your career since you received the award?
National Credit Union Foundation, CUDE Individual Achievement (2017); Credit Union Times, Under 40 Trailblazer (2016); and launched The Strategic Hotbox

The Strategic Hotbox is a leadership platform designed to help all leaders, young to mature, front-line to chief executive take control of their life and achieve greatness. The fundamental outreach is through a bi-weekly video podcast. The Strategic Hotbox has more than 296,000 followers with more than 176,000 that check in daily; 98 percent are mobile users; 91 percent are 18-34 years old; Average of 8,000 new follows/downloads/likes every week; Average 30,000 post engagements and 104,000-plus post reach on Facebook alone; Touchpoints on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, iTunes, YouTube, TuneIn, Stitcher.

When I started in credit union land it wasn’t “cool” to be young. Although I finished my MBA with a hefty-sized chip on my shoulder, it didn’t last long. My elder cohorts kicked my booty. I spoke when was spoken to. I carried the weight. I shoveled the poop. I attended every meeting. I volunteered at every turn. I said yes to every request. There were no networks that solicited my voice or paths that secured my involvement. I had to earn it. And, I am indebted for every tongue-lashing and cold-shoulder I got. It fuels my drive to succeed. And I urge all young people, Tomorrow’s Stars and those just struggling to make ends meet… that now is your time! Work hard, work together, and learn every step of the way.

How do you perceive the credit union movement as being today?
Credit unions have a unique story. In order to truly serve our community, we must understand, respect, and live the philosophy of “people helping people”. Despite the uptick in the US economy and the decreasing unemployment, many Americans are still struggling. Credit unions have a responsibility to give those consumers a hand up, while also doing good business for the entire membership.

I had the opportunity to travel to Kenya this year with the Credit Union Development Educators. In this journey, I was reminded of the development issues facing people and the opportunity credit unions have to make a difference. Microenterprise loans, outreach in the community, truly supporting the people. Many development issues act as barriers to economic growth and prosperity for the world’s families. These issues provide us with dilemmas and hardships, but more importantly they provide us with challenges to overcome and opportunities to capitalize on. Working together can make a real difference in the lives of people in our local, national and global communities.

How do you see the credit union movement going in the future? What do you see as your role in this future?

The future is bright! The industry will continue to thrive, even amongst the regulatory environment and disruption of fintech, if we all continue to work together. Strength in numbers. Synergy.

  1. Cooperative collaboration. Credit union should capitalize on what resources they already have. Take a look at the intellectual capital and strengths of the existing executive team and what resources they could be sharing. Then take a look outside.
    a. The California/Nevada Credit Union league has so many tools for credit unions to utilize! As do the CUSOs, business partners, and foundations. Our strength comes from collaborating and cooperating to change the world.
    b. Focus on results. Instead of seeing what my credit union can do (in its existing form) to make a difference. Start with the results. What difference do we want to make? Then, build an innovative institution that will create those results. Continuously. Collaboratively.
  2. Succession. What is more important to the longevity or health of an organization or the industry than cultivating the next level CEO leadership? You would think every institution would have a long list of viable groomed alternatives ready to claim the throne. And unfortunately, that just isn’t the case. Meanwhile, there are many eager young pups in the industry ready for training and experience. Organizations that combine professional development and growth with the methodical process of succession planning create a sustainable and long-term roster of talent.
  3. Eliminate the Cinderella complex. We cannot live in a fairy tale. No regulatory update, no technology conversion or upgrade, no transition of CEO will magically change the industry. We need to execute on our plans and change the world ourselves! Credit unions will often make contingency plans. “We will start focusing on growth once we get through this core conversion” and I believe that creating contingent goals almost always ensures disaster. I am not discounting the arduous nature of conversions, but I am advocating that we continue to strive for excellence before during and after. Life is not a fairy tale. If you lose your shoe at midnight… you’re drunk.

My purpose on this planet… and certainly the industry is to “energize results”. Whether through strategic planning or executive development, I want people to feel empowered to achieve greatness. My evolution now is to broaden my reach and impact. I strive to utilize my influence, education, experience to help credit unions reach their next level of success.


1993: Teena Mackay, Heidi Murphy, Karen Ron
1994: Janet Kelly-Falcon
1997: Kathryn Koepf (Davis)
1998: Valerie Spiro (Hopkins)
1999: Melissa Marie Alvarez, William Reeder
2000: Yvonne Mini, Adam Denbo
2001: Jenny Mastro, Amy Penick
2002: Melia De Witt, Michael George, Jeanne Kim
2003: Yolanda Diaz, Brynn Leehan
2004: Sumer Chatham, Gwyndolin Holm
2005: Eric A Bruen, Marissa Lott
2006: Nicole Battista, Elizabeth Randall
2007: Maria Angelova, Angelica Reyes
2008: Jeff Williams
2009: Wendy Zanotelli, Erin Hodson
2010: Jay Lee, Dhara Sanchez
2011: Paris Chevalier, Maricela Jauregui
2012: Courtney Derby, Jennifer Kato
2013: Annice Kim
2014: Jason Mertz
2015: Brandi Stankovic
2016: Dana Griffin

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