Originally from the La Crosse, Wisconsin area and after graduating from Onalaska High School, Kaitlyn Rowe began pursuing a Nursing degree from Viterbo University. During that time, she shared that she did a lot of waitressing and worked at a collection agency. Although she didn’t end up in nursing, she said that education helped her discover her true passion, having been “taught to serve the underserved and help those in need.” That passion, Kaitlyn shared, “was realized more in the financial industry” and Marine Credit Union’s (MCU) mission to serve was a match for her compassionate soul.
“Collections was a new department at MCU,” Kaitlyn explained. “I helped implement the new policies and procedures in the collections department empowered by my further education in the servant leadership program. We brought the whole theory of compassion into collections.”
Kaitlyn said there is a stigma about working in collections that is negative. “We take a unique approach, asking ‘What’s going on?’ We look at the entire financial situation with the understanding of where they (members) are and to help them on their financial journey.”
Kaitlyn explained that she works with members who often have been underserved in society and have experienced a high level of trauma. Many she works with have certain learned behaviors from growing up paycheck to paycheck. “They spend differently,” she said. “When they have income,” she explained, “they tend to spend it.” Kaitlyn explained that high level of traumas “dictates spending,” and affects credit scores.
Kaitlyn shared that the financial leaders at MCU promote RTIC (Resilient and Trauma Informed Community), a scientific measure of attitudes towards trauma-informed care. “We champion training on community practices,” Kaitlyn explained. “We have trauma-informed teams and members. RTIC is supported by our executive management,” she added. “It shows how much we care about our people – our members.”
“We use compassionate, empathetic language,” she shared. Kaitlyn said conversations with members use “inclusive language” as to not trigger or create any confrontational conversations.
“A lot of the work we do can feel retroactive,” she continued. She said she is passionate to help her members get ahead of what they had experienced in the past.
In addition to how they relate to members using trauma-informed care, Kaitlyn said she loves MCU as an organization because of their emphasis on community. For example, she is part of a 10-15 employee initiative who are teaching basic financial education to traditionally underserved elementary children. “These students know when mom and dad get paid, because that is when love is bought,” she explained.
They teach the children that they can choose their careers. They teach them how they can plan for birthdays. The initiative, Kaitlyn said, has received “great support from the schools.”
“MCU is a financial resource that doesn’t just say our mission, we actually do it by having our feet on the ground in our community,” Kaitlyn shared. “Who we are is how we change our members’ lives.”
Kaitlyn shared that she was raised by her mother, Julie, who found herself “in a divorced situation.”
“When she divorced, I was in my 20s. I watched her be so strong and resilient … and also battle with addiction. What she taught me was to be resilient and never judge a person by what you see on the outside because you can’t see inside.”
Her mother, Kaitlyn explained, utilizes what she went through to now help others survive similar experiences. “Her patients love her,” Kaitlyn added. “She relates to them. She makes them feel okay.”
Compassion and empathy, Kaitlyn said, is important in her personal life and in her work, because there is no way of knowing what someone has went through.
“What I am in control of,” she said, “is what I can do today. I can control what I can provide back.”
Kaitlyn shared she has a passion for helping those in domestic violent situations. “We forget how much those traumas affect finances,” she said. “There is not a lot of attention on our financial stresses. It takes vulnerability to go to that place.” That being the case, Kaitlyn said it’s important to not judge those she is working with, but to educate them. “No other collections departments do that – use the power of education and compassion and empathy to find success,” she added.
In the hiring process, Kaitlyn explained, “We ask, “what was your last act of kindness,” and what our mission means to them. Our work is about living out that mission.”
“I am so empowered to develop a financial education program for elementary students,” Kaitlyn continued. “I love MCU because of what the employees do. Everyone is passionate to live out our mission.”
Working for an organization that is lead from the heart, Kaitlyn said, “makes me feel thankful beyond words.”
Kaitlyn said her mom loves the work Kaitlyn is doing. “She reminds me every day how proud she is of me. I remind her how proud I am of her.”