Kirstin Kisgen is the Senior Member Service Representative at Marine Credit Union (MCU) and is a Credit Union National Association certified financial counselor. In her interview for the Heart of MCU project, she shared that providing MCU members free financial counseling is one of the most rewarding things she does because the sole purpose is to help them. “It’s a teaching opportunity for individuals who are struggling,” she explained.
Kirstin shared a story of an experience she once had with a banker. “It was not a good one,” she said. Kirstin was a young parent, in her 20s, and they were struggling financially. She said she didn’t have anyone to teach her about paying off her debt and personal finances, so she started paying off her debt in “large chunks.”
“The banker yelled at me,” she said and after that she started a journey to learn more about personal finance from resources in her public library. “I became self-taught about finances,” she shared. “I like being able to pay it forward,” she added. Sometimes, she said that we go through things so we can teach others.
Kirstin was the co-owner of a café taking care of the establishment’s finances prior to her career in finance. “It was a natural progression,” she said, “working in finance.” She added that it was also important for her to be in customer service because she has always been a very social person.
Kirstin talked about MCUs core values not only being professionally important but also personally “very important” to her as well. “They all kind of tied together,” she explained. “It takes commitment to the self and to the community to have courage. It takes compassion to have conversations.” And so on.
Kirstin became a MCU employee when the bank she worked for merged with MCU four years ago. “The culture change was huge. It was a national bank,” she shared. “At MCU, everyone knows your name. The collaboration through all the different departments is one of my favorite things,” she added. “Our management is very approachable.”
Using Microsoft Teams, Kirstin explained that the company connected even more since the beginning of the pandemic. When things could have gotten more scattered and torn apart, Kirstin said, “There has been even more collaboration within the organization.”
When working with members on their personal finances, Kirstin shared that collaboration is a key component as well. “Everyone has to be on the same page, working together,” she said.
Kirstin uses her own experiences diving into personal finance all those years ago to help those she now serves at MCU. “It was a journey,” Kirstin said of getting her family out of their financial struggles. “It took 10 years to get a handle on it. A lot of trials and errors. I made mistakes.” Kirstin said she tried everything from spread sheets to putting cash in envelopes. “As a financial counselor,” she said, “you can’t force the hand. It’s very individualized.” Kirstin said she tries to provide individuals options so they can learn what works best for that person.
Kirstin shared that “giving back” is one of her personal missions. “Having financial freedom is huge,” she said. It’s her mission at work to “teach each individual how to work with their own finances to be able to go back into the community and make themselves happy.”
Kirstin shared there is a great collaboration between coworkers and the community with MCU. “The relationships we get to build with MCU members is amazing. They are a part of our family. They are more than a credit score and at MCU we are able to individualize every experience.”
She continued and said that if she would have had that kind of experience earlier in her life working with her banker, it would have been very different and she felt could have “got the ball rolling sooner, rather than feeling like an awful person.” Even though she admitted that experience influenced who she is now as an employee at MCU, she said being yelled at didn’t help her to learn anything. “In customer service, no question is a dumb question,” she added. Helping others as a financial counselor, Kirstin said, is about building trusting relationships with her members, and sharing her personal experiences helps her to do that. “They have to take the initiative to be vulnerable,” she explained. “Sometimes there are tough conversations, but we are in it together.” It takes compassion, she said, but eventually they are able build new habits based on their individual goals.