January’s Feature: Meg Chiodo

The first thing I noticed about Meg Chiodo when she came into the coffee shop was her fantastic smile. It’s always challenging trying to find someone in a coffee shop you haven’t previously met, but Meg seemed to know I was the girl she was looking for. “You’re Amy?” I nodded and returned her enthusiastic smile. “And I see you’ve already gotten something to drink. I wanted to pay for that. Can I at least get you something to eat?” When I explained that I had been at the coffee shop working and had already eaten, Meg’s smile straightened out a bit. “Well, I suppose I can’t get anything for you then. I’ll be back.” She turned around and walked up to the coffee bar.

Meg’s disappointment at the realization that she couldn’t pay for my coffee or bagel is a testimony of her generous nature. It struck me that Meg, a complete stranger until just a few moments before would want to treat me to coffee even though this wasn’t technically a business meeting. I knew straight away that by the end of our coffee chat, we would feel like friends.

A few moments later Meg returned with her medium size coffee. She shook her head, causing her diamond shaped hanging earrings (which perfectly matched the diamond on her black sweater poncho) to sway. “Those baristas,” she explained while sitting down. “Don’t really know what they’re doing. It’s like, I’m not standing up there for my health while you make my drink. You can’t even talk to me? Ask me how my day is going?” She paused and then chuckled. “I’ve been in customer service for a really long time, so I have high standards. Now, what are we talking about today?” When I told her we were actually there to talk about her, Meg pulled her head back indicating she had temporarily forgotten. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “Well, that’s just…fantastic? ” Meg laughed again. “What do you want to know?”

To kick things off I asked Meg to tell me what she does for her job currently. “Basically I am the walking talking billboard for Royal Credit Union,” she said. “I belong to a bunch of chambers of commerce and networking groups in the Twin Cities, and I also work with people in the real-estate business. My job is to get myself in front of them and talk about Royal’s products and services.” Meg explained to me that Royal Credit Union has all the same services that a normal bank does. They do business loans, private loans, auto loans, merchant services, personal checking accounts, business checking accounts, certificates, money markets, and a whole lot more. “We love helping people transfer from high-interest credit cards to ours, which is one of the lowest in the Twin Cities. We don’t have fees either. As our CEO puts it, ‘Why would we charge our members to use their own money?’”

Meg’s enthusiasm for Royal Credit Union’s mission was infectious, and it wasn’t long before I found myself deeply involved in what she had to say. I had no idea banking could be so interesting. The difference between a credit union and a traditional bank, I learned, was who was sitting at the top. Traditional banks have shareholders (the people in the “ivory tower” as Meg quipped) who dictate what happens at the bank. The shareholders goal is to see that the bank profit as much as possible because at the end of the year, that profit goes back to them. A credit union functions more like a co-op. Members buy in and in place of shareholders, a credit union has a board of directors who are volunteers from the community. When the credit union profits, the members ultimately benefit by receiving lower rates on loans and higher returns on certificates, money markets and savings. Credit unions also belong to a shared network of branches which enables their members to have access to a lot more ATMs and branches. “Our credit union has access to 35,000 ATMs nationwide and 5,000 branches,” Meg told me. “That makes the biggest of banks look like chopped liver compared to us!”

Meg’s job description doesn’t just include talking about Royal Credit Union’s services. She is also very involved with their school community programs. The School Sense Program is specifically designed to teach students how to manage money. It operates exactly like a bank branch on a smaller scale. Students can check their balance, deposit money and take cash out without having to leave their school campus. “I absolutely love the School Sense Program,” Meg told me. “A lot of times, these students don’t really know how to manage money, so we get to go in and teach them. Right now we’ve got 28 school branches in our Wisconsin and Minnesota markets and we’re hoping to open a couple of more. We don’t make a profit off of these branches, but it’s not about that. It’s about doing the right thing.” I could hear the pride in Meg’s voice as she talked about the School Sense program. “We [Royal Credit Union] try to do the right thing. I think this is why I’ve been with them so long.”

Throughout our conversation I noticed that Meg is not only great at marketing, but she has a knack for teaching as well. When I mentioned this to Meg her eyes lit up. “I love love love teaching,” she said. I asked her if she could tell me a bit more. “I remember the first time I really got in front of people. Back in the ’90s I was working at Edina Reality doing IT support and…” My face must have given away my surprise to hear her background. “I know,” she laughed. “You can’t really see me doing that can you?” I laughed with her. “Back then it was different. Anyway, it was right when email was coming out, and I had to train all of these real-estate agents how to use email. You know how people are with change. It was like World War III in the training room. As I was teaching people would say, ‘You can’t make me read my email! I’m going to keep using my voicemail!’ It was hysterical. I loved that project.”

As I was laughing with Meg I couldn’t help but note how most people would dread a project such as the one she was given. A lot of us would find working with disgruntled employees stressful. Not Meg! I asked her how they resolved people’s resistance and she said, “Oh we set up their computers so Outlook would automatically open, forcing them to read their email. In a couple of months people would come up to me and say, ‘I love my email. I don’t know what I ever did without it.’” She gave me a knowing smile. When I asked Meg if speaking and teaching was something she’d like to do more of in the future, she responded with an enthusiastic yes. “I have a gift for teaching and I need to utilize it. I need to make that one of my goals for 2016.”

Meg cropped head shotBoth Meg and I continued to chat long after our prescribed time and our coffee had gone cold. There was so much to talk about. After two hours we reluctantly began to pack up and head to our other commitments. As I thanked her for the wonderful company and conversation she gave me hug saying, “It just seems after all that a hug is in order.” I heartily agreed.

If you’d like to learn more about Royal Credit Union, the School Sense Program or have Meg speak at your event please email her Meg.chiodo@rcu.org or call 651-260-2289.