CEO Spotlight: Blanche Jackson, Stepping Stones Community FCU
Stepping Stones Community FCU
Blanche Jackson, CEO of Stepping Stones Community Federal Credit Union in Wilmington, Delaware, reflects back on her 20-plus years of experience in the credit union industry with a sense of contentment.
Jackson dedicated time as a volunteer with Stepping Stones since its early stages, while also working in various roles at other credit unions over the years. But it was after finally settling into the CEO position at Stepping Stones that she realized her purpose.
“I needed all of that experience to get me here,” Jackson says. “Now that I’m here, I know this is where I am meant to be.”
And when you add up Jackson’s accomplishments in her three years as CEO—including increased membership, more robust offerings, and a deepened connection to the community—it’s obvious just how much she is meant to be at Stepping Stones.
Topping that list is her effort to lead the credit union during a global pandemic. Jackson and her team effectively pivoted their products and services, as well as the methods they used to provide them. With a staff of only three employees, Stepping Stones didn’t miss a beat serving its community.
Leading during uncertain times
Having been on the cusp of digital banking before the pandemic, Stepping Stones pushed those plans into high gear in March 2020. Under unprecedented circumstances from both a public health and economic perspective—and without any warning—Jackson led the charge to provide members with online access to bill pay, account transfers, person-to-person transfers, and other digital services.
In a community where many of its members were unable to work—and many businesses and nonprofits were barely surviving—the credit union did everything from helping members with delayed payments to lending a listening ear to those who were struggling.
The ability to access finances while still staying safe was crucial. To help limit traffic inside the building, the credit union utilized its mobile branch. Under normal circumstances, the Stepping Stones van toured Wilmington to provide education, open accounts, print instant ATM cards, and promote the credit union’s Don’t Pay to get Paid program—an effort to keep money in people’s pockets rather than with costly payday lenders. But during the pandemic, it’s existence—parked outside of the building—made it possible for Stepping Stones to offer uninterrupted service.
“We were able to help our members every day so that they knew we were still here for them,” recalls Jackson. “A lot was uncertain, but we did everything to make sure we continued serving our members.”
And while they hadn’t conducted any business lending up to that point, Stepping Stones quickly shifted gears to provide Payment Protection Program money—successfully distributing $3 million to help sustain more than 50 nonprofits and small businesses.
Finding success in partnerships
Another of Jackson’s successes with Stepping Stones is the strong partnerships she fosters within the community.
Jackson and her staff recognized a need among the local imprisoned population and established a unique partnership to fill the gap. Stepping Stones now teams up with Delaware’s Department of Correction to open savings accounts for individuals while in a facility. Since this is often a time when individuals experience difficulty working with other financial institutions, the credit union’s goal is to help them establish savings as needed upon release.
Jackson is proud of this partnership and the head start it has provided for nearly 200 individuals so far.
“The relationships we have with the Department of Correction, Wilmington Housing Authority, nonprofits, and financial institutions—we see it impacting the community,” she says. “Those are relationships we might not have been able to foster without the experience and connections needed to do so.”
Jackson explains that these ongoing partnerships have led Stepping Stones to enjoy many other successes, including earning Community Development Financial Institution certification and soon, offering mortgages.
“The bottom line is, we can’t do it alone,” she says. And luckily for Jackson, she doesn’t have to.
She credits the guidance and forward thinking of many individuals for her success at Stepping Stones, including the credit union’s board chair Matt Parks and dedicated board members, as well as Rashmi Rangan, executive director of the Delaware Community Reinvestment Action Council—the group that started Stepping Stones.
“When you have that kind of support, it makes you want to do more.”
The community around Stepping Stones, however, is what really energizes Jackson.
“It’s our members. They keep me inspired and motivated. They aren’t afraid to show you their vulnerability, or to tell you how you helped them,” she says. “To be able to help someone where, in some cases, they think there’s no hope—that’s what keeps me motivated to do this.”
Advice for credit union leaders
When asked what advice she gives to new credit union leaders, Jackson speaks from her own experience.
“One of the most important things is to be purposeful in your growth and not move too fast. Make sure you understand your community and what is really needed. Then start to structure yourself to fill that need. We often think we know what our members need or want, and it’s not necessarily the case.”
Jackson also says that when new leaders are aware of industry rules and regulations, there are less missteps along the way and more time to devote directly to the mission.
And, she advises new leaders to seek out help, whatever the issue may be, with other industry leaders and with Inclusiv, which she says is her first stop whenever she needs counsel on any industry-related issue.
“What I love about the credit union industry is that people will help with anything—policies, procedures, whatever you need,” Jackson says. “Don’t try to do it alone. That’s what we’re here for.”
From success to succession
Raised in Camden, New Jersey, Jackson says a reason for her enthusiasm and success running Stepping Stones is how similar the credit union’s community is to where she grew up.
“When the opportunity arose to work in the city, it felt near and dear to my heart. I understood what it was like living in a limited-income community. I wanted to give back in a way that made a lasting impact.”
While Jackson anticipates the longevity of many programs and services she has worked hard to develop, what she really hopes will continue after her time as CEO is something much more powerful.
“I want our membership to always know that we are here to help them, whatever the issue,” she says. “If nothing else carries forward, I want this credit union to always show members that we care, that we’re here, and that we’ll listen. That’s what’s really important to me.”