President and CEO, Credit Union League of Connecticut
Industry experience: 5 years
For Bruce Adams, president and CEO of the Credit Union League of Connecticut, people who win the lottery experience as much of a financial shock as someone who just lost a job. These lottery winners can now turn to the state’s credit union industry for guidance on how to manage their winnings. Credit Unions Building Financial Independence, the nonprofit charitable arm of the Credit Union League of Connecticut, has partnered with the Connecticut Lottery Corp. to launch Wise Winnings, a program providing free financial advice to the state’s lottery winners.
Adams spent most of his career as a financial lawyer, including in state government. He began working with the credit union industry during his time at the Connecticut Department of Banking, where he spent two years as general counsel and had a brief stint as acting commissioner. Adams joined the trade group for Connecticut’s credit unions in 2019.
Q: What have your first three years at the Credit Union League of Connectict been like?
A: I started in August of 2019. That was right about the beginning of our strategic planning and budgeting season, and we planned for a 2020 that did not include a pandemic. Our ability as a league to be flexible and adaptable and nimble really shone through in that first year of a really constant crisis. That’s been a great benefit to me in terms of having all of our old ways of doing things thrown out the window immediately.
As a new CEO, the world of opportunity is wide open. But that said, the world of opportunity is now greatly changed from normal times, and one of the drawbacks of being restricted in my physical movements is the ability to get to know my members and to have those common social interactions that really drive a sense of affiliation with a membership-based organization. What these three years have felt like is a constant state of change, and I’m looking forward to a time where we can just reestablish our new normal and move forward to a new future filled with new opportunities.
Q: How did the partnership with Connecticut Lottery come about?
A: We have a preexisting relationship with their government relations manager [Christopher Davis], who was a former state representative. He reached out to us and said that the lottery had had some early conversations about how they can help winners make better choices with their money. Knowing of me and others at the league, he called us and said, “Can you help us think about it,” and we jumped at the chance. We had about a year of conversations, trying to figure out what we could really do.
When you really think about it, you have a very limited opportunity to interact with a lottery winner. We realized that the best thing that we could do is try to intervene at the moment of claiming a prize and interrupting the spending impulse. Getting people to stop and think, take a moment, maybe deposit the money, have a conversation with somebody, and then make a responsible spending decision is something that we realized we could probably achieve for a meaningful subset of that population. In Connecticut, we tag that population at around 30,000 people a year. If they make a responsible decision with their $25,000 or $50,000, that might actually change their life and put them on a trajectory towards financial independence.
Q: What was reaction from Credit Union League members?
A: This is really a partnership with our charitable foundation, Credit Unions Building Financial Independence. And through that foundation, we’ve spent about a year and a half encouraging our members to put some of their employees through a financial counselor certification program. By the end of this year, we will have just about 100 people either certified or in the certification process in Connecticut. The lottery really liked this fact, and it helps us grow this program.
Our members have seen the value of leveraging their competitive advantage in this marketplace. If they have an opportunity to talk with somebody who has had a sudden windfall and give them advice that’s in the winner’s best interest and also potentially have a relationship with a new member, they’ve all viewed that as a positive. We’ve seen increased interest in putting more people through the certification program.
Q: Has anyone used the program that you’ve heard of?
A: We haven’t heard of it yet. Data collection is going to be a challenge because it’s really up to the winner. They don’t have to go through the Wise Winnings website to go to a credit union, and there’s no one central repository of who’s availed themselves of the program. So, we’re going to rely a lot on qualitative data to gauge the effectiveness of this. It will be a success to be getting 200 $5,000 winners and another success to be getting one $1 million winner. It really depends on how you look at the good that we’ve done.
We think really the greater benefit will be in assessing the amount of impact we have on the winners that have made themselves known. I tend to think that that’s in some ways a better thing for our industry, because our industry as a not-for-profit industry is designed to help people keep their money and use it to their own best advantage. That impact is really best told through storytelling and not so much through numbers on a page.
Q: Are there other ways the credit union industry could benefit from this program?
A: I don’t think that we’re intending to realize a statistically significant bump in our growth in assets or anything like that. Where we think we can have the greatest impact is with the winners who need some more basic advice.
Q: Is there anything else planned for the program?
A: Wise Winnings just launched, so we’re now going to be in the quality improvement phase and figuring out what we can do better and how we can enhance the program as we get use cases and more experience. But one of the things that we know happens with a lot of lottery winners is that they will take their paper check, and they will go to a more costly or even predatory financial services provider to cash the check. That is an opportunity for fraud, for scams, and an opportunity to really harm a winner’s chance at using the winnings to their greatest benefit. We have in mind the idea of trying to enhance the program such that winners could have a safe option when they collect their winnings. We think that’s probably a good evolution of the program, because if you’re playing the lottery and you’re hoping to win, you may be more motivated to engage with this program if, in doing so, you get a financial benefit.
Adams’ Five Favorite Musical Instruments:
- His father’s 1958 Martin D18 guitar
- His 1995 Taylor 615 jumbo guitar
- His 2004 custom Deering John Hartford banjo
- His father’s mid-1950’s Vega Pete Seeger long neck banjo
- Mark Vann’s Deering Crossfire banjo