How I Got My Job: Bay Federal’s Nicole Beaver on building a career in the financial industry as a young mother

Nicole Beaver, manager of Bay Federal Credit Union's Capitola branch.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Nicole Beaver, manager of Bay Federal Credit Union’s Capitola branch, juggled multiple jobs and school while also raising a family as she made her way through the ranks of the credit union. She spoke to Lookout about the wide variety of roles in the financial industry and why banking requires good people skills — it’s not all dollars and cents.

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Nicole Beaver, 42, has worked as the branch manager of Bay Federal Credit Union’s Capitola branch for 23 years.

Growing up in Watsonville and having a baby before graduating from high school, Nicole Beaver says she never thought she would end up in the financial industry, but nonetheless believes her career was meant to be.

Beaver initially saw herself moving to Hollywood to be a singer or actress. Her love of comedy made her want to join the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” But once she had her first daughter at age 16 while a student at Watsonville High School, she realized that a career in the entertainment industry was not in the cards.

After graduation, Beaver began attending Cabrillo College and worked at Papa Murphy’s pizza, along with working a temporary job with the County of Santa Cruz. Beaver’s friend, a branch manager at Bay Federal at the time, encouraged her to apply to the credit union. While driving home from her job interview, Beaver got a call saying she had been hired.

After her temporary position with the county ended, Beaver started working full time at Bay Federal. Managing at Papa Murphy’s, starting out at Bay Federal and going to school, Beaver began to feel guilt for sacrificing time with her 3-year-old daughter, so she decided to prioritize her career at Bay Federal. Within her first year with the credit union, she left Cabrillo College and then Papa Murphy’s.

She has worked her way up from a teller to her current position as a branch manager, and graduated from the Western CUNA Management School, a credit union management school, this year. After spending the first half of the program on Zoom, Beaver returned to campus pregnant with her youngest daughter.

Near the end of the program, students must take a test and write a 200-page essay. Beaver struggled with the project and questioned her decision to drop out of college. “I felt kind of defeated,” she said. But uplifted by her peers, her courage and the need to be an example for her children, she was able to get through the experience.

Being Latina, Beaver prides herself on being good at her job but also having the ability to give back to the Latino community. “We, as you know, need that representation of people who are going to help us,” she said.

Beaver says she relishes spending time with her five kids. Her eldest daughter just graduated from UC Santa Cruz and her son is finishing his final year at Sacramento State University. Beaver herself has plans to go back to Cabrillo College for a business degree and to be an example for her children. She also hopes to progress in her career at Bay Federal, aiming to advance from associate vice president branch manager to vice president branch manager, and to be involved in sales, employee growth, mentoring or coaching.

When Beaver isn’t working she is with family, either spending days at the beach or going on walks, playing video games, going to restaurants or enjoying her husband’s cooking.

Education:

  • Watsonville High School: High school diploma
  • Western CUNA Management School
Nicole Beaver and family outside Bay Fed's Capitola branch.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Lookout: What does a typical day look like for you?

Nicole Beaver: Coming to work, we start off the day with words of motivation. We pump up the team, set the expectation and goals, we do a morning cheer and then we help members throughout the day. You think at the bank [that] it’s solely dealing with money — it’s not. We deal with everything under the sun. Throughout the day I’m trying to coach and mentor my staff. Then [there is] also finding financial solutions for my members ... that’s what I do.

[Financial solutions are] when you walk into a financial institution, you don’t know what you need unless somebody presents it to you. Whether it’s dropping your interest rate, or it’s consolidating your debt, or it’s, “Hey, let’s get you into a checking account that doesn’t charge you hidden fees.” It could be anything, [like] “I’m being scammed, help me find a way to not be scammed,” or, “Somebody stole my Social Security number.”

I love what I do for that aspect. I have people crying in my office, like, “You saved me tens of thousands of dollars just by switching my car [loan] from there to here.” People don’t know what they don’t know. It’s why we train our staff to ask questions; we’re solution-driven.

Lookout: What are the common financial struggles you’re seeing?

Beaver: [The] financial industry [is] dealing with scams across every financial institution. Especially in the elderly community, they’re so susceptible to being victimized by these scammers who will call and say anything under the sun. Whether it’s, “If you don’t pay me this money, your kid is going to stay locked up in jail” and the kids are not even in jail. Or your Social Security is going to be compromised. Or love scams. Just all the scamming in the world is really prevalent. By teaching members how to use their online apps, how to verify their statements and not to provide their information to anybody [and] to keep things confidential, that really helps them in the future, preventing them from losing money.

I think just the times we’re in right now, too, you know inflation, it’s really hard for people to establish savings. So [we] kind of [teach] them how to avoid fees, whether it’s with us or anybody looking at their credit report and see where they can save money, consolidate debt and look for lower interest rates.

Lookout: What do you love most about your job?

Beaver: The people, 1,000%. Whether it’s the people I help or it’s my staff. I’m at a point in my life where I feel like I’ve achieved so much success that now my direct success is the people I work with. If I can get somebody from a teller to a manager, that for me is my success. Whatever their goals are, I want to be a part of that [and] I want to help them.

Lookout: What are the biggest challenges in your job?

Beaver: I don’t have any challenges right now. I would say the most recent challenges that we did have [were] during the pandemic. That was hard. With employee turnover, people would get sick, they’d have to be out for a long time. Then managing members with social distancing and masks. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was hard, it was just a learning experience. We were one of the industries that did not close down, we stayed open throughout the whole thing. It was managing my employees with their mental health, staffing, with members who were also dealing with mental health. But we definitely came out of it. Every day was a positive day.

Lookout: How does the current situation at Bay Federal compare to the pandemic?

Beaver: I feel like Bay Federal is solutions-based, so I feel like through that we just continued to find efficiencies and learned to evolve in terms of doing more remote work. I think that was a good thing, being able to provide staff with the ability to work remotely, [such as our] back-office departments and or member service centers. I think that was great and employees felt valued by doing that. Then us front-line staff, just the constant support in terms of, we’re here for you [and] we got you.

Lookout: What is something that people misunderstand about your job?

Beaver: That I can count, that I’m really good at math. That’s just a funny thing but I think the misconception is that people think you can come into the bank and only do banking needs, [such as] check deposits, debit cards and things like that, but we’re much more than that. If you’re struggling financially and just want some help, come see us. Let us help you, because finances is not your job, that’s our job to try to help you. We want to try to find a solution for you.

Nicole Beaver outside Bay Fed's Capitola branch.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Lookout: What kind of skills do you think are needed to succeed in your career?

Beaver: I think for my job, yes, it’s important to understand money. You need to know how to count and things like that, but more so it’s important to have a sense of care and compassion when dealing with the community. I can teach people how to count [and] use the system; I can’t teach a person how to be caring, compassionate, friendly [and] welcoming. I can’t teach personality. The skill I would say you would need to possess when working in an industry such as finances is good customer service.

Lookout: What can someone expect their salary range to look like if they’re trying to pursue a branch manager position?

Beaver: I know that Bay Federal, they do a really good job with looking at where we are within our peers and that’s how they determine our pay. I would say I’ve seen a lot of LinkedIn opportunities ranging from $70,000 to $115,000, that’s in terms of branch management. I would say I think with tellers, it’s $18, $19 to $20s [an hour]. The financial industry, especially, there’s always opportunities, so you’re not going to be stuck at [the] base pay. There’s opportunities to move up.

Lookout: What advice would you give to people about money management?

Beaver: I would say be really diligent in looking at where you’re spending your money. If you have a car, look at your interest rate and see if there’s anybody else who can provide a better interest rate. If you have a credit card, what can you do to lower your interest rate, or don’t use [credit]? If you can’t pay it off, maybe don’t use it and maybe just stick to cash. I know a lot of people are like, “I’m sticking with my debit card.” Well it’s easy to swipe, swipe, swipe, which is a good thing, but if your budget is tight, use cash.

Be diligent in checking your credit report every six months to see if there’s any fraud or any people using your credit. Just be mindful of where your money goes.

Lookout: Where do you see your industry headed and what kind of jobs do you think might be needed in the future?

Beaver: I do feel like this industry is definitely becoming more technical, more digital. With the pandemic, it forced everybody to go on the digital path. So people were doing online banking, they weren’t stepping into a place. I think that for the financial industry, everything related to digital is going to be the way of the world. Granted, there’s still members that want to be in the branch, they want to be here. Even the younger generation, they want to be in here to open their account, ask the questions and [have us] give them the means to bank so that they never have to step foot in the branch again.

Lookout: What advice would you give to new graduates or career switchers interested in pursuing a job in the financial sector?

Beaver: [In] the financial sector, there’s so much to it. I would say if you get a degree in accounting, well, you know, we have accountants here. If you have a degree in technical engineering or computer science, a financial institution is a good place to work at because [they] keep us running. We have people creating programs for us to use that are going to benefit our members and us. If you’re in [human resources], we have an HR department, so the sky’s the limit when it comes to working in the financial industry. It’s not just a teller working on the front line, although that’s a very key role for the financial industry. You can think of anything. I mean, if you want to do loans, get into mortgages, do investment, there’s just so many things you can do working at a financial institution.

Lookout: What is it like being a woman in this particular field?

Beaver: I think when I started out as a woman and being young [in 2004], when I would go out to speak to members they would be like, “You’re not it, you’re not the one. You need to get somebody higher [up].” It took a lot of time for me to be able to just get that assertiveness in myself, to stand a bit taller, shake the hand a little bit firmer. Some people would look at me and be like, “I need somebody higher [up]” [and] I need somebody that doesn’t look like you,” whether it was a male or whether it was somebody older. So throughout the years I’ve had to prove myself. I’m thankful that Bay Federal, we’re maybe 60%-40% women over men. I think there’s more female managers than male managers here, so I’ve never felt that me being a woman would prevent me from [being offered] a management job.

Lookout: What’s your advice to young women who have similar experiences to yours?

Beaver: I would say that you need to create your own destiny and you need to seek out opportunities where you can never settle. Keep advancing, keep growing. Whether it’s in school, I do recommend going to school 1,000%. If I could say anything, continue with your education, even if it takes 20 years to finish your degree. Seek every opportunity you can and just never settle.



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