Why Credit Unions Succeed in Building a Nation, One Community at a Time



Growth and innovation are the hallmarks of the credit unions of tomorrow. And strengthening the communities a CU serves lies at the foundation of those coveted traits. Read on to see how one California credit union doubled its membership and earned widespread recognition by embracing such a mission. 

In my role as president and chief executive officer of the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues, I have the opportunity to observe the growth and innovative traits of credit unions throughout the country. A microcosm of this growth and innovation can be seen in California, in particularly at Sacramento, Calif.-based Golden 1 Credit Union.

A credit union’s core mission resides within its ability to strengthen the communities in which it serves – that is to say its capacity to empower members where they live, work and play. Within this arena, credit unions are becoming the choice of consumers for a wide spectrum of financial services – from checking and savings accounts to mortgages, auto loans, consumer loans, retirement account instruments and even safe deposit boxes. CUs are also making gains in enrollments in the latest financial services, such as automatic bill pay and mobile banking.

Since 2000, Golden 1 Credit Union has experienced a doubling in membership to 750,000. President and CEO Donna Bland’s DNA is hardwired to be local, engaged and organizationally optimistic. She stays close to her San Francisco roots by promoting a family-centric environment with the credo “Family is No. 1. We work to live, not live to work.” She emphasizes community engagement as the centerpiece of a strategy that empowers employees and members to be seen as local ambassadors. The goal of this strategy is to create a culture that can change California, one community at a time.

An example of this mission is Golden 1’s commitment toward investing in the education of California’s leaders of tomorrow. The credit union will be awarding $400,000 in scholarships later this year to students who plan to attend accredited, nonprofit colleges and universities in California. Since 2013 Golden 1 has awarded 98 student scholarships totaling more than $1 million.

As for Bland, she received the 2015 Businesswoman of the Year award by the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce. This prestigious recognition honored her work, not only within the financial industry but out in the community. During her nearly six-year tenure as Golden 1 CEO, Bland has worked across industry sectors to foster relationships that have led to big, game-changing projects in various communities throughout the state. These undertakings will have far-reaching impact for decades.

Bland was also instrumental in Golden 1’s securing the naming rights to the Golden 1 Center, a multi-purpose indoor arena – and the cornerstone of a revitalization and transformation effort in California’s capital city of Sacramento that is changing the look and feel of the city’s downtown core. The NBA’s Sacramento Kings – once on the precipice of leaving town – will be the benefactors of this new arena when it opens in October. Economists have estimated that the facility will attract up to 1.6 million additional visitors annually, which will translate into several million dollars of added economic activity for the region.

But Bland didn’t stop there. She’s hands on in tackling the financial industry’s professional gender gap, specifically by steering young women toward STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education programs. She continues to mentor and advocate for women in finance and senior leadership positions by supporting women as they progress through the ranks.

As data security and fraud prevention have become priorities within the financial services industry, Golden 1 was an early adopter of several best practices and counter-measures to protect the identity and security of its members. Bland again pushed for Golden 1’s adoption of EMV chip technology and, in the process, helped the credit union earn the 2015 Visa Debit Processing Service (DPS) Client Achievement Award for “Best In Class: Innovation.” It was the CU’s path-paving approach to improving debit card program performance and cardholder satisfaction that resulted in this recognition. The new chips are now becoming more commonplace in the banking and retail industry as an added fraud detection tool to enhance data security for customers.

Golden 1’s history is steeped in the tradition of helping others. Several times during the 1990s and again in 2009, when the state of California experienced budget crises, the credit union stepped in and provided no-cost loans to more than 100,000 members. This initiative ensured that state employees could provide for their families.

Whether expanding local holiday food assistance programs or advancing literacy activities for foster youth, Bland has chosen to put resources where they can have the most impact – directly into the communities that Golden 1 Credit Union serves. In the next few years, Golden 1 plans to add to its stable of more than 80 branch offices by expanding into the Southern California market.

On top of all that, Bland’s business acumen and influence in finance extend outside the boundaries of Golden 1. She also serves on the board of the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council and Credit Union Direct Corporation. This kind of involvement across industry disciplines serves as a blueprint for the credit union industry of tomorrow.

DykstraAdvances in technology and a focus on digital engagement with members will offer new challenges and opportunities for credit unions moving forward. But the industry is uniquely positioned to take advantage of new and emerging trends, and it will continue to play a major role in reshaping the nation’s industrial and economic landscape.

Diana Dykstra is president and chief executive officer of the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues.

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