Like the best jam bands and their fans, Richard Cooper, president/CEO of Mendo Lake Credit Union, Ukiah, Calif., is all about being inclusive.
The 41-year credit union veteran doesn’t view himself anything like a solo act.
“It takes a whole rock band,” he says.
And just like the best jam bands, Cooper is about creating community. Mendo Lake has leveraged three Community Development Financial Institution grants totaling $4.5 million from the U.S. Treasury Department.
Since Cooper took the reins at the credit union as the Great Recession hit in 2008, the credit union has grown to 29,000 members and $222 million in assets today—from 10,000 members and $70 million in assets.
The credit union has succeeded by having “a constant focus on serving folks who otherwise wouldn’t get service” within its rural community, which is predominantly Hispanic farm workers.
Mendo Lake also has connected with the local Native American community, which has accounted for “a big part of our success,” Cooper says.
Cooper has literally changed the conversation at Mendo Lake. When he started, the credit union had two employees who spoke Spanish.
Now, about half of the staff is fluent.
“That’s certainly changed the landscape of who walks in our lobby and where our word-of-mouth referrals come from,” he says.
“We start new members with basic accounts and work with them until they’re able to borrow $250 and $500 in unsecured loans, then maybe take out a $5,000 auto loan,” he explains. “Then, we can move them up to something larger. It’s good for the member and good for the credit union. It’s a strategy that works.”
It’s also a strategy that makes the credit union truly vital to its members’ lives.
Take, for example, the credit union’s subprime auto lending program. “Reliable transportation is a big part of economic opportunity here, and we recognize that,” Cooper says.