On the surface, credit union lending appears to be a dry affair: boxes checked, numbers consulted, and forms completed.
But don’t tell that to Davina Napier, senior vice president of lending at Credit Union 1, Anchorage, Alaska.
“Lending is an art form, and I don’t mean paint-by-numbers,” she says. “I need Picassos—it’s OK if the eye is where the belly button should be, as long as it’s a picture. We’re in the business of applauding creativity, not cookie-cutter thinking.”
Napier’s approach to lending has led her to champion a number of initiatives at the credit union that have received national recognition, including CUNA’s Louise Herring Philosophy-in-Action Member Service Award and the Dora Maxwell Social Responsibility Community Service Award.
She’s currently working with Duke University’s CommonCents Lab to test interventions to help people of low and modest means make healthy financial choices.
This summer, she issued an innovation challenge to her staff, offering a $1,000 prize pool to employees who come up with innovative ways to serve members of the $965 million asset credit union.
“I want our lending staff to be part of the change in the way we think about lending—to go outside the box,” she says. “The staff has really embraced the challenge, and I think we’ll see some great ideas come about.”
Napier knows firsthand how important it is for local families to get back on their feet. She grew up comfortably until she was 12, when her father lost his job.
“We struggled after that, and it was hard for us to access basic financial services for a long time,” she says. “Growing up like that has given me a strong sense of empathy. People who need help aren’t bad people, they’re just in a bad circumstance. They need help, not judgment, and credit unions embody that sentiment.”