Amy Nelson’s introduction to credit unions was old school—she answered a newspaper ad. Her career, on the other hand, is characterized by innovation.
She started as an executive assistant and evolved through human resources and leadership roles to become president/CEO at $103 million asset Point West Credit Union in Portland, Ore., where she’s taking fresh approaches to serving the unbanked.
“Though I fell into the industry by accident, I stayed by design,” Nelson says.
She has seen her share of challenges along the way. During the Great Recession, Point West’s capital level plummeted to 3.68%, pushing the credit union to the brink of closure.
In one of the first orders of business for Nelson as a newer executive team member, she worked to create an NCUA-required net-worth restoration plan. While many thought the credit union would fail, Nelson and co-CEO Nick Hodson restored Point West’s financial health through frugality, innovation, and collaboration with business partners.
The credit union emerged from the restoration plan in 2013. As of September 2016 it holds steady at “well-capitalized,” with a net worth ratio of 9.68%.
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The co-CEO approach served Point West well. But when Hodson took a position at another credit union in May 2014, Nelson was named sole president/CEO.
Chartered to serve local government employees, Point West transformed its demographics as a result of merging other credit unions into its operation. Today, 30% of its membership consists of minority and underserved populations, primarily African- Americans, Hispanics, and Latinos.
Under Nelson’s leadership, Point West received NCUA’s low-income designation, obtained a community charter, and earned the U.S. Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institution certification.
Nelson continues to position the credit union to serve marginalized markets. This includes enhancing its noncitizen lending program in 2014, which offers loans to qualified immigrant borrowers. The program, which surpassed forecasted growth tenfold in 2016, is one of five programs being piloted by Filene Research Institute’s “Reaching Minority Households” incubator.
Point West CU's Amy Nelson
on the organization's rebound, and noncitizen lending
In recognition of its commitment to Hispanic and Latino members, Point West received a Juntos Avanzamos (“Together We Advance”) designation from the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions in August 2016. The Cornerstone Credit Union League developed the program.
“Juntos Avanzamos has connected us with credit unions nationwide who share how they leverage their designation to help members gain durable financial lift in a culturally relevant way,” Nelson says.
In recent years, Nelson and Point West leadership have used “what-if” scenarios to implement initiatives, increase capital, and safely evolve the strategic plan. “Once used for restoring net worth, we now use this tool as a window into our future,” Nelson says. “The latest ‘what if’ I’ve been pondering is: What if Point West booked $1 billion in loans to immigrants over the next 25 years?
“The power of many sharing a vision of hope, and keeping our members at the top of the organizational chart, prevailed,” she says.