Redwood Credit Union received an honorable mention for the Community Credit Union of the Year Award for credit unions with more than $250 million in assets during the CUNA Community Credit Union Conference. Brett Martinez, CEO of the $3 billion asset credit union in Santa Rosa, Calif., recently discussed how the credit union helps the people and businesses within its community find success with Credit Union Magazine.
CU Mag: How do you approach your role as a community credit union?
Martinez: For Redwood Credit Union, it means helping people and businesses in our community succeed.
Our mission is to passionately serve the best interests of our members, employees, and communities—and we focus on living our mission every day. Our not-for-profit model allows us to focus fully on service to others, and operate in the best interests of our members and communities. We accomplish that by doing a lot of listening so we understand our members’ needs and goals, and then we provide options and solutions to help them get where they want to go. For some, that’s saving more or getting out of debt. For others, it’s being able to affordably buy a car or home or build a budget or financial plan so they can fund a child’s education or their own future retirement. Whatever success looks like for our individual members is what we’re here to help them achieve.
We’re also here to help educate and provide guidance to people and businesses on their money and financial matters. Most people never get taught how to manage money, yet it’s a key life skill and one everyone needs in order to succeed in life. So we do all we can to fill that gap by educating people every day on how to make the most of their money. And we see that when armed with that knowledge, people feel empowered to make better financial decisions, and that’s exciting and rewarding.
CU Mag: How does Redwood determine which areas of the community to focus on?
Martinez: Because we’re here to help other succeed, we look at our community giving program as an extension of our ability to do just that. As a community credit union, we work to understand what the greatest needs of our communities are and do what we can to support the things that will have the greatest, most meaningful, and lasting impact.
One key focus beyond financial education is our community’s “safety net” needs—that means partnering with nonprofits that aid in housing and shelter, food, family support, and other social safety net issues. One example is we’re a significant supporter of Santa Rosa’s Social Advocate for Youth (SAY) Dream Center, which is a facility that houses homeless youth and provides a host of support services and counseling for young people.
We also have a foundation—RCU Community Fund, Inc.—and its focus is on financial well-being and education. We have supported disaster relief, such as the recent Lake County fires. For the Valley Fire, we raised $2.5 million in just 12 weeks from 12,000 donors to aid the victims of the fires. It was a tremendous undertaking for our organization, but very rewarding to know that together with our community, we truly helped our neighbors in need at a time when they needed it most.
CU Mag: What is your greatest success when it comes to serving your community?
Martinez: Our brand promise to “we love to help you succeed,” and it’s really true. Any time we can make a positive difference in someone’s life, we consider it a success.
Providing free financial education to our communities is another success. We believe knowledge is power, so we strive to provide practical information and educational tools and resources that can help people make wise choices with their money and achieve financial wellness. We regularly host teen financial events that teach high school students how to navigate real-world financial challenges; we provide financial seminars for nonprofits, local community groups, and SEGs that cover topics including buying a home, budgeting, and Social Security; and we have a financial learning center on our website where people can access financial education information through learning modules, podcasts, videos, and articles.
Since January 2013, Redwood has provided staff and officials with funds to perform random acts of kindness in the community. The most common ways to give are paying for a meal, coffee, or groceries. We’ve also paid for kids’ sports registrations, brought quarters to the laundromat, and paid for parking meters.
So far, we’ve distributed about $55,000 worth of randomly kind acts in our communities.
We responded to devastating fires that impacted Lake County, California in 2015 and 2016 by partnering with our local newspaper and Sen. Mike McGuire to create the Lake County Fire Victims Fund. Redwood Credit Union’s Relief Fund provided over $2.7 million in support for relief efforts. Redwood absorbed all of the administrative costs, so 100% of those donations helping those affected by the fires.
CU Mag: How has community involvement benefited the credit union?
Martinez: Doing the right thing is simply what we believe in and who we are. So as we live our mission and our brand promise each day, we feel good about ourselves and the impact we’re having on others and our communities.
When people see us doing good things, they see we truly care, and that goes a long way toward building trust.
When we’re out in the community, we often here, “Redwood Credit Union, you guys are everywhere!” That tells us that our community presence is also creating brand awareness and directly connecting our brand with community service.
Our commitment to the community helps keep staff engaged and is a source of pride. More than 99% of staff are proud of Redwood’s community involvement and most of our staff participate in volunteer efforts throughout the year.
We often hear that our members are proud of our commitment to our communities. And we believe it contributes to attracting, retaining, and building loyalty to Redwood as well.