Kathy Chartier has always had an eye for unmet needs.
In her early years as president of Members Credit Union (MCU) in Cos Cob, Conn., Chartier noticed the teachers the credit union served lived relatively comfortably, but support staff at area schools often struggled.
Chartier thought constantly about the cooks and the custodians, many of whom were immigrants, and felt strongly that the $28 million asset credit union could and should help them, too.
“I thought we could make a difference,” she says.
Chartier decided to focus her efforts—and eventually her credit union’s—on serving those without many resources and even fewer options.
Early on, that meant concerted efforts to diversify the MCU staff so area immigrant and minority populations were represented in the branches, where having familiar faces and bicultural employees made the credit union more welcoming.
When MCU became a community-chartered credit union in 2002, it made a conscious decision to serve people other financial institutions would not, while continuing its commitment to existing members.
In addition to having multicultural employees in the branch, MCU offers a Spanish-language website and forms, along with special products and counseling geared toward immigrants.
Chartier works closely with area social service agencies to ensure she remains aware of the financial challenges and needs among immigrants and other low-income community members so MCU can offer relevant, accessible products and services.
Last year, MCU became the first credit union in Connecticut to earn the national Juntos Avanzamos designation, which recognizes credit unions that serve the Hispanic
Numbers tell Chartier that MCU’s approach is successful, but feedback from members really drives home the credit union’s impact. She has seen individuals go from living paycheck-to-paycheck while racking up debt to buy cars and homes.
Those interactions illustrate the value of financial counseling services, and prompted Chartier to have every MCU employee become a certified financial counselor.
“It makes a difference,” she says. “It’s an attitude change, and our employees can now better relate to what the member might be going through and offer advice about how to do things differently and better.”
While Chartier has a laser focus on her community’s needs, she also extends her leadership and expertise to other countries.
Since becoming a Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE) in 1994, she has mentored credit union executives around the globe, including in the Caribbean and Africa. As director of the nonprofit Kenya Foundation, she coordinates the delivery of library books, medical supplies, sports equipment, and more to African communities.
“Becoming a Credit Union Development Educator changed my life,” Chartier says. “That’s when my international work began. It really opened up my eyes to the needs around the world, which were much bigger than what I saw in my own credit union.”
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