Greg Gallant doesn’t view the credit union industry as only debits, credits, and interest margins.
“It's a people business,” says Gallant, president/CEO at $931 million asset WeStreet Credit Union in Tulsa, Okla. “The minute you lose sight of that, it's time for you to reevaluate your career choice.”
Gallant has maintained that mindset throughout his 40-year career. When he arrived at WeStreet 12 years ago, the credit union wasn’t active in advocacy. Now a low income-designated credit union, WeStreet’s culture change includes a philanthropic, volunteer atmosphere among its employees.
The credit union’s 14 branches are spread throughout the Tulsa area, urban and rural. That makes advocacy important in communities that may not always have a voice.
“We are community-based, so our membership is a fair representation of the demographics,” Gallant says. “Most of Oklahoma’s population that’s not in Tulsa and Oklahoma City is spread out across the state. In some of those rural environments, there are less than 5,000 people. Not only can they be food deserts, they also are dwindling with banking options. We’re hoping we can provide services through expanding our field of membership in those areas.
“Normally in a rural community, there's a lot of loyalty,” he continues. “So when a financial institution goes out of business, there’s a level of distrust for who's coming in. Winning that trust can be challenging. They're looking for you to be genuine and honest.”
WeStreet fosters that genuine honesty inside and outside of the workplace. The credit union’s internal diversity inclusion groups focus on all sorts of issues, including ethnicity and gender diversity.
Demographically, Oklahoma is unique due to its large Native American population. Tulsa is located on tribal land and Gallant notes that although Oklahoma is 43% tribal land, only 8% of the population is Native American.
The credit union takes this into account when advocating for the community. Over the past three years, WeStreet has provided more than $6 million in loans toward rehabilitating a depressed neighborhood in downtown Tulsa.
A local foundation acquires property that’s fallen into disrepair, the credit union provides low-rate financing, and the properties are rehabbed. The initiative improves the area’s housing quality and quantity, redevelops public amenities, and provides new local opportunities.
“We wanted to make sure our involvement wasn't going to gentrify the neighborhood and that we weren't displacing people who were living there,” Gallant says.
WeStreet also donates to five nonprofits each year through its sponsorship of the Tulsa Run each October. The credit union also aids members, employees, and the community following damaging weather events like tornadoes and floods. Employees are also encouraged to get involved in issues that matter to them.
“You can't be part of the community unless you're investing in the community,” Gallant says. “It's not always about the dollars. A lot of organizations and nonprofits are looking for your time and talent. We encourage our employees to look within themselves to see what particular talent or time they can offer to something they have passion for.”