Small but mighty

Sandi Riggs brings ALPS Federal Credit Union back from the brink.

August 21, 2019

When Sandi Riggs took the reins as CEO at ALPS Federal Credit Union, the organization wasn’t in the best of health.

The $52 million asset credit union in Sitka, Alaska, had a CAMEL rating of 4 and was under siege from regulators looking into its past practices and trouble that occurred under previous leadership.

Riggs took the leadership role on an interim basis in 2017 and was named permanent CEO in 2018.

“Cleaning up has been hard work,” Riggs says. “I think of my role as that of a problem-solver, although we’re no longer in a solely reactionary mode. A leader—especially a leader of a small organization like ours—has to create open communication lines with membership and staff. This builds trust and helps us serve members better and become more efficient in how we operate.”

With just 16 employees, ALPS Federal is small but mighty.

“It’s tough being a small-credit union CEO because you’re going to board meetings, cleaning bathrooms, and installing server switches all in the same day,” she says. “It’s busy, but it’s rewarding.”

The work she’s put in since taking over as CEO has earned her the respect of her team, the industry—and regulators. Today, ALPS Federal has a CAMEL rating of 2 and no longer experiences visits by regulators every few months.

Instead of continuously discovering problems and putting out fires, the team focuses on improving its prominence in the community and letting new processes and systems do what they’re intended to do: protect the interests of the credit union and members.

“Now we’re increasing efficiencies, improving processes, and making it a better place to work,” Riggs says. “It’s still busy, but it’s a lot more fun—even refreshing. We’re all feeling a good deal of relief.”

Riggs credits much of the turnaround to the dedication of her team and support of the ALPS Federal board of directors. She says the people around her made it possible for her to lead the credit union back from the brink of disaster.

“Being a good leader involves giving employees the space and the tools they need to do their jobs and grow in their roles,” Riggs says. “Empowering team members to resolve a problem that affects the membership or bring a new idea to reality allows them to grow. It makes them feel great about the work they’re doing.”

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