Ditch doubt, dig in, and see what you can do

Amy Nelson wants workers to gain confidence, support.

March 8, 2021

If Amy Nelson, president/CEO of $103 million asset Point West Credit Union, Portland, Ore., could offer her younger self some advice, it would be this: “Don’t waste time worrying if you are good enough, just dig in and do the work.”

It’s also the counsel she’d offer others, too.

Nelson believes if you give your best effort to a job and reach out for advice, you’ll likely surprise yourself. She adds that credit unions are particularly good ground to gain confidence because  they often allow employees to take on new roles.

She speaks from experience.

With a degree in journalism and communications from Pacific University, Nelson didn’t initially envision a credit union career. A job listing for an executive assistant at Portland’s PACE Credit Union put her on that path.

The posting didn’t just describe the job, it also conveyed the credit union’s “core theme of service to the community,” which Nelson found compelling.

Once on the job, Nelson also took on benefit administration and recruiting tasks.

She took a position with Point West in 2007 as a training manager. Nelson thought it would be a “slow ramp-up into another human resources career within a credit union.”

But in short order, Point West would be facing steep challenges brought on by the Great Recession.

‘Don’t waste time worrying if you are good enough, just dig in and do the work.’
Amy Nelson

“Point West was in a vulnerable position due to a myriad of strategic growth strategies compounded by additional unique expenses that left no rainy day fund when economic strife happened,” Nelson says.

During that vulnerable period, Point West also experienced staff attrition and retirements, and Nelson was asked to take on more. By the end of 2008, her title was chief administration officer, followed quickly by chief operations officer, and  in 2010, co-CEO with Nick Hodson.

She and Hodson reached out to other credit union leaders for advice on steering Point West back to financial health.

She’s particularly grateful to Pat Smith,  retired president/CEO of Unitus Community Credit Union, who acted as a CEO advisor to the co-CEO team. Nelson became sole CEO in 2014 after Hodson’s departure.

Regulators cleared Point West’s net worth restoration plan in 2014. This paved the way for the credit union to “serve unbanked and marginalized community members with heightened awareness from what we learned during those recessionary years.”

Just as she benefitted from her peers’ advice for climbing out of the economic crisis, Nelson listens to Point West employees, the majority of whom are bilingual and represent a tapestry of diversity.. She recognizes the team as experts on what it means to deliver safe, affordable, and accessible products and services to members in an inclusive and trust-building way.

Now, amid the ongoing pandemic, Nelson encourages corporate leaders to continue listening to how their workforce has juggled childcare, home schooling, and remote work. Women’s careers, in particular, have suffered due to the pandemic, with their labor force participation dropping to 57%, the lowest level since 1985.

It’s a daunting problem, but if leaders listen and give it their best effort, progress is likely ahead.