In a Nutshell: Credit unions have long held a reputation for their personalized services and close ties to the community. And that’s certainly the case for SAFE Credit Union, which has been serving the Greater Sacramento area for 80 years. The credit union prioritizes the needs of its members and remains active in the communities it serves through volunteerism, philanthropy, and financial literacy initiatives. SAFE Credit Union has also stepped up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic by offering certain financial relief options to individuals and businesses, as well as redirecting community efforts to focus on causes most impacted by the coronavirus.
The existence of credit unions in the U.S. stretches back more than 100 years, and since their earliest days, the institutions have been known for their close ties to the community. That’s because many credit unions were founded by regular people — or the companies they worked for — as a bank alternative to manage and safely keep their money.
Across the country, credit unions have shown a commitment to putting the interests of their members first and supporting their local communities in a wide variety of ways, from providing educational resources to donating money.
And, due to COVID-19, there has never been a better time in recent memory to help support the community. Businesses and individuals all over America have been hit hard by the pandemic, with profits down and unemployment up.
And, SAFE Credit Union in Sacramento, has been doing its part for decades not only to provide high quality financial services and customer service to its members but to show strong support for the communities in which it operates.
We recently spoke with SAFE Credit Union’s Community and Advocacy Engagement Manager Amanda Merz and its EVP and Chief Credit Officer Faye Nabhani to learn more about the institution, its community involvement, and its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Serving Greater Sacramento for 80 Years
SAFE Credit Union has made members an integral part of its vision since 1940, according to the institution. The credit union launched with just 10 founding members to serve employees of the Sacramento Air Depot but its footprint has grown considerably.
Over the years the credit union has kept the focus on what really matters, putting members first, a formula that has seen SAFE grow into a leading financial institution in Northern California with more than $3.5 billion in assets and about 240,000 members.
SAFE Credit Union is also constantly evolving, according to the institution. It has embraced modern technology and implemented ground-breaking banking solutions to accommodate the changing needs of its members.
The credit union creates each product and service with its members’ needs as the top priority.
“That means helping you every step of the way with wealth management, competitive home, auto, and business loans, and deposit products that reward your loyalty,” according to the credit union website. “In a world that puts you last, we’d thought you’d appreciate being first. It’s what we do.”
In addition to its banking services available online, chat, mobile, or phone options, SAFE Credit Union offers in-person care for members and small businesses at service centers across the Greater Sacramento region and a mortgage lending office serving Contra Costa and Alameda counties.
“SAFE is a not-for-profit, state-chartered credit union with membership open to businesses and individuals living or working in Sacramento, Placer, Yolo, El Dorado, Sutter, Butte, Nevada, Solano, San Joaquin, Contra Costa, Yuba, Amador, and Alameda counties. Insured by NCUA,” according to the institution.
Showing Community Support via Volunteerism, Philanthropy, and Financial Literacy
“As part of your community, as neighbors and friends, we donate and volunteer locally to organizations in our backyard that promote healthcare, education, and veterans affairs,” according to the website. “We know you’re Sacramento proud. We are too.”
Merz said that, as a non-profit financial cooperative, a key part of SAFE Credit Union’s mission is to support the financial well-being of its members and its community. She said the credit union enthusiastically embraces a company culture practicing volunteerism, philanthropy, and financial literacy.
Merz leads the credit union’s advocacy, volunteer, and philanthropic efforts. Each SAFE employee receives 16 paid hours per year to volunteer for the causes they care about, she said.
“I worked with our tech team to put together SAFE CAN, an online portal where staff members can sign up for and record their volunteer activities and hours,” Merz explained. “This year, we launched our first Building CommYOUnity Week where all 700 SAFE employees were encouraged to volunteer to support various organizations around the region in virtual and in-person options.”
Additionally, SAFE Credit Union is donating $400,000 to nonprofits this year in the Greater Sacramento region that focus on the institution’s philanthropic pillars of health care, education, and current and former military personnel.
“Of those funds, $60,000 was earmarked for emergency pandemic-related grants to help organizations like food banks and those serving the homeless and former foster youths address sudden increased needs,” Merz said.
She also discussed how the credit union stepped up to help the community through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In response to the economic challenges brought on by the pandemic, SAFE expanded its financial literacy efforts to offer free webinars to the general public on topics relevant to urgent issues such as managing finances and debt in challenging times,” Merz said.
The credit union uses the Zoom webinar tool to track registration and participation, which provides data to help determine which webinars to continue offering and what times of day have the highest attendance, she said.
Providing Products and Services to Help Members Navigate the COVID-19 Pandemic
Nabhani discussed the credit union’s products and services, as they relate to the pandemic. She said the institution offered pandemic emergency loans with zero interest to low interest rates and friendly repayment terms.
It also offered its Skip-A-Pay program for up to two months on auto loans, certain personal loans, and credit cards as well as a Partial Payment Option allowing for half payments for three months on auto and personal loans.
“We also waived certain fees and offered mortgage forbearance and made special accommodations for members with insufficient funds to ensure they had full use of their stimulus checks,” Nabhani said.
Additionally, the credit union provided loan forbearance for business loans.
She said a cross-departmental team came together to work long hours, seven days a week in early April to secure more than 470 PPP loans for its small-business members.
“Our technical development team also quickly went to work to establish online access for members to apply for and take advantage of our pandemic emergency financial assistance,” Nabhani said. “They also expanded our new online scheduling tool that allows members to make appointments in branches or by phone call to complete many of their banking needs.”
The credit union also immediately established social distancing practices, increased its cleaning practices, and equipped its staff with branded “Stay SAFE” masks, she explained.
Merz weighed in on other details of the credit union’s community engagement.
“SAFE quickly pivoted to meet the challenges brought by the pandemic, including finding new opportunities to engage with the community,” she said. “We redirected resources we had planned to use to celebrate our 80th anniversary to pandemic-related needs.”
In addition to the $60,000 in grants to four nonprofits mentioned above, SAFE also donated more than 3,000 masks to area nonprofits who needed PPE equipment to serve their clients.
The credit union was also a founding sponsor of a 100% Shop Local campaign that encouraged Sacramento residents to shop and eat at local stores and restaurants and provided $10,000 in Visa® gift cards to the Los Rios Community College Foundation, Sierra College, and California State University, Sacramento, to give to college students in need, Merz said.
“We continue to explore and implement new ways to help our members navigate through this time,” Nabhani added. “So many people are now finding themselves facing financial challenges they never experienced before. We are reaching out to them in various ways to let them know we are here to help them with loan payment options and other solutions individualized for them.”
She said the credit union is also using its blogs and social media accounts to let people know it is there for them through its products, services, and financial education offerings.