Unitus Community Credit Union Supports Financial Education and Wealth-Building in Local Neighborhoods

Unitus Community Credit Union Meets Local Member Needs
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Adam West
By: Adam West
Posted: October 5, 2021
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In a Nutshell: Unitus Community Credit Union aspires to live up to the word “community” in its name. The Oregon institution — which first opened in 1937 — creates products and services that demystify financial freedom for underserved communities. What’s more, the credit union aims to diversify its offerings for shifting Portland metro demographics. For instance, it recently rolled out services tailored to the Hispanic and Latino communities. Unitus employees can also expand their philanthropic commitments by volunteering at sponsored activities and events.

Unitus Community Credit Union has held philanthropy as one of its deepest commitments since it was first established by seven Pacific Telephone and Telegraph employees in 1937. While much has changed since, Unitus’ commitment to its communities has not. This is demonstrated through their recent win of Portland Business Journal’s 2021 Corporate Philanthropy Award for the 11th year in a row. Given to local companies that serve the community, PBJ’s Corporate Philanthropy Award is another testimony to Unitus’ proof in the numbers.

In 2020, Unitus donated over $300,000 to 65 local, charitable organizations across Oregon and Southwest Washington in the areas of arts and culture, health and well-being, youth development, and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion). Additionally, Unitus awarded over $17,000 in scholarships through the Unitus Scholarship Program and supported education efforts and scholarships through the Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber Latino Scholarship Program, the Oregon Consular, and Western Oregon University.

Unitus also encourages employee volunteerism by offering unlimited company time off for employees to volunteer for sponsored activities and events, in addition to four hours of volunteer time off in support of their own philanthropic passions. Some of the projects employees completed last year included making masks to safeguard against COVID transmission, sending healthy meals to frontline responders, and delivering holiday food boxes to those in need.

As organizations learned how to work within pandemic barriers, employees were also able to come together this summer to assemble over 1,600 backpacks with a year’s worth of school supplies for children who attend low-income schools in the Portland Metro area.

“Removing barriers in our communities and inspiring hope is the purpose of our work every day. I’ve seen firsthand how the credit union movement has enabled individuals and families to achieve their goals and improve their quality of life. That’s what we strive for at Unitus,” said Steve Stapp, Unitus President/CEO.

Unitus operates 12 branches throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington, including a virtual branch to extend services to members who may not live near a physical branch location. At present, Unitus manages over $1.5 billion in assets for over 100,000 members.

Financial Education as a Wealth-Building Tool

Another central way Unitus supports its members and communities is by working to improve their financial well-being through financial education. In addition to having dedicated employees on staff who are Financial Beginnings certified, Unitus also recently hired a Financial Education Specialist who is bilingual in English and Spanish to help serve a broader demographic. This expansion means more opportunity to help bring programs to life through partnerships with local schools and community partners.

Unitus Community Credit Union Logo

“Last year, our financial education team had to quickly pivot to teaching virtually. They taught an impressive 86 workshops reaching over 1,400 students,” said Aimee Berg, Unitus’ Community Development Manager.

For members who would prefer to expand their financial literacy knowledge from home, Unitus also recently launched a video series covering a range of money topics in partnership with GreenPath Financial Wellness, an organization that offers one-on-one financial counseling, articles, and tips for individuals who want to expand their financial knowledge and confidence.

As members improve their financial wellness, Unitus also helps them improve their financial position through products designed to meet their needs. Two such products include Unitus’ secured credit cards and Right Choice checking. The latter helps individuals who do not qualify for traditional checking accounts to build a positive credit history.

Focusing Support on Underserved Communities

As membership demographics shift and communities grow, so has Unitus’ focus and giving. One of the first steps the credit union took in this direction was earning a Juntos Avanzamos (“Together We Advance”) designation — given to credit unions committed to serving and empowering Hispanic consumers — in two years instead of four.

“This designation is not only a testament to our commitment to improve the financial well-being of every person that makes up our diverse community,” Berg said, “it will also open the doors of opportunity- we want the Hispanic community to know they can have faith when entrusting their finances and life goals with us.”

Another step Unitus has taken to assist underserved communities includes the addition of ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) lending and mortgages. As the Filene Research Institute notes, “Many ITIN holders do not turn to traditional financial institutions for loans because they fear they don’t qualify for these services, and the institutions do not seek out these individuals because they perceive them to be too challenging or risky to serve. As a result, many immigrant populations often rely on overpriced loans from predatory lenders.”

Photo of Aimee Berg
Aimee Berg, Community Development Manager at Unitus Community Credit Union.

This is one of the reasons Unitus introduced an Immigration Loan product in 2020 in addition to ITIN lending. Unitus’ Immigration Loan provides a loan up to $1,200 to help community members achieve work authorization and citizen status. They also have bilingual bankers in their Portland Metro, Salem, and Vancouver locations, as well as Spanish-language digital banking options.

In addition to the above, Unitus is also furthering its commitment to underserved communities by focusing on DEI initiatives, like the Financial Empowerment Collaborative. This is an alliance with the Urban Legue of Portland, four other credit unions, and the Northwest Credit Union Foundation to provide meaningful services, education, and tools that advance the financial well-being of Black Oregonians through creation of a financial empowerment position at the Urban League of Portland.

Unitus’ credit union partners in the Financial Empowerment Collaborative include Advantis Credit Union, Consolidated Community Credit Union, Point West Credit Union, and Rivermark Community Credit Union.

“This position will help Black Oregonians connect with financial education, products, and services that meet them where they’re at in their financial wellness journey,” Berg said.

To support diverse members at the institution itself, Unitus has also implemented a member experience program to simplify banking for members.

“We have a robust Voice of the Member program at Unitus, and as the pandemic hit we developed a weekly routine of reviewing friction points for our members, ”said Scott Bell, Unitus’ Chief Experience Officer. “As a result, we made adjustments to mobile deposits, daily card limits, ATMs, and more to align the same policies and process members would typically get in the branch and maintain their member experience.”

Unitus CCU: Seeking New Opportunities to Serve

As Unitus has grown the last year to offer more value to its members, the credit union has also applied to become a community development financial institution, also known as CDFI designation. CDFI designation will allow Unitus to receive government support and provide access to programs, products, and services to those in their communities that do not have access to traditional banking products and services.

Photo of Scott Bell
Scott Bell, Chief Experience Officer at Unitus Community Credit Union.

Becoming a CDFI designated credit union will also strengthen and expand Unitus’ community programs, such as their partnership with Urban League, enabling them to better connect with community partners and in turn, connect their community partners with more resources.

Unitus also plans to continue seeking new and additional opportunities to serve and connect with their membership and communities through products and support, such as a future app that will assist members in their long-term financial journeys.

With its roster of tailored products and services, financial literacy education, and commitment to DEI and community, it’s clear Unitus lives its mission of inspiring hope through life’s defining moments. Learn more about Unitus’ community giving today.