In a Nutshell: Verity Credit Union emphasizes social and environmental prosperity as a member of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values. It furthers that mission through loans that help underserved demographics start small businesses. Its products also allow members to purchase homes, build equity, and establish a foundation of wealth for future generations. Verity Credit Union backs up its products with financial education and counseling to help members manage their money, improve credit, and achieve long-term prosperity.
In mid-2020, the U.S. economy nearly ground to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Restaurants and hotels closed their doors, planes were grounded, and commerce slowed to a crawl.
As businesses struggled with the lack of revenue, many employees were furloughed or laid off. Even with government assistance, including stimulus checks and unemployment benefits, many people found themselves in a state of financial uncertainty and anxiety.
Nonprofit organizations and charities quickly stepped in to fill the gaps. Some financial institutions even offered favorable loans, deferred payments, and enhanced digital access to help their customers and members through difficult economic times. But some, like Verity Credit Union in Washington state, went above and beyond to ensure member success.
“We started going to community forums around our various neighborhoods, which gave us a lot of great feedback,” said Justin Martin, Chief Operating Officer at Verity Credit Union. “We started to hear from our communities, and we stepped in to help.”
Verity Credit Union maintains eight branches in the greater Seattle area and manages approximately $730 million in assets. Verity Credit Union dates back to 1933 and is the second-oldest credit union in Washington. The institution understands its members, communities, and their needs, putting it in a prime position to have a positive impact in prosperous and challenging times.
Verity Credit Union is a member of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, and is committed to using financial tools to encourage sustainable economic, environmental, and social development.
The credit union accomplishes that through products and services designed to help people improve their financial knowledge and money management skills, and work with partners to increase access to affordable housing in Seattle. Through those efforts, Verity Credit Union allows members and their communities to achieve well-being in finance and other vital aspects of life.
An Institution that Prioritizes People and the Planet
The Global Alliance for Banking on Values is a network of financial institutions committed to using economic tools to positively impact society and the environment. It was founded in 2008 in response to the global recession, and Verity Credit Union is the only credit union in the Pacific Northwest in the network.
“That’s driven a lot of the social work we do to reimagine how finance can play a role in uplifting communities,” Martin said. “It starts to provide a framework for how we go about developing products, looking at our procedures, and how we engage the greater community we serve.”
Global Alliance member institutions focus on three broad issues. The first is helping people succeed financially so they can thrive in other areas of life. The second is helping to protect the planet and natural resources. By accomplishing those goals, institutions contribute to the third goal, which is ensuring prosperity in both natural ecosystems and human environments.
Verity Credit Union emphasizes providing capital to underserved and in-need demographics, including businesses owned and operated by women and Black, indigenous or people of color. It has also developed a line of environmentally sustainable solar energy loans aligned with Global Alliance priorities. The institution also fosters prosperity through its work creating affordable housing options in the Seattle area.
“We set goals about how our growth comes — not that we just grow our assets, but we grow what we call our triple bottom line assets, which are loans that fall into those three categories,” Martin said. “In 2018, about 10% of our loans fell into those categories. At the end of 2020, a little over 22% of all our loans fell into all those categories. And we’re hopeful that by 2025, over 40% of our loans will be in one of those three areas.”
Credit-Builder Loans and Educational Efforts for Understanding and Improving Finances
Verity Credit Union balances its large-scale goals with individualized support for members. One way it does that is through its credit-builder loan. The product helps people establish strong credit, whether they’re starting fresh or trying to raise their scores after previous financial missteps.
“It’s somewhat unique because we don’t require money upfront to secure it. A lot of credit builder loans do that, and as they pay it down, they build their credit,” Martin said. “So we see that as a way the product can help people build or rebuild their credit.”
Verity Credit Union provides financial coaching alongside the credit builder loan. The service helps members understand other ways to improve their credit scores, manage their money, build savings, and engage in other productive behaviors that help them achieve stability and financial independence.
Verity Credit Union financial coaching is a one-on-one process, and it can last as long as a member needs assistance and advice. It covers topics as straightforward as paying down modest debt and as complex as the difficult process of circumventing bankruptcy.
The credit union also partners with local organizations to extend knowledge beyond the credit union’s member base to the community. That helps bolster Seattle’s local economy and provide greater opportunities to everyone in the city.
“One example that we just did is a nonprofit that runs a low-income housing unit in the Seattle area,” Martin said. “We partnered with them to do surveys for people in low-income housing units. They give feedback on what they would like and what would be valuable. We work with the nonprofit to develop and to deliver that to the residents.”
Community Partnerships Facilitate Affordable Housing
Verity Credit Union intentionally seeks out partnerships with nonprofits that address affordable housing issues. Those organizations have experience and knowledge, and Verity Credit Union helps them leverage that by providing funding and support.
One example is a recent loan made to a community land trust. The loan will help the trust purchase land, build homes, and sell them at affordable rates. Buyers own their property, build equity, and when they’re ready to move, they sell it back to the land trust. This cycle provides all the benefits of homeownership while making that opportunity available to other families in the future.
Another project Verity Credit Union supports is a limited-equity co-op, the first of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. People can buy into the co-op at an affordable price and gain equity each year.
“What they were running into when we reached out to them is they couldn’t find anyone to finance co-op loans because they tend to be smaller amounts,” Martin said. “It creates an option for people to not just get into housing, but to get into housing where they can create equity.”
Verity Credit Union stepped in to finance the loans when other institutions declined due to a lack of profitability in the venture. That is a prime example of the credit union pursuing its mission as a member of the Global Alliance and prioritizing people and prosperity over profit while ensuring a fair opportunity for stable housing. In the process, it helps families build wealth, which will enable future generations to avoid financial insecurity.
Verity: Improving Society by Expanding Financial Access
When Verity Credit Union branches stopped in-person service due to COVID-19 in 2020, the credit union saw a natural surge in digital banking and transactions. Even when branches began to re-open for appointment-only visits, it continued leveraging the digital space to schedule those appointments.
“Now that we’re open, we’re still getting the majority of people to schedule appointments when they come in, which has helped us prepare for what they need, but also with managing workflow in the branch and ensuring that we have the appropriate staffing,” Martin said. “As we’ve come out of the pandemic, what we’re optimistic about is that we’re not seeing people just flooding back to the branches, yet still seeing about the same amount of digital transactions.”
Verity Credit Union has also seen an increase in new digital accounts being opened. Many credit unions and banks have focused on expanding and enhancing their digital offerings since the pandemic, and Verity Credit Union is certainly among them.
The temporary closures of physical banking locations increased interest and enthusiasm for digital banking. Moving forward, that comfort with online service will help Verity Credit Union better serve its members. As members open more accounts and the credit union has more assets to work with, it will better position itself to contribute to the greater good of Seattle communities.
“I think it brings more equity access to the financial space. Most financial institution models are based on the 9-to-5 workday. If you’re a single parent working two jobs, getting to a branch during that time is difficult,” Martin said. “I think having that ability to provide services when they want, and where they want is an investment industrywide. That’s going to be positive for society, in general.”