"One of our challenges and it's not unique to just us is getting consumers beyond thinking of us as just a state worker credit union but reinforce to those in the private industry that we can offer the same value to them," said The Golden 1 CU President/CEO Theresa Halleck.
"Having a larger presence in community and getting a chance to talk to consumers helps them understand and make that connection with us better than any ad."
The Sacramento-based credit union is not only a staple at local events, with each employee required to get out into the community, but also focuses on developing products and providing services that help meet locals' needs. For example the credit union hosted 344 workshops, 183 of them in Spanish, that went beyond traditional topics of how to buy a home to more timely issues such as how to interview for a job and how to effectively plan for retirement in a downward economy. The events are held not just in the branches but in local libraries and at local businesses. Consumers can also access the information via podcasts and find financial education tips online at the credit union's Web site.
"It is about offering something that meets the need of the market and not just talking about being a part of the community but actually getting out there," said Halleck. "We've got about 1,400 employees and that face-to-face time in the community provides more opportunity for us to really talk to potential members."
She added that being out among the locals also goes a long way in gauging the community pulse and helps in developing products that better meets locals' needs. From offering a 0% APR state budget loan to help state employees whose paycheck may be delayed or reduced cover their expenses until a budget agreement is reached, to launching the mortgage repair loan to help people who have lost their home to foreclosure buy a new one and begin the process of rebuilding their credit, Halleck said the credit union has a long history of giving back to its communities during times of need and providing economic solutions that can benefit all consumers.
In terms of simply giving back, the credit union also recently donated about an acre property to Sacramento Habitat for Humanity with the stipulation that it be used to build three to four homes for those who can't afford housing.
"We could have sold it, but this was a better way to serve the community," said Halleck.
The credit union's active involvement has also helped in building solid relationships with the local media. In the past year, The Golden 1 has worked to develop and strengthen relationships with key reporters in its markets, not just business and finance writers but real estate and workplace writers and business editors at major dailies, as well as with business and lifestyle magazines and television and radio business reporters. Halleck said the efforts have paid off, and The Golden 1 not only earned much positive coverage but has become a first-call source for reporters.
"We have a public relations person who has deep roots in Sacramento with the media community, and we make sure we are always accessible to all media, because it gives us another opportunity to talk about what we're doing with the community," said Halleck. "Our position has been to be very honest when contacted by the press and not try to candy coat things. In these economic times it is important to be credible and say what we see, not what we wish we might see."
So far the public push is working as Halleck has recently been named one of the region's "Power and Influence 100" by Sacramento magazine. Readers voted for the top 10 most powerful and influential leaders in the region, and Halleck ranked No. 1-ahead of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was third.
Halleck said she was honored, but ultimately it was nice for The Golden 1 to get that positive recognition.