Posted: November 02, 2009
Top Company: financial services
Denver Community Credit UnionBy Mike Taylor
CEO Carla Hedrick
Founded in 1934 amid the Great Depression with just $50, Denver Community Credit Union has grown to serve more than 28,000 members and boasts assets of more than $225 million.
But the credit union's original ideals haven't changed much in 75 years: to make a difference in people's lives as a community-oriented financial cooperative. Credit union members gain a share in the not-for-profit organization by opening an account with as little as $25.
Profits are returned to members, not to outside investors, in the form of better rates, lower fees and other benefits. This year's Top Company winner in the Financial Services category, Denver Community Credit Union also has expanded the scope of its membership over the years.
It started out serving employees of the city and county of Denver but now is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers or attends school in Denver.
A large part of the credit union's role in the community is educational, with an entire department dedicated to outreach and free classes and counseling on subjects such as how to use credit wisely, how credit cards work and instruction on investing for college.
Since 2005 the credit union has provided more than 4,600 adults and youths with free financial education. It also partners with more than 40 local organizations to provide education to groups ranging from youth centers to small-business owners.
"We really like to listen to what the community needs and then create products that fit them instead of making somebody fit into a product," says Krista Ferndelli, the credit union's chief marketing officer. Among the many community-oriented products is a payday lending program - an alternative to the notorious retail payday lenders that charge as much as 400 percent interest.
Denver Community Credit Union's rate is 18 percent. Ferndelli describes this program as "an attempt to break the cycle of the payday lender. But in conjunction with that, they have to do some budgeting and some credit counseling."
The program is tiered, so that payday borrowers graduate to higher loan levels as they demonstrate an ability to pay back loans. The final tier is an unsecured credit card.
"That's a big deal, because a lot of people have been so sucked into (borrowing) that they've damaged their credit enough to not qualify for traditional loans. Whether it's with us or not, we'd like to help people get their feet under them."
For some, the credit union is the only place they can get a car loan. In those high credit-risk cases, a device is installed in the car that will prevent it from starting if the borrower is more than 30 days late on a payment.
Along with increasing membership, the credit union has expanded around the city with four branches: the main branch in downtown Denver, a northeast branch near Interstate 70 and Chambers Road, a branch in the Park Hill neighborhood and another on 11th Avenue and Federal Boulevard that serves a primarily Hispanic market.
It's worth noting in these economic conditions - not unlike those under which the organization was founded in 1934 - that Denver Community Credit Union didn't fall prey to any ill-advised lending practices that befell many other financial institutions.
Nor did it receive any stimulus money. "Credit unions in general, but specifically ours, are still well-positioned to make good quality loans to members," Ferndelli says. "There's a misconception that people aren't lending. We definitely are."
Mike Taylor is the managing editor of ColoradoBiz. He writes about small-business money issues and how startups are launched. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.