Redwood Credit Union has survived and succeeded the past few years by essentially doing the opposite of what everyone else was doing. Our decision to "do the opposite" was not arbitrary. We made deliberate decisions based on our mission of serving the best interests of our members, employees and communities, while at the same time maintaining a strong cooperative. For us, doing "the opposite," was simply "doing the right thing."

Here are a few examples:

• We never stopped lending. When many banks and institutions pulled back, we continued to provide our members and our member businesses with the funding they needed.

• We are here for our members, and we return phone calls. Our senior leaders return calls, and I return calls. Our members are often surprised to hear from us - in part because representatives at large banks are generally difficult to get a hold of, or simply did not return calls when people needed them most.

• Not only did we return members' calls, we created a department to proactively reach out to members who may be struggling with financial issues. We listened to understand their situations, and we found ways to help them avoid potential financial distress.

• Big banks did record numbers of foreclosures. We worked one-on-one with our members to do everything possible to help them keep their homes.

• Large banks closed branches and laid off employees. We kept our branches open and we hired more staff. We kept compensation and benefits in place. We continued to take care of our employees to ensure they remain engaged and passionate about our mission with every member interaction.

By staying true to our mission, we were able to help our members improve their financial outlook, and strengthen the cooperative. When our members are in better financial health, the whole cooperative benefits.

Retraining Staff

It is difficult to pinpoint one specific lesson the credit union has learned from these difficult times. During the early stages of the economic downturn, it became apparent that many people were struggling with their finances and needed guidance in fundamental money management, such as setting goals and creating a budget. We recognized this and re-trained our staff to identify ways to help members. We came up with creative options and solutions, such as helping to improve members' cash flow, keep their homes and cars, stay out of bankruptcy, and find sustainable ways to improve their financial situations.

We listen to our members' financial needs or concerns, then partner with them to help them find holistic solutions that will help them long-term, while educating them in the process. By showing people how to reduce expenses, or refinance or consolidate their debt to make it more manageable, assisting them with better returns through investment services, or helping them protect their assets with better and more affordable insurance coverage-these things can make a real difference in people's lives. And it is what we do every day.

Credit unions are founded on the philosophy of "people helping people;" it is what we are here to do, so providing financial education is a natural fit. We believe everyone, given the right tools and knowledge, has the ability to be successful in managing their money. Feeling confident and comfortable about money helps eliminate stress, and gives people peace of mind. We want that for our members, and we work with them to find the tools and resources they need to achieve financial well-being.

Brett Martinez
President and CEO
Redwood CU, Santa Rosa, Calif.

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