“Seldom do I enjoy banking but I like going to TVFCU!” Jimmy Johnston, manager of marketing for TVFCU reads from a stack of customer surveys. Johnston continues with a grin. “With enthusiasm like this from members, growth is inevitable.” he adds.
From its first branch that opened in Hixson 75 years ago, to the newest one opening in Athens this month, the Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union has changed the face of banking in Chattanooga and the region by offering new ways of doing things to an ever widening group of members.
Being a cooperative financial institution owned and controlled by its members and operated for the purpose of promoting thrift, providing credit at competitive rates, and providing other financial services to its members, credit unions have enjoyed increased activity almost as a result of the recent banking crisis, say credit union officials.
In the early days TVA employees and their families were the only ones eligible for membership under the old charter. The credit union didn’t even offer checking accounts at the time. But in the early 80s the National Credit Union Administration opened the membership to select employee groups and many more services became available to members including car and business loans. Chattem was one of the first non-TVA groups selected and others soon were invited to join.
The history of the modern credit union goes back to the 1800s. In 1864, Fredrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen founded the first rural credit union in Heddesdorf, Germany according to Internet sources. Rural communities in Germany faced a more severe shortage of financial institutions than the cities. They were viewed as unbankable because of small, seasonal flows of cash and limited human resources. The organization methods Raiffeisen refined there, which leveraged social capital, have become a hallmark of the global credit union identity.
“It’s not always about dollars, but how we can partner with each other to help,” says TVFCU President and CEO, Blake Strickland. And by partnering Strickland means not only providing financial services, but often by being a really good neighbor. The TVFCU is widely known for its community service projects around Chattanooga. From the Habitat Mud Run to the Palate 2 Palette arts events benefitting the Tennessee Craniofacial Foundation, credit union sponsorship and the organization’s creative approach to helping nonprofits have made a broad impact across the community. The list of tournaments and festivals supported in part by the TVFCU is a long one.
The TVFCU is governed by board members who are elected by the membership to serve a three-year term. And the membership keeps growing. Now, anyone in the 13-county community may join as an individual. The community includes Hamilton, Bradley, Polk, McMinn, Rhea, Bledsoe, Sequatchie, Meigs, Walker, Catoosa, Dade, Grundy and Marion counties.
The youthful Strickland, who started his 33-year tenure in a marketing role, has an eye for branding TVFCU beyond mere products and services. In cooperation with the board he introduced the kiosk or pod approach to replace traditional teller windows, commissioned a distinctive architectural design for branches and initiated color coordinated merchandising materials that have set the TVFCU apart.
“Sales from the high-profile TVFCU piggy bank, and actually all the merchandise sales in the branches, is donated to area charities,” says Sarah Sherfey, community relations specialist for TVFCU. The branches are warm and hospitable making coffee, water and even the occasional tray of cookies available to members.
Aside from hospitality, members say the interest rates on loans are simply good. Strickland agrees the TVFCU interest rates are good. “Out employees have ownership. That’s what makes the crdit union different,” says Strickland. “And, our members tell our story.
Visit www.tvfcu.com for more information.
Story by Miles Baker
Photography by Alex McMahan, Courtesy of TVFCU
This story was originally published in the Dec 2011/Jan 2012 Issue of Chattanooga Magazine.