Q&A with Canopy Credit Union CEO Charlotte Nemec
~September 12th, 2019
Canopy Credit Union — formerly Spokane Federal Credit Union — has seen some changes in the past year. Last summer, Charlotte Nemec became the Spokane-based credit union’s president and CEO.
Around that time, the credit union announced it was expanding into Spokane Valley, with a new branch at 13105 E. Sprague. That branch is expected to open this month.
Earlier this year, the credit union announced it was changing its name from Spokane Federal Credit Union to Canopy Credit Union; the name and branding changes were implemented in July.
The Journal spoke with Nemec about the changes of the past year and her vision for Canopy Credit Union’s future.
Journal: What’s the logic behind the name change?
Charlotte Nemec: We spent quite a bit of time talking with members, non-members, staff, the board of directors, and we really zeroed in on a couple of things that stood out for us. The word family kept coming up. The fact that we are there for our members, that we offer guidance and protection when they most need us also was a pretty consistent theme. When the name Canopy popped up, it was really one of those things where all of us kind of looked at each other and said, okay, there’s a story behind that. We envision ourselves as being the canopy that extends over the lives of our members and their families, providing shelter, safety, and a nurturing place for them to grow financially.
Journal: With these changes — the new branch and the name change — what do you see the credit union’s role in the Spokane area being now?
Nemec: Our focus is really going to be to serve those of our Spokane community of modest means, those who have struggled on their financial path in the past and are looking for a place where they can experience a no-judgement zone and really feel like they have a partner and someone to help protect, shelter, and nurture them. Our role is really to help those in our community get off on a better financial foot so that they can then go out and reinvest the funds that they’re saving by financing with us and saving with us.
Journal: How do you view Canopy as working within the larger credit union ecosystem of Spokane?
Nemec: I refer to us as being right-sized. We have all of the same products and features that you can find at a large financial institution, but we still have that small-town feel because we haven’t gotten too big. You hear a lot of companies say they’re high-tech, high-touch. I like to flip that on its head a little bit for us and say we’re high-touch first, but we also have the technology, and quite a bit of it, available to our members. Our main focus is on helping those people who want to have financial coaching, who are looking for a good loan at a good rate, with (an institution) that truly cares about them. Not everybody is going to get a yes answer. If you give somebody a loan who can’t afford the payment, you’re doing them no service.
Journal: Do you think Canopy is an acquisition target?
Nemec: No, we don’t view ourselves that way. As the credit union industry expands and grows and changes, there’s always that fear that you can’t make it and compete against the big dogs, but honestly, there’s a place for credit unions of our size and smaller.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard, because we don’t have economies of scale. And we’re competing for the same talent and for the same vendor relationships. The big guys can pay more, and that’s hard. But I think there’s a place for the credit unions of our size and even smaller in our communities to really make an impact and a difference.
Journal: You’ve been president and CEO of the credit union for just over a year now. How has the first year gone?
Nemec: It’s been a whirlwind. It’s super exciting to see us move forward with these changes and to do that so that this credit union can continue to be a relevant part of the financial landscape here in Spokane.
Journal: Is there anything in your first year that has surprised you?
Nemec: The biggest surprise for me is that … (I’ve) got so many other things going on, and especially with so many changes, that to remember to come back to engaging staff at all times is really important. Every Friday, we do a staff huddle, where the entire staff gathers in the lobby and we talk about our wins for the week. Our staff huddle every Friday is to re-emphasize the vision for who we are as a financial institution in this community and how we give back to this community. If I didn’t do that every week, it would be really easy to get lost in the day-to-day hustle of accomplishing the things that we’re trying to accomplish.
Journal: How many members does Canopy have now?
Nemec: We’re actually only up to 11,400 as of right now. We’ve had an interesting year of implementing some new technology. Some members aren’t too happy with us about that, but I think this is the wave of the future, and we just happen to be, for the first time ever, on the bleeding edge of that.
Journal: What do you see for Canopy’s future?
Nemec: We’ve got some things coming up that are really exciting.
We are buying out our partners at our North Side branch, at 1212 W. Francis. We share that location right now with two other credit unions, Horizon Credit Union and Progressions Credit Union. Horizon already has a branch up north, and Progressions feels that their main location is close enough for them to serve their members out of that location. We will be remodeling that north branch to match the same look and feel of what the Spokane Valley is. We’ve hired the same architect, and they’ve already started work on the redesign of that.
As far as long-term future, I just will go back to the fact that we are staying focused on serving people in our community who are of modest means, those who are potentially struggling or have struggled in the past, and just need someone to sit down and show them that there is a way out of this and that they do have a partner in us.