Meriwest Credit Union: Thinking Globally, Acting Locally, Making a Difference!
By Cyndi Cohen Credit Unions Online
Credit Union Spotlight
Like many financial co-operatives, Meriwest Credit Union (San Jose, CA) started small, serving a select group of employees and has evolved into a modern-day financial institution providing affordable financial solutions and valuable education for thousands of members while also helping its community in meaningful ways.
Meriwest is Born & Grows
It all began over 50 years ago on May 5, 1961 when the IBM San Jose Employees Federal Credit Union was formed. Then, in 1975 the official name changed to Pacific IBM Employees Federal Credit Union, and finally in 1999, became Meriwest Credit Union. Today, Meriwest has 11 offices in the Silicon Valley serving nearly 83,000 members with over $1 billion in assets.
According to Gregory Meyer, Community Relations Manager, the credit union was originally SEG- based, with a significant portion of its membership still comprised of ex or current IBM’ers. In 1999, Meriwest changed its charter to a Community Charter and opened its doors to anyone who works, goes to school, lives or worships in the counties of Santa Clara, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Francisco. Staying true to their roots, Meriwest’s field of membership also includes Pima County Arizona, once home to a branch back when IBM had a plant near Tucson. “As the years go by our membership is changing to reflect the communities surrounding our offices,” notes Meyer.
A Credit Union Embracing “People Helping People”
Meriwest’s community initiatives are numerous and when asked to describe their outreach philosophy, President and CEO Christopher Owen said that he feels privileged to work with so many people who care about the communities they serve. “The community programs we support and our staff volunteers are a reflection our institution’s compassion for our community and representative of our desire to serve families in need throughout our service area.”
As a member of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, Meriwest is able to help develop new housing through the Affordable Housing Program grants and support their local Habitat for Humanity affiliate. The credit union also utilizes the FHLB’s Workforce Initiative Subsidy for Homeownership (WISH) program, which is a down payment assistance program. They have been able to access over $60,000 in grant money over the past two years to support economic development programs in the local community through the Access to Housing and Economic Assistance for Development (AHEAD) Program. “Our relationship with the FHLB has allowed us to leverage hundreds of thousands of dollars to support needy families, affordable housing, and community development organizations throughout the greater Silicon Valley,” explains Meyer.
In terms of community financial education, Meriwest provides a program that serves community development organizations and schools. A certified presenter for his county’s Foster Youth programs, Meyer himself has spent a great deal of time teaching young people financial management. “In 2011 we served nearly 5,000 adults and students in our workshops providing education in establishing and managing credit, home buying, personal budgeting, and more,” he reports. As an SBA-approved lender, Meriwest also works extensively with various economic development organizations to support small businesses and help increase business owners’ access to capital.
Meriwest is committed to ‘Serving the Underserved’ by supporting disadvantaged families in its community. “Through our work with Santa Clara County Social Services, Sacred Heart Community Services, and Catholic Charities we have been successful in delivering programs that help adults become self-sufficient and financially literate,” contends Meyer.
Focused on the Member & the Mission
Although Meriwest keeps up with competitors in terms of its financial products and services, they avoid ever becoming too bank-like and stay true to the credit union credo by never forgetting for whom their credit union was created – the members. “Our members are the life’s blood of this organization,” says Meyer. Summer member appreciation days are enjoyed by all, giving the credit union’s managers and executives an opportunity to meet and develop deeper relationships with the members. “We take the time to listen to our members and develop our products and services accordingly.”
Members recognize the credit union’s outlook and support their efforts, often participating in fundraising efforts and charity walks. “Often, we post photos or stories of our outreach events on our Facebook page and the resulting kudos from our members are very gratifying,” says Meyer.