Embracing Rural America – A True Credit Union Difference
Pacific Crest Federal Credit Union brought essential banking services to Christmas Valley residents.
Driving through south-central Oregon, it’s easy for the mind to recall the old adage “If this isn’t nowhere, you can at least see if from here.” The landscape appears abandoned by civilization, the air thinned by the altitude, and the sky stretches into a never-ending horizon. Were it not for the passing of an occasional rolling tumbleweed you wouldn’t have any company at all.
But there is a restful beauty to the land and a sense of peace that soothes the soul in this haven away from nerve–damaging traffic jams and mind-numbing city lights. Here you can find yourself, and just around the bend, a sense of community. Nestled along the flatland emerges Christmas Valley, the closest to a metropolis you will find for almost 100 miles of any compass point. Here the deer and the antelope really do roam, and so too some 1,300 hearty Oregonians who call this oasis home.
Sid and Ann Robinson call it their home now as well. Ten years ago, they packed up their household in Redmond, Oregon, and headed south ready to exchange elbow grease for elbow room.
“When we started in Redmond it was a city of about 6,000 people and over the years it ballooned to 26,000,” Ann says. “We lost that small-town feel, that sense of community we had enjoyed.”
Christmas Valley had everything they needed as they pondered retirement. Everything except a financial institution. Not long after having their new roots firmly planted, the last financial institution pulled up the welcome mat, shuttered the curtains and left town. Personal banking now involved a lost day on the calendar and a full tank of gas.
The Robinson’s found themselves in the financial twilight zone confronting rural Americans across the country. Large financial institutions were leaving less profitable rural areas for the more lucrative payoff of urban America. A recent story in Forbes reported that large banks have shuttered 1,915 more branches in lower-income areas than they opened between 2014 and 2018.
Both Sid and Ann felt the impact. Unwilling to accept that living meant confined to a rocking chair and a satellite dish, the pair decided to embrace their new community full throttle. Ann opened a styling salon and Sid started a produce business.
But without banking services in Christmas Valley, their small businesses, which require regular banking transactions, were faced with a dilemma.
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), then a member of the Senate Banking Committee, even took notice and pleaded for assistance for the community.
Pacific Crest Federal Credit Union answered the call. PCFCU cut the opening ribbon in November 2017, and has been delivering contemporary financial services to Christmas Valley ever since.
“The branch office has exceeded our expectations in every respect,” said Chad Olney, President and CEO of PCFCU. “We have improved safety for small businesses in their handling of cash deposits. Small businesses are expanding and relying on us as their partner,” he added.
Primarily an agriculture community, with a focus on alfalfa and cattle, Olney has seen his members’ businesses innovate and expand. Having a reliable financial partner is one reason for that success.
The credit union has even adjusted its hours to reduce expenses while better targeting the needs of their members.
Olney pointed out that three communities in the area share the same public school and bus. The bus takes the children back to those communities in the afternoon, where te parents then have to come into town to pick them up.
“Our farming members have very busy mornings and don’t usually make the trip into Christmas Valley until the afternoon so the branch hours differ from our other branches. By opening at 11 a.m. and staying open a little late, we’re available when the residents most need access,” Olney said.
PCFCU also will arrange targeted appointment times to better meet the schedules of their members.
As large regional banks exit rural America, credit unions continue to put service over shareholders.
Ann Robinson has been one of the credit union’s most vocal champions.
“If you want businesses to thrive in your community you have to support them. I tell everyone I meet to support the credit union as they support us,” she said.
State and federal legislators can do their part by ensuring that decades–old restrictions on credit union membership continue to be modernized to ensure the vitality of rural America.
So, while Ann and her salon continue to rinse and clip, perm and flip, Sid goes about his daily routine of building an attractive mosaic of carrots and zukes. It’s their way of building community. Credit unions like PCFCU are happy to be a part of that success.