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2010 Best Company to Do Business With in Sonoma County: Redwood Credit Union

Author: Beth Galleto
May, 2010 Issue
Brett Martinez is elated that Redwood Credit Union (RCU) was voted Best Company to Do Business With in Sonoma County—this year in particular. “It’s quite an honor,” says Martinez, Redwood’s president/CEO. “We receive a lot of awards, but to receive these two [RCU also won Best Credit Union] during this challenging economic recession is especially significant to us, because it means we’re focused on the most important thing—serving people and businesses in our communities in a way that’s really making a difference.”
He notes that, while there have been many recent failures of financial institutions, RCU is doing well and remains safe and well-capitalized. “We really stuck to our mission,” which he explains as “people helping people.” A credit union is a not-for-profit cooperative. As such, its funds are returned to its members in the form of lower and fewer fees, lower loan rates, higher yields on deposits and expanded services.

The RCU website states it well: “Unlike financial institutions whose purpose is to create profit for stockholders, RCU is a financial cooperative, which means our focus is simply to serve the members who participate in our cooperative.” It continues, “Each member actually owns part of the credit union and has a voice in what we do and how we do it. We continue today to build upon a solid philosophical and business foundation that was started in 1950—treating members with respect and personal care while offering unbeatable value.”

By sticking to this mission, RCU has built up a trusted reputation throughout the community. “When we go out of the building wearing our name tags, people come up to us and tell us, ‘We love RCU.’ We hear it all the time,” says Martinez.

RCU serves residents and businesses in eight Bay Area counties, from San Francisco to Ukiah. It has 15 branches and nearly 150,000 members. The organization offers full financial services for its members, including checking accounts, savings and investment products, consumer and real estate loans, free home banking, financial management services, small business services, retirement planning, a variety of online applications and fee-free access to more than 28,000 ATMs nationwide. It even has its own insurance company and an auto center where members can buy from an inventory of pre-owned vehicles or track down the car of their dreams and arrange financing and insurance.

Credit unions, in general, didn’t participate in the types of activities that created the economic meltdown, says Martinez. “You read about failures all the time. We’ve stuck to our mission, which isn’t so easy in difficult times. We didn’t take bailout funds. We haven’t cut services. We’re not closing branches or laying people off. And we’ve offered seminars, financial counseling, free budgeting and personal counseling to our members. We’re tackling these problems head-on.”

What really makes its philosophy work, he says, is the people in the organization. “We really appreciate our people. Our most important decision is who we hire. We have passionate employees, and this extends to our volunteer officials—our board of directors and supervisory committee.”

As a result of the economic crunch, these carefully selected people have been working very hard lately. “We’ve been impacted as an institution. Our members have been losing jobs or having to take pay cuts. We’ve never worked harder,” Martinez says. “We’ve rolled up our sleeves and gotten to work. Helping people is our main focus. We’re helping our members create budgets and learn how to cut expenses. We help them refinance their debt from other institutions. We’re focusing on dealing with issues our members are having. As a result, they recognize who we are, what we stand for and what we’re doing.”

Part of its mission is to help its communities, not just by assisting local nonprofits financially, but also by contributing sponsorships and volunteering for community causes. “A lot of people are attracted to us because our staff volunteers and has leadership roles in so many groups,” says Martinez. Last year, RCU employees and officers volunteered more than 3,100 hours and the credit union provided $340,000 in benefits to nonprofits.

It has a separate focus on financial education, offering free seminars on a variety of topics for members and the community. The main office on Cleveland Avenue in Santa Rosa contains a large community room that nonprofits can use at no charge if they find a staff sponsor.

“The past 24 months have been a difficult time,” Martinez says. “It’s been hard on our staff, but we’ve truly made a difference in helping people manage debt, stay in their homes and stay out of bankruptcy. We go home every day knowing we truly made a difference.” RCU has made a difference that the entire community can see and appreciate.






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