Nowadays, it’s rare to see someone stay with the same company for over 20 years. Charlotte Nemec, the current president and CEO of Canopy Credit Union (CCU), is an exception to the rule. This year marks her 28th year with the company.
In 1956, seven Federal Government employees came together to form what was first known as Spokane Federal Credit Union. As they grew, they recognized the need to evolve alongside their members. In 2019, the credit union became established as a community development financial institution (CDFI) and had a vision of making all members of the community feel welcome.
This also came with a name change. “In wanting everyone in the community to feel welcome here, we became Canopy Credit Union. Just like the forest provides shelter and protection to its inhabitants, CCU is here to provide protection and opportunities to the members of our community,” Charlotte explains.
“We don’t care if you have a credit score of 300 or 850. You are welcome here and your story is valued. Everybody has a story,” Charlotte continues.
For Charlotte, the work they do at CCU is personal. “When I was a child, my dad walked out on us and took all of our money with him. My mother had to ask for help to support us. Her story and what she went through matters. I would hope that if someone else was going through those same hardships, they’d have a financial institution that would help them.”
Charlotte remarks that CCU’s mission has attracted driven, collaborative individuals to its staff. “Our mission is to create a happier and healthier community through financial inclusion. We coach individuals where they’re at. Even when our answer is no, it’s never a no period. It’s a no and. We help our members move past where they’re at to get to where they want to be.”
When asked about the difference between a bank and a credit union, Charlotte explains that a credit union is a not-for-profit financial cooperative owned by its members. Each member has one share and one vote. At CCU, the cost of membership is five dollars. Every member has a say in how the credit union is run and who is elected to the board of directors, which is served by volunteers.
Charlotte believes CCU’s culture and spirit of collaboration are what sets them apart from other financial institutions. “We care about what our members and employees think. Whenever I make a decision as the CEO, I always stop to think, ‘If I were a member looking from the outside in, how would I be making this decision? What would I want to see?’”
In 1995, a few years after graduating with her degree in economics, Charlotte worked in personnel management (now called human resources) at four credit unions in Spokane. In 1997, she gave birth to her daughter and decided to work part-time to maintain her work-life balance. Of all four credit unions, she felt that CCU valued her work the most and they “laid the world at [her] feet” when she asked for the flexibility she needed.
When her daughter entered second grade, Charlotte decided to work full-time at CCU and assumed the role of Vice President of Administration. She remarks that her new role came with a steep learning curve, “In addition to my HR and financial knowledge, I had to become knowledgeable about marketing, compliance, board relations, and how to oversee audit functions.”
In 2017 when CCU’s CEO announced plans to step-down, Charlotte decided to apply for the position. “I wasn’t going to apply at first. But one day I titled a journal page “If I Were” and I started dreaming about what the credit union could be, started picking people’s brains, and kept asking questions like, ‘What else is out there that we’re not thinking about? What changes would I make if I were CEO? What would we keep?’”
Charlotte became CEO of CCU in 2018. She credits the former CEO, Susan Blain, with easing her transition. “We worked side-by-side for nine months as I learned the ropes. During this same time, CCU purchased property in Spokane Valley for a new branch. Susan let me take the reins and supported me throughout that transition. She remains a valued mentor of mine, and I’m grateful for our collaboration.”
When asked about what she is looking forward to, Charlotte returns to the growth and success of the community. “I’m looking forward to seeing how we can continue to impact the community in the ways we envision. We serve Spokane, Stevens, and Pend Oreille counties. Stevens County in particular has a very underserved market in the financial industry. In recognizing how remote they are, we want to learn how we can best serve them and come up with avenues to work with their community members that make sense logistically and financially.”
“I also look forward to my own personal journey of feeling challenged, yet fulfilled. As I approach retirement, I want to be conscientious of how I can impact our team members and help them set up their path for the future,” Charlotte says with a smile.
Outside of CCU, Charlotte leads a busy life as an active member of several community organizations. She serves as the chair of the board for Women’s and Children’s Free Restaurant and is the chair of finance and a board member of Greater Spokane Incorporated, which provides a legislative voice for business owners in Spokane.
If that’s not enough, Charlotte also serves on the board of the GoWest Foundation which provides scholarship and grants to credit unions across six states (WA, OR, ID, CO, WY, and NV) and sits on the board of the Whitworth Leadership Institute. She credits the efforts of her amazing team at CCU with being able to find the time to serve in these other roles.
For those interested in learning more about CCU, you can visit their website at www.canopycu.com.