NAFCU’s Annual Awards Competition recognizes outstanding professionals and institutions within the credit union industry—each year, credit unions from around the country enter top performing employees, volunteers and institutions to be considered for the prestigious honors.
“The 2023 award winners are dedicated stewards of the credit union mission and NAFCU is honored to recognize them for their exceptional representation of the industry,” says NAFCU Awards Committee Chair Eli Vazquez, CEO of Bank-Fund Staff Federal Credit Union. “Over the past year, they went above and beyond for their members and have had a remarkable impact on their communities. The NAFCU Awards Committee is proud of their contributions to the success and strength of the industry.”
There are two asset-size categories with four awards each: Credit unions with assets of more than $500 million and credit unions with assets of $500 million or less. A panel of credit union peers narrows the entries down from dozens of well-deserving candidates to just eight winners that have made an exceptional mark on the industry.
For information on entering next year’s competition, visit www.nafcu.org/annualawards. Interested credit unions are encouraged to begin nominations in January 2024.
CEO of the Year
More Than $500M
Oregon State Credit Union
Oregon State Credit Union has achieved significant growth and performance under Richard Hein’s leadership over the last twenty-three years. Hein aligns his team to the vision of creating financial solutions to make lives better and he believes in the credit union philosophy of “People Helping People.”
As a leader, he ensures team members are engaged with both head and heart, motivating them to work together toward one purpose: to deliver an unsurpassed service experience to Oregon State Credit Union’s member-owners. In addition to member service, Hein has been an unwavering and dedicated champion for the credit union industry for 43 years and is passionate about industry advocacy. His passion ignites excitement in his teammates who respond to calls to action, attend “Hike the Hill” events and give generously to the credit union movement.
In 2021, Hein moved Oregon State Credit Union’s federal advocacy partnership to NAFCU after seeing how closely his credit union and the association’s core values aligned. Since joining NAFCU, Hein’s passion for advocacy has been evidenced through his guidance of his team’s support for NAFCU/PAC campaigns. As a result, Oregon State Credit Union was honored with the prestigious White Hat Award the first year of the credit union’s participation in 2021 and has turned in another record-breaking campaign in 2022.
Under Hein’s direction, the credit union has grown assets from $234 million to over $2.1 billion since 2000. Membership at Oregon State Credit Union has also grown to over 150,000, making it the state’s fifth largest financial cooperative. Hein has overseen several big changes and opportunities for growth, including expanding the credit union’s branch network from six to 15. He also spearheaded a strategic field of membership expansion in 2015 by initiating a charter change from federal to state, which increased the credit union’s counties of service from six to 24.
Hein recognizes the important role he plays as a steward of Oregon State Credit Union’s culture and leads by example with integrity. His focus on doing the right thing has ensured that, financially, the credit union is in an excellent position for continued growth.
CEO of the Year
$500M or Less
Canopy Credit Union
In her fifth year as President and CEO of Canopy Credit Union, Charlotte Nemec continues to lead the credit union on a journey of growth and innovation. Nemec started her career at Canopy in 1995, previously serving as the HR Manager and the Vice President of Administration. Throughout her tenure, she has led the organization through major strategic initiatives, including rebranding, building two new branches and implementing interactive teller machines.
Nemec’s ability to create an innovative and relationship-focused culture shines through Canopy’s successes. With 60 employees serving three counties in the Inland Northwest, Canopy punches above its weight class and is at the forefront of technology and innovation. Canopy was recently named as one of the Top 10 Most Innovative Businesses in the Northwest.
At Canopy, colleagues recognize that Nemec’s leadership is instrumental in creating a culture where employees and members experience belonging and feel valued. Nemec meets with every new hire during their first week and again when they hit the 90-day mark to create a meaningful relationship with every teammate. In June 2022 when inflation increased dramatically, she took bold and compassionate steps to support employees by surprising them with a $500 bonus. The attention and care that goes into Canopy’s culture was recognized in 2022 when American Banker named Canopy as the seventh best credit union to work for in the country.
Day-to-day, Nemec works closely with Canopy’s board of directors, coming up with unique solutions for the credit union and ways to partner with community organizations and nonprofits. She champions maximizing Canopy’s resources, resulting in 2022 being a record year for donations to local nonprofits and community partners. Additional records were broken last year as Canopy conducted 86 financial education workshops and 201 free financial coaching sessions.
Nemec’s dedication to living out the credit union mission of “People Helping People” encourages the whole team to shine brightly. She is an active member of the community, having key leadership roles on the boards for the GoWest Foundation, Greater Spokane Incorporated, the Women’s and Children’s Free Restaurant, and Whitworth University’s Institute of Leadership.
Nemec’s courageous leadership and desire for employees and members to bring their whole story to the table continues to result in growth for Canopy as it strives to create a happier and healthier community through financial inclusion.
Professional of the Year
More Than $500M
Teachers Federal Credit Union
Smithtown, New York
Suresh Renganathan’s unique array of experience working in enterprise IT, cybersecurity management, digital transformations and data management has allowed him to lead complex projects to completion as Chief Technology Officer of Teachers Federal Credit Union.
Since joining the team at Teachers, Renganathan has spearheaded the credit union’s digital transformation. In addition, he works to establish the proper systems to improve both member and employee experiences by addressing new technological and back-end needs and coordinating with various departments in the credit union. His efforts have not gone unnoticed and, in 2022, Teachers was the first credit union to be awarded the Celent Model Bank Award, which recognized the credit union’s digital banking transformation, led in full force by Renganathan.
Renganathan’s leadership and strategic vision to transform Teachers Federal Credit Union’s digital programs and processes over the last three years also made the organization’s first-out-of-state branch in Tampa, FL, possible. The credit union announced in 2022 it would be opening the branch after 70 years of banking exclusively in New York.
His four-pillar digital strategy surrounding the themes of New Capabilities and Features, Business Transformation, Savings and Optimization and Foundational Technologies has driven the pursuit of the Teachers Federal Credit Union “Smart For All” pledge to provide services and experiences that members need to achieve their financial goals and dreams.
Renganathan is an extension of Teachers Federal Credit Union in his commitment to providing smart guidance to help members build a strong financial foundation. He brings great advice and expertise to the team, with a recommendation to continuously listen, then learn, then lead. He emphasizes the importance of building diverse, talented teams to focus on key priorities, without the distraction of technology. Overall, teammates can feel Renganathan’s commitment to the credit union industry, and he truly connects with the major credit union value of “People Helping People.”
Professional of the Year
$500M or Less
New Orleans Firemen’s Federal Credit Union
Kym Copeland currently serves a vital role as the Senior Development Officer for New Orleans Firemen’s Federal Credit Union where she oversees the addition of select employee groups (SEGs). This role is key to the growth of the credit union and, under her leadership, the number of SEG groups has grown nearly 20%.
Throughout the credit union’s footprint in Louisiana and Mississippi, Copeland is an ambassador of New Orleans Firemen’s Federal Credit Union and is a consistent spokesperson who helps explain the distinct difference between credit unions and banks.
Copeland also serves as the assistant director of a nonprofit she helped form, called The Faith Fund. In this role, she helps individuals and families better manage their money, escape predatory lending and achieve financial stability—all while executing her role at New Orleans Firemen’s Federal Credit Union flawlessly. She is a valued financial coach and excels at providing individuals and their families with an action plan to achieve solid wealth management.
Copeland has never met a stranger, believes in meeting people where they are and is always looking for a way to provide a helping hand. She truly embodies Principle 6 of the Cooperative Principles of Credit Unions—she always seeks ways to leverage the power of “cooperation among cooperatives.” She is inclusive in her approach and wants everyone around her to feel welcome. Her efforts strengthen the cooperative movement and create meaningful social and economic impact.
In the day-to-day, her approach towards leadership creates a welcoming environment and elevates staff morale at New Orleans Firemen’s Federal Credit Union. She is the consummate professional of the highest degree and has an “I can do that” attitude. Copeland is a servant leader who places the needs and wishes of others above her own and she is an important and integral part of the New Orleans Firemen’s Federal Credit Union team.
Volunteer of the Year
More Than $500M
Members 1st Federal Credit Union
Jon Kirssin has been a member of Members 1st Federal Credit Union his entire life. Carrying on the legacy of his father, who also served on the Members 1st Federal Credit Union Board of Directors, Kirssin joined the board in 2011 after previously serving on the supervisory committee. Kirssin was appointed chairman of the board of directors in April 2018 and has worked tirelessly on decisions that will ensure the longevity of Members 1st’s success ever since.
Within Kirssin’s first year as chairman, Members 1st’s net income grew 15.4% and revenue grew 12.6%. Today, under Kirssin’s leadership, Members 1st holds an asset size of over $7 billion, has more than 540,000 members, and serves a nine-county footprint.
As chairman, Kirssin has made several notable changes to ensure board and leadership team cohesion. He modified board policies requiring board members to complete annual continuing education modules to further their credit union knowledge on policies and procedures. Because of this, board members are strongly encouraged to attend annual conferences to enhance their credit union knowledge and to network with fellow credit union board members from across the industry.
Kirssin spearheaded the construction of Members 1st Federal Credit Union’s new administrative headquarters that opened in March 2022. Holding hundreds of the credit union’s back-office associates, the building brings all administrative associates under one roof to create increased collaboration and efficiencies for members—and it has an expense-neutral result.
Under his leadership, Members 1st created an Associate Emergency Fund to provide financial assistance to associates in need. Through the program, each qualifying associate can receive up to $1,000 per emergency along with complimentary financial counseling should it be necessary. In addition, Kirssin was instrumental in the creation of an insurance credit union service organization to serve the credit union’s members.
Kirssin brings a great deal of member feedback to the monthly board meetings for the team to discuss to ensure the credit union is protecting the safety and soundness of members’ dollars and he interacts regularly with the leadership team. He has been a champion for technological advances at Members 1st to ensure the organization stays relevant, meets the ever-changing needs of members, and fulfills its mission dutifully.
Volunteer of the Year
$500M or Less
Pioneer Appalachia Federal Credit Union
Charleston, West Virginia
Over the course of his life, Bill Milam has volunteered 51 years of service to Pioneer Appalachia Federal Credit Union, beginning with a position as Credit Committee Chair in 1972. Since then, he has ultimately served continuously in every volunteer position and continues to set the pace for everyone else as the credit union’s longest serving volunteer and current board chair.
Milam advocates a balanced “stakeholder” approach to governance seeking to benefit members, the staff and the community, emphasizing member value over profitability in the pricing of loans, shares and fees. Always planning for the future, he recently focused attention on board and executive succession planning and the improvement of governance practices.
His bold leadership, encouragement and thoughtful approach often provides courage to fellow board members to step out of their comfort zones.
In the day-to-day, Milam exhibits excellent moderation skills in the conduct of board meetings, and is actively engaged, asking questions of management during meetings. There is never a question about whether he reads and digests the information provided in the pre-meeting materials delivered to each board member.
When Milam joined the board, the credit union had assets of about $7 million with a field of membership limited to employees of the local school system. Now, the field of membership of Pioneer Appalachia Federal Credit Union has expanded to include a 28-county rural district charter with 18,000 members and assets of $225 million. Pioneer Appalachia Federal Credit Union has made significant investments into technology as members’ needs change and has just completed construction of a new branch in Morgantown, W.Va.
Pioneer’s multiple national accolades include recognition as NAFCU’s “Credit Union of the Year” in 2012, and more recently being named, for the fifth time, as one of the nation’s “Best Credit Unions to Work For” in research conducted by the Credit Union Journal and the Best Companies Group.
Milam sees the value in exchanging ideas and networking with his peers in the credit union industry and has taken advantage of many NAFCU conferences to take new skills back to the board. He is an invaluable member of the Pioneer Appalachia Federal Credit Union Board of Directors and is always working to better the credit union.
Credit Union of the Year
More than $500M
Liberty Federal Credit Union
In 2022, Liberty Federal Credit Union achieved remarkable, quantifiable success in meeting its members’ needs—all while undergoing a brand change that would enable the credit union to serve even more members. In May 2022, Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union (ETFCU) announced it would rebrand as Liberty Federal Credit Union, an undertaking that would not be easy for a $3 billion credit union with 29 branches. Although the credit union had grown into new markets, the majority of ETFCU members remained in Evansville and the neighboring communities. However, a rebrand was essential to the credit union’s survival in the nearby markets of Nashville and Louisville.
Over the months that followed, the credit union communicated thoroughly with members to let them know not only how the rebrand might affect their day-to-day banking, but also how the rebrand would benefit them individually. By enabling the credit union to grow more effectively throughout its entire branch footprint, Liberty Federal Credit Union would be able to return more value to both its membership and the communities it served.
By the end of 2022, the rebrand was complete and Liberty Federal Credit Union celebrated an unprecedented year of success in serving its members. The credit union returned more value to its membership than ever before, returning $15.5 million through checking accounts alone in the form of dividends, ATM fee reimbursement and reward points. These returns represent a 19% increase over the credit union’s previous record of $13 million in value returned to members through checking accounts. To top it off, Liberty Federal Credit Union was named Best Credit Union for Checking by Investopedia and one of the nation’s top 40 financial institutions by Newsweek.
Even amid the brand change, more members trusted Liberty for first mortgage originations in 2022 than any other financial institution in the Evansville metropolitan service area. According to the American Credit Union Mortgage Association, Liberty ranked first among all credit unions in its region in first mortgage originations, and it ranked 19th nationally. With total year-end assets of $3.45 billion, Liberty Federal Credit Union was the only credit union smaller than $7.9 billion in the top 20. In addition, for the first time in its history, Liberty surpassed $1 million in community involvement through sponsorships, scholarships and donations.
During a year of remarkable change, Liberty Federal Credit Union achieved remarkable success. The credit union welcomed 18,703 new members and, most notably, it established a pathway for better attracting and serving members throughout its future.
Credit Union of the Year
$500M or Less
Affinity Credit Union
Des Moines, Iowa
In 2018, Affinity Credit Union shifted its mission and vision statement to a simple and succinct representation of why they do what they do: Building Better Lives. The statement represents the true essence of the low-income credit union founded by union tire factory workers 74 years ago. The credit union ultimately exists to provide the tools and assistance to help its members live their best lives. Affinity Credit Union helps people do more with the money they earn, so that they can live the life they want.
One of the best examples of this philosophy is the story of Affinity member James Reasoner. Reasoner was on the brink of bankruptcy when he received a letter from Affinity regarding the repossession of his vehicle. Instead of taking the car and cutting losses, Affinity’s collections manager sat down with Reasoner and helped him establish a meticulous budget to get his financial life back on track. Today, Reasoner has an 800+ credit score and was recently elected to serve on the Affinity Credit Union Board of Directors.
As a low-income designated credit union, at least 50% of Affinity members reside in areas where the average family income is 80% or less than the median family income of Des Moines. Knowing how valuable each dollar is to its average member, Affinity made the decision to reduce all NSF and overdraft fees from $25 to $15. In 2022, this equated to members paying $374,880 less in overdraft fees than they would have had the fee not been lowered—not to mention, this was bottom-line revenue that the credit union willingly sacrificed to do what they thought was right for their members.
Affinity Credit Union also devotes a large percentage of resources to community involvement. Some, but not all, examples include providing six annual scholarships totaling $9,000 to students at traditionally low-income high schools, holding an annual charity golf event for nearly 30 years which has resulted in over $400,000 being raised and donated to local charities and non-profits, and providing nearly $100,000 in donations and contributions since 2018 to local charities as part of its annual Building Better Holidays campaign.
Affinity Credit Union knows its membership and, more importantly, knows how to serve its membership. The credit union’s mission could not be more evident today.