Rebuild, Repair, Recover: Affinity Plus Helps The Twin Cities Heal

Listening, then acting, has helped the big Minnesota credit union respond to the protests in its hometown.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Protests against police violence began in Minneapolis after George Floyd died while in the custody of police on May 25, 2020. Some protests turned violent, and buildings and businesses in the epicenter of the demonstrations suffered damage.
  • Affinity Plus FCU offered aid packages for members and member businesses and created two funds from which it donated to local non-profits.

CU QUICK FACTS

Affinity Plus FCU
Data as of 03.31.20

HQ: Saint Paul, MN
ASSETS: $2.6B
MEMBERS: 211,766
BRANCHES: 28
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 14.1%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 10.9%
ROA: 0.77%

On May 25, 2020, a 46-year-old Black man named George Floyd was killed during an arrest in Minneapolis. The next day, protests against police violence began in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul and have since spread to hundreds of cities across the United States and around the globe.

In some instances, peaceful protests turned into rioting and looting. According to a Star Tribune article published on June 6, more than 500 shops and restaurants in Minneapolis and Saint Paul have reported protest-related damages. Owners and insurance experts estimate those damages could exceed $500 million.

The protests occurred in the backyard of Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union ($2.6B, Saint Paul, MN). For the Twin Cities-based cooperative, the demonstrations underscored two truths. First, it could and should do better on matters of race and equality, inside its walls and out. And, second, it needed to help those affected by the protests. In addition to taking a corporate stand against racial injustice and discrimination, the credit union launched Twin Cities Healing, a fund that coordinates contributions to 10 certified 501(c)3 nonprofits working to address racial injustice, rebuilding efforts, and basic needs. The credit union is distributing $136,000, and members are voting on how to distribute the funds among the approved organizations. To further address these issues, Affinity Plus also created an employee directed fund called Affinity Plus Gives, which made available an additional $200,000 in funding for organizations dedicated to making an impact.

In this Q&A, Affinity Plus CEO Dave Larson discusses the current atmosphere in the Twin Cities, his credit union’s response in the weeks that followed George Floyd’s death, lessons learned in leadership, and more.

What have the past couple of months been like? How are your employees and the credit union?

Dave Larson, CEO, Affinity Plus FCU

Dave Larson: George Floyd’s tragic death and the civil unrest that followed reflected deeply ingrained, long-standing divisions in our community and our society. As an organization, we felt compelled to condemn racial injustice and discrimination and to reaffirm our commitment to employees and members to live our values and to cultivate a workplace and a credit union that prioritizes inclusion, diversity, and openness.

But, we were impacted in other ways as well. Branches were affected. We have some 40 employees who live in the areas were the protests and the riots were taking place. We have 498 member businesses in those areas that were impacted, too.

How did you start to address this?

DL: One of the first things we did was have a conversation with our employees. We hosted a call with our entire staff where we shared we were going to formally address the injustices toward people of color and the impassioned protests in our community, across the state, and across the country. We talked about how that related to Affinity Plus. We care that our communities are hurting and grieving, and we felt we needed to act.

I spoke with employees we knew were committed to positive action, support, understanding, healing, and growth in our community. We put a lot of emphasis on communication, and that included sending our views and stance to our 210,000 members.

What came next? 

DL:My initial reaction was to address the care of our employees and our members who live in these affected areas, which included our business members on Lake Street and University Avenue. After making our statement, I heard feedback from an employee who was disappointed in me and my leadership because I had not mentioned George Floyd or the injustices surrounding his death. The employee sent me an email, and I set up a time for the two of us to talk. I listened to him and realized he was right; I had missed the mark.

After further reflection, we acted.

What we needed to do, was to take a step back, listen to what was happening around us, and ask why it was happening?

Dave Larson, CEO, Affinity Plus FCU

What did you do?

DL: We reached out to every single employee who lives in an area impacted by the demonstrations and offered them all one week of time off to do whatever they needed to do, whether it was a mental health break or to clean up in the community. We also gave every employee in the company eight additional hours of volunteer time off to give back to the community. And, we set up an employee forum where team members can attend and share different perspectives on issues.

For our members and member business owners who live in the impacted areas, we’re providing 0% recovery loans to individuals and have made $10 million available in special low-interest loans for businesses and non-profits to help rebuild, repair, and recover.

You also launched Twin Cities Healing. What is that?

See It Firsthand

Affinity Plus CEO Dave Larson watched the protests and demonstrations taking place in the Twin Cities, his home, on the news. When he realized he was getting information only through the eyes of a video camera, he drove to the George Floyd memorial on 38th Street and Chicago Avenue to witness what was happening for himself.

“One thing we forget to do as leaders in business is to see things for ourselves,” Larson says. “It was powerful. You should never underestimate the value of seeing something with your own eyes.”

DL: In the beginning of June, we told our members we would match donations — dollar for dollar, up to $50,000 — to support nonprofit organizations in impacted areas that meet the basic needs of people, help rebuild community businesses, or address racial inequality and injustice. We received more than $36,000 in donations, but we gave the full $50,000 and added another $50,000, which brought the total donation pool to $136,000. We then asked our members to vote on how they would like to see this fund distributed amongst 10 certified nonprofit organizations serving the Twin Cities in those areas of critical need.

In concert with this initiative, we also launched Affinity Plus Gives, which is a fund to which the credit union is committing an additional $200,000 that is entirely directed by our employees. It’s important to give our employees the opportunity to not only make their voices heard but also direct resources in a way that makes sense to them.

In the end, 26 organizations ranging from local to national in scope were nominated to receive support from the Affinity Plus Gives fund.

In total, Affinity Plus and its members contributed more than $336,000 to nonprofit organizations making a difference in the wake of this tragedy.

What is the value in allowing members and employees vote on where to send the funds?

DL: This is their credit union, and a credit union is all about its members. These are the organizations our members and employees would like to see funded, so it’s our job to move forward with that.

As the leader of the organization, what have you learned about how the credit union or you, personally, need to act going forward?

DL: As a leader, I’m quick to try to help, support, and solve. That was my initial reaction. What I needed to do, and what we needed to do, was to take a step back, listen to what was happening around us, and ask why it was happening?

How To Take Action On Diversity, Equity And Inclusion

Listen to our on-demand panel discussion with credit union executives as they discuss the current challenges facing our society and our industry in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion. Discover new ideas as to how your credit union can play a meaningful role in pushing DEI forward.

Listen Today

As we look forward, we need to have ongoing dialog with our board and leaders. Within our management group, we need to look at our makeup. We’ve had a diversity, inclusion, and belonging plan for the past few years. We’re learning from it, but we have much more we can do.

For example, we’ve recently discussed the need to look at our products and our systems. How do we qualify members for a loan or membership, and how can we ensure we are doing that in a way that is equal for everyone? We’ve learned there are some things we didn’t realize we were doing that we should have been thinking about. Overall, we’ve gotten stronger, but we recognize we have a way to go. We can never say we’re done. We need to keep listening, reflecting, and reviewing things to ensure we are where we need to be.

What’s next?

DL: We’ve always been a credit union that gives back to its community, but we’ve not seen a moment like this, where the level of engagement, ideas, and passion is so high. We want to keep that engagement high, and as we continue to think of ways to do that, allowing our employees to be involved in the process early on is impactful.

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