CEO Profile: Richard Romero, Seattle Credit Union

CEO Profile: Richard Romero, Seattle Credit Union

Richard Romero is the CEO of Seattle Credit Union in Washington State and the Chair of Inclusiv’s Board of Directors. Seattle Credit Union is a CDFI and Juntos Avanzamos designated credit union, serving 55,000 members and with more than $1.1 billion in assets. Formerly known as Seattle Metropolitan Credit Union, Seattle Credit Union serves anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in the state of Washington.

Since joining the Seattle Credit Union, Richard embarked on a journey of transformation that led the credit union to enact changes to its policies, procedures, and culture, with a mission to better serve everyone in Seattle and beyond. The transformation has been a success resulting in constant growth and the development of a coveted reputation as a financial institution that is friendly to all, regardless of who they are, or where they come from.

Richard is an advocate for financial inclusion everywhere. He constantly meets with other credit unions that are interested in serving the underserved in a holistic and comprehensive manner, and has been an invaluable ally, promoting financial inclusion and community development throughout the credit union movement. We recently interviewed Richard to learn more about his background, his credit union’s work, his role as Inclusiv Board Chair, and his vision for financial inclusion.

What motivates you to do what you do? What are you most passionate about in your role as CEO of Seattle Credit Union? Why is this so personal to you?

I’m driven by a personal and business mission. Personal: I am a person of color and an immigrant. I grew up low income, ESL and so I have empathy for people who aren’t treated equally. After many years in the financial services industry, I decided that it was time to reach back to the original mission of credit unions and provide services and access to capital to those who do not have access them. It’s time for change and it’s a great time for credit unions to lead that change.

Which of Seattle CU's programs and services have the most community impact?

First and foremost, our focus on internal and external diversity makes us unique and effective in communities that need us the most. Product-wise I would say that our ITIN programs have the greatest impact on the credit union and community.

This is your second year as Inclusiv's Board Chair. Congratulations! Inclusiv has experienced tremendous growth in the past two years. What do you believe this means for the community development field and the credit union movement in general?

Inclusiv has become multi-dimensional and has place a focus on where it is needed most and refined its organizational structure to ensure that resources are applied where needed. Instead of being the “jack of all trades”, our strategy is to be the expert in the areas that community development credit unions need us the most.

What do you see are the general challenges facing the credit union movement when it comes to financial inclusion initiatives?

To be blunt, we will need to get past stereotypes, privilege, and truly embrace the fact that there are communities that are ignored and undervalued due to some of the very systems we operate under. Credit Unions can no longer be “clubs”. The services that are most needed by communities are where credit unions can shine. We need to be openminded and we need to truly understand how we are perceived and how we present ourselves to those who need us. We need to truly listen, with empathy and understanding, and adapt to people’s needs. Our industry is risk-averse…we need to use creativity to meet people where we are and not assume what the future will be based on the past.

Seattle is an example of a credit union that provides services to everyone in the community, with a comprehensive approach to serving immigrant communities. Many credit unions are embracing ITIN lending.

That is very good news for immigrants. Are there any concerns about that growing interest? What should any credit union providing an ITIN product do?

Seattle Credit Union fills a big void in the communities that we serve. I’m glad to see others embracing ITIN lending and focusing on helping immigrants. I like to remind people that these communities are not limited to just Hispanics or one ethnicity. Immigrants come from all over the world. Because of this, we need to make sure that credit unions that embrace ITIN lending are prepared to service these communities – whether it be through language support, appropriate styles of communication (i.e., marketing messages, documentation, forms) and most importantly, understanding what the community truly needs. Really understanding the risk behind ITIN lending is a start. Our ITIN portfolio outperforms our non-ITIN portfolio.

Seattle is a long time Juntos Avanzamos credit union. What does Juntos Avanzamos mean to you and your credit union?

For Seattle Credit Union, it’s a guiding force for us to ensure that we have the infrastructure to service the communities that we are focused on. In this case, it helps us truly prepare to service the Latino Communities in our market. Juntos Avanzamos also gives us credibility in the communities we serve. It is very common for us to be challenged by community leaders and asked to prove that we really are committed to serving a community. Juntos Avanzamos helps give us the credibility that is demanded by these communities.

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