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April 30, 2020

With 18 offices, the Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union (TVFCU) has more branch locations than any credit union in Southeast Tennessee and prides itself on personal service delivered across its 13-county footprint.

But when the coronavirus pandemic forced Chattanooga's biggest credit union to close its lobbies and in-person visits to limit the spread of the virus in March, TVFCU quickly shifted its approach. More than 10% of the 400 employees of TVFCU took on new jobs to boost online banking services while others worked to offer temporary relief for those struggling to pay their bills due to lost jobs or income from the economic slowdown.

With office lobbies closed and most people urged to stay home, the credit union switched a half dozen of its tellers to staff a new interactive video app, which allows customers to have a video conference with a credit union associate. The new app, which debuted last November but became far more popular when stay-at-home orders were issued, allows customers to connect with tellers via their phones and exchange and sign documents with credit union staffers online without leaving their homes.

"Pretty much anything we can do in a branch we can do through this app except for deposits and withdrawals," said Karragan Rodgers, a personal consultant who works downtown. "We can see and talk directly with each customer, which makes it more personal than just a phone call, and we're also able to receive documents."

In response to the virus emergency, TVFCU also switched another 10 of its branch tellers to its downtown studios where they staffed interactive teller machines, known as "TVFCU Live" machines, which the credit union pioneered five years ago as part of its growing telebanking operation.

Photography by C.B. Schmelter / Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union President and CEO Todd Fortner 

Todd Fortner, president of TVFCU, said the rapid switch from in-person to virtual was possible due to the credit union's early work on remote tellers and the versatility bred into the workforce culture at the credit union.

"It's critical that we create a good work environment for our folks so that we are able to recruit great workers, especially with our growth rate of adding 8 to 10 percent more employees every year for the past four years," he says.

As an independent institution with nearly $1.6 billion in assets, TVFCU is locally controlled with a sufficient size to also give its employees a chance for innovation and variety for jobs, Fortner said. Fortner said TVFCU is also appealing to workers because of its mission to serve the local community as a member-owned, non-profit financial institution.

"We like to label ourselves as the community's financial institution where every member is an owner and, at the end of the day, what we're trying to do is help the members who do business with us improve their financial lives," he says.

To help better reflect the community it serves, TVFCU was one of the first financial institutions in Tennessee to add a vice president of diversity in 2017 when it added Dionne Jennings, formerly president of the Bessie Smith Cultural Center in Chattanooga, to its executive staff.

Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union

* Established: 1936

* Employees: Over 400 workers

* Why this is a Best Place to Work: With more than $1.5 billion in assets and 18 branches throughout the area, TVFCU is the largest credit union in the region. However, leaders truly believe that TVFCU’s greatest asset is its people — not the assets on the balance sheet.

* Online: tvfcu.com


"I just felt like that as a community financial institution if we were going to be representative of the communities that we serve that we needed to make sure that internally we had the employee base that reflected that, especially at our senior level, to best serve our diverse community," Fortner says.

During the current economic slowdown, TVFCU has suspended overdraft charges and allowed borrowers to skip a payment on their loans.

"Our capital position is terrific and these are the kinds of periods where you use that strong capital position to help our community and to help those that do business with us to the extent that we can," Fortner says.

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