Page One

Credit union opening doors at new location

Friday July 27, 2001

By Matt Lorenz 

Special to the Daily Planet 


Its got a long name and a longer history in Berkeley.  

The Cooperative Center Federal Credit Union was chartered in 1942 to serve employees and customers of the Consumer’s Cooperative of Berkeley and the rest of the Co-op Market Chain. Though the market went out of business in 1988, Berkeley’s CCFCU has flourished and is about to re-assert its presence in Berkeley at a new location, 2001 Ashby Ave. 

For about 10 years, CCFCU has been renting a space in the large office building at 2855 Telegraph Ave. The credit union decided it would avoid some long-term costs if it owned its space instead of renting it.  

CCFCU President Gary Bell sees this move as a lot more important than mere logistics. 

“It gives us a chance to make a better presence to the community,” Bell said. “In the next six months to a year, when you drive past the corner of Adeline and Ashby, people will give directions by saying, ‘You drive two blocks past the coop and make a right.’” 

“It gives us a chance to have an actual footprint – to become a landmark, in a sense,” Bell said. 

In most ways, a credit union is no different from any other financial institution. Customers make the same transactions that they would at a bank: They open savings or checking accounts, and they take out loans.  

But the small ways that credit unions are different are of no small importance.  

A federal credit union is a cooperative financial institution, which means it’s owned and operated by all its members. There are over 12,000 credit unions nationwide.  

Like any representative democracy, the full membership votes to elect a board of volunteers, said Dorie Walters, a CCFCU loan manager. The board members of CCFCU serve three-year terms, and it is their duty to find ways to provide members with reasonable rates and a safe environment to save and borrow.  

It’s not often that a customer has this much say about the kinds of services and options available, and credit-union members do. Yet even aside from that, there’s still another important way that credit unions differ from the average bank.  

“The biggest difference is that our money’s not being sent overseas to invest in some foreign company,” Bell said. “We’re not even sending money out of the state.  

“We’re investing in the people of Berkeley to get them a return on their investments.” 

To be a member of CCFCU, one’s employer must be among its list of sponsors, said Vicki Fong, a branch manager. Two of the largest sponsors on CCFCU’s list are Alta Bates Hospital and UC Berkeley students.  

The credit union is always looking to forge new relationships with employers, and people can push this process along by contacting the credit union with the authorization of their employers.  

Fong thinks the move may introduce them to some new members. 

“Hopefully the merchants in that area will open accounts with us because we’re there,” Fong said. “We’re convenient.” 

The official move-in date is today, and Berkeley’s cooperative credit union hopes to be open for business Monday morning, July 30. 

More accessible than it has ever been – beside Ashby BART and bearing its own parking – the new location seems to be working out pretty well already, even before the move-in. 

“We’re already hearing from people who live in the area saying, ‘When are you guys gonna open?’” Bell said. “Because ever since Bank of America and Wells Fargo left the area there’s been nothing for a mile or so at least.”  

Bell is confident that Berkeley residents will see the value in CCFCU’s effort to become more visible and accessible. And that they’ll see the difference that a community, financial institution can make in people’s lives. 

“We’re not some corporation from another city that’s putting a branch in here,” he said.  

“We can be better neighbors to the community and have a better understanding of what the Berkeley communities needs are when it comes to their financial decisions.”