Let Wakota Federal Credit Union be your financial destination

Kids make quilts at one of Wakota Federal Credit Union's monthly story times in 2015.

WFCU's staff celebrated its 85th anniversary on Feb. 10, 2016.

WFCU was named 2012 Small Business of the Year from the River Heights Chamber of Commerce.

In 1931, Wakota Federal Credit Union opened its doors as Armour Credit Union with the intention of providing “savings and thrift” to Armour Foods meatpacking plant employees and their families.

Now, more than 85 years later, the values that guided it in 1931 still remain today.

“We can serve anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers or attends school, and their family members, in Dakota County,” says Amanda Kissner, director of community affairs for the nonprofit credit union, which is owned by its members.

“This is the place we choose to call home,” adds Mary Matheson, president and CEO. 

Matheson says Wakota Federal Credit Union recognizes the need to help the underserved in the community. Lately, that focus has shifted to directly helping individuals in the Hispanic community in West St. Paul and South St. Paul who are “unbanked” or “underbanked,” for a variety of reasons, such as language barriers. 

Assisting people with lower incomes to save money has always been something the credit union has tried to do, Matheson says. 

“It goes back to our roots of opening to increase thrift amongst Armour employees,” she says. 


The seven principles

“There are seven core cooperative principles that we follow for the greater good of our community, credit union and members,” Kissner says.

• The first is voluntary and open membership. WFCU membership is available to anyone with a connection to Dakota County or whose family already belongs to the credit union. There is no fee to join.

• Second is democratic member control, which allows everyone to have a voice in how the credit union operates. 

“We are a democratic organization controlled by our members -- those who buy the goods and use our service -- who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions,” Kissner says.

The Board of Directors consists of members of the credit union, voted in at the annual meeting by their peer members, and all members are eligible to vote.

• Third is members’ economic participation. Members contribute equally to and democratically control the capital of the credit union. 

As membership grows and more people use WFCU’s products and services, it can offer lower fees, lower loan rates, higher savings rates and broader services.

• Fourth is autonomy and independence, which allow the credit union to always listen to the needs and wants of its membership. Wakota Federal believes in the mutual self-help of its members.

• Fifth is education, training and information. 

“We are dedicated to the financial literacy of our membership, youth specifically,” Kissner says, explaining the staff visits schools and presents basic money management to high school juniors and seniors. 

• Sixth is cooperation among cooperatives. This means WFCU serves its members most effectively by partnering with local, regional and national credit unions to form a network that gives WFCU members access to ATMs and branch locations across the country. 

• The final principle is concern for community. The credit union gives monetarily to the community and sponsors events throughout the year. This includes various volunteer activities like “Pay it Forward,” where WFCU employees painted a community room at the Good Samaritan Society of Inver Grove Heights, and distributed goodie bags to the seniors living in the John Carroll and Nan McKay buildings in South St. Paul.


Giving back

Kissner says Wakota Federal Credit Union tries to be involved in the community in more ways than just meeting clients’ banking needs.

A new initiative -- WINcentive Savings -- kicked off in 2016 and gives prizes to members, ranging from $85 to $5,000, monthly and annually. Members are entered every time they deposit $25 or more.

“We want to promote healthy savings habits while making the process fun and enjoyable,” says Patty Koran, director of finance.

Kissner explains it’s all about helping individual members and giving them the opportunity to succeed both financially and in life. 

While WFCU plans to expand its financial services and programs in the coming years, Matheson says it recognizes the importance of not growing too fast or losing focus.

“This is where our roots are, in South St. Paul,” Matheson says, “and we plan on keeping it in this area and just branching out and helping others in need.”

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