By Kirsten Gunsberg
It was the early 90’s when Karen Browne, then a loan officer at a downstate credit union, and her new husband made the transition from occasionally visiting northern Michigan to moving up here full time from Saginaw. This was well before elite titles like “foodie destination” were thrown around, before downtown Traverse City became a hub for small businesses and startups, even before Karen’s favorite lunch pitstop, Centre Street Cafe plated their first organic salad. The pair were simply drawn to the natural beauty of the area and settled into a busy life on acres upon acres in Fife Lake where they corralled cattle and horses, started a family and claimed the north as home.
Up here, there’s a quiet nuance to life that makes maneuvering through the everyday feel somehow more precious. Neighbors check in, communities rally and coworkers look out for each other which is exactly how the TBA Credit Union, where Karen now serves as President and CEO, came to be back in 1955. Back then, a handful of local educators began loaning money out to one another via spare cash and handwritten IOU’s tossed into a cigar box to fund that last stretch between paydays.
Before long, this honor system grew into an institution that remained exclusive to area educators until 2002. By 2017, membership to the credit union opened to all Michigan residents, no matter their vicinity to the two locations in Traverse City.
Karen, who first started off at TBACU as an assistant to the CEO, notes that some people wonder why a credit union that managed to thrive through The Great Recession only boasts two offices to which she explains that instead of pouring resources into building more physical branches, the credit union is focused on enhancing their banking technology to better serve the members in their community.
For Karen and her team at TBACU, reaching the community is about more than just offering financial products though – all employees are given 8 hours of paid time each year to volunteer for local organizations like Michael’s Place, Children’s Advocacy Center and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwestern Michigan.
They’ve also created their own youth enrichment program, the Student Run Credit Union (SRCU) which is currently active in a dozen elementary and middle schools throughout the region. Just around the same time that students are ready to start earning an allowance at home, the SRCU offers them the opportunity to learn financial literacy, apply real-world math skills and learn about careers in the financial industry as they run their own in-school credit unions where they also do their own banking.
Aside from the SRCU, Karen is proud to share financial workshops, scholarship programs and classroom improvement grants to members of TBACU. After spending nearly three decades with TBA Credit Union, Karen says that her sense of accomplishment doesn’t just stem from building a successful career at a local non-profit, “I feel successful being a CEO, but the real success to me in life is the joy I receive from my friends and family and giving back. I would not be the person I am without faith. Focusing on the positive and believing in the good in the world. I am a very optimistic person. I always look for the positive.”
To learn more about how TBA Credit Union gives back and to find out how to become a member visit their website here.
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