“I give an enormous amount of credit to the founders of this credit union who had a vision to start a credit union for the Portuguese community in 1928. At the time access to the Cambridge Portuguese Credit Union was very limited – you had to live in Cambridge and you had to be Portuguese to belong to the Credit Union,” said Rui Domingos, CEO of Naveo Credit Union (NCU).
Naveo Credit Union is putting into practice a new vision that embraces the diverse communities in Cambridge, Somerville and surrounding towns, MA. This 90-year-old institution celebrated its anniversary throughout the year with various events, most recently with a BBQ for their members at their main branch.
Feel Portugal In The USA Magazine was present at the celebration and had the opportunity to hear from Rui Domingos about Naveo’s current business model.
The conversation started with Domingos explaining that Naveo is open to all communities, not just the Portuguese community. He said that anyone who has an account with the Credit Union is a member/owner and can attend their nomination and annual meetings, where they can participate and vote in the decisions of the Credit Union. Unlike a corporate bank, the Credit Union is owned by its members, not stockholders.In order to understand all these changes, Rui told us about Naveo’s history, formerly Cambridge Portuguese Credit Union’s (CPCU), and how he admired the group of 27 visionaries who created it in 1928. The idea arose because Portuguese immigrants coming to the US had no access to credit or bank savings accounts.
He went on and said, “The initial goal was to stay member-focused by saving together and lending to each other.” Up until 1974, they operated in small offices on Cambridge Street and other locations. As the organization continued to grow, they moved their first branch to 251 Hampshire St., which still exists today. In 1991, a second branch opened in Somerville because the Cambridge location became overcrowded with an increasing number of members who had to wait in lines that stretched outside to the sidewalk.
As the Credit Union continued to grow, immigration from Portugal started to diminish and in 2006 the Credit Union expanded its membership to everyone who lived in the area. It took a while to change the perception that Naveo was no longer just for the Portuguese. In order to become even more inclusive, the Credit Union changed its name to Naveo Credit Union in 2014. This was a successful strategic move to acquire new members.
There is this perception that credit unions are like your grandfather’s credit union …but this credit union has evolved from basic savings accounts and small loans and mortgages. The reality is that we offer all the same products large banks can offer.” said Domingos.
According to him, the Credit Union is made up by the people for the people. They provide services to their members from a teller to the CEO. Being smaller gives them an advantage because they can change quickly, unlike a big bank who has more difficulty changing. In other words “we are a good organization with good service, and we want to pass that on to our neighborhood,” said Domingos.
One of the reasons people are choosing credit unions as an alternative to big banks is because of the recent turmoil with risky mortgages and the lack of a sense of community. We asked a few members who were at the BBQ celebration about their experience banking with Naveo. Christian Nikas, who was sitting at a table said “It’s better than a bank. I was born in Cambridge and grew up in Somerville and I have been with Naveo Credit Union for over 10 years.” When he lived in Cambridge he joined the Cambridge Portuguese Credit Union once he learned that he didn’t have to be Portuguese to become a member. “Credit unions are very good and I have been very happy over the last 10 years,” said Nikas.
Also, Michael Bloom a retired computer programmer and long time member who now lives in Somerville said, “I kept banking with small local institutions because they keep the community thriving. Big corporations funnel up all the money and take it out of the community while credit unions trade with the community and money stays there.”
Rui Domingos from Mangualde, Portugal, moved to the US in 1988 to go further his education and attend college. He settled in Somerville and he got involved with the local community at a young age.
“I started to develop a passion for the credit union industry and how we serve our members,” said Domingos.
He started working at the Credit Union as a teller, while going to college, in 1991 when they opened the second branch in Somerville. His ability to speak Portuguese was crucial to getting the job.
Working with his mentors made him understand how credit unions work. His initial plan was to become a CPA, then he changed to finance and graduated with a degree in computer science. He quickly moved up from teller to the mortgage department, then to operations department, where he became VP of Operations, then VP of Information Technology and Marketing, then again to VP of Operations and in 2005 he became CEO.
Naveo proudly takes an active role in the community by supporting community organizations. They partner with local non-profits which bring value to the community. “One thing that gives us a lot of pride is how we connect with our community,” said Domingos. He went on to say that Naveo helps local organizations like Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers (MAPS), Community Cooks, SCM Transportation, Escola Portuguesa de Cambridge e Somerville and also providing scholarships to local students.
Due to the changes in the banking industry, Naveo had to adjust to a modern way of banking. A lot of things that traditionally have been done at the branches are now offered remotely. We have nearly 2500 members that do banking remotely without going into the branch.
Four years ago Naveo joined the Shared Branching network to provide members access to a network of over 5,000 participating credit unions throughout the world. This network allows members to go to other credit unions to process their transactions, just as they would at Naveo.
Because the new generation of people is super comfortable with technology they don’t need a big branch. They need fewer people and more technology. In other words, a boutique branch.
The way he sees the future for the Credit Union in terms of growth, is to continue our efforts connect with people and meet their financial needs. A lot of people are looking for small local credit unions. They want a local organization, but they also want the convenience of technology. Naveo offers both!