Caring for the Caregivers

By serving the members of the health-care industry, Providence Federal Credit Union supports the larger Portland community

Shirley Cate has made her career in credit unions, starting as a teller 29 years ago. Today, as the CEO of Providence Federal Credit Union, she’s in front of the counter, building strong relationships with the community.

The philosophies and values of a successful credit union are similar to the values of a close-knit community. This is certainly the case with a credit union that focuses its efforts serving the health-care industry, and it’s one of the reasons that Shirley Cate was excited to join Providence Federal Credit Union as its CEO in July of 2007. “One of the reasons I came on board at Providence is that I knew we were serving an industry that focuses on caring for people’s well-being, and that’s part of what we’re about, helping those in need,” she says. “For me, health care and community share a lot in common with the spirit of credit unions—the primary philosophy of people helping people.”

Under Cate’s leadership, Providence Federal Credit Union has been involved with the health-care professionals it serves on a number of levels. The credit union not only provides financial assistance but also fosters volunteerism among its staff and imbues all of its relationships with a sense of closeness and support.

Cate began her career with credit unions in 1983, and has worked her way from teller to CEO during her 29 years in the business. Being the CEO of a midsized credit union such as Providence sees Cate wearing many different hats. She is very involved with the everyday investments, the investments that need to be purchased, and also accounting and asset liability management. In addition, Cate enjoys seeking out and building new professional relationships. “Part of my responsibility is to meet with people throughout the health system and to see if there are opportunities to grow—in the way of new locations, getting us into new hospitals, and helping the number of our members grow,” she says.

Since its inception, Providence Federal Credit Union has been closely entwined with the health-care industry. The St. Vincent Portland Federal Credit Union was founded in 1962 by a group of employees at St. Vincent Hospital in Beaverton, Oregon. In 1969, a second group from Providence Portland Medical Center started Providence Portland Employee’s Federal Credit Union. In 1997, these two merged to create the current company.

Providence serves anyone employed in the health-care system in Oregon and Washington, whether they are doctors, dentists, nurses, or general staff. The families of the employees are eligible for membership as well. The credit union also has a Trade Industry Profession charter that allows them to take anyone within the health-care profession, rather than exclusively those working within Providence Health and Services.

One recurring theme at Providence Federal Credit Union is community, which means volunteerism and close personal involvement. “Being on-site is important,” Cate says. “One of the things I told myself when I came on board was to make sure the hospital is giving us the opportunity and allowing us to be present, having ATMs and a branch on-site.”

The staff at Providence Federal Credit Union routinely goes above and beyond normative financial service by assisting the hospitals in many different ways. Examples include volunteering at hospital events, participating in foundation committee meetings, making generous donations, and working with the Providence Child Center Foundation. “The Providence Child Center Foundation is an organization that helps medically fragile children who are unable to do things on their own,” Cate says. “Our employees step up every time and help the organization, whether it’s fund-raising or volunteering on the phone lines. And it’s not a hard sell: We say we need volunteers and the hands shoot up. We have what we need in five to ten minutes.”

The nature of the health-care industry also gives Providence Federal Credit Union a unique opportunity to have its quality of service impact those who receive the medical attention as well. “Anyone whose finances are being taken care of by someone they trust, that is going to make their day go better, create peace of mind, and let them focus on their patients and the care they are giving,” says Cate.