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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / A construction crew adds another panel to the facade at the new branch location for Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021.

Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union was established in 1936 when 57 TVA employees in Chattanooga pooled $500 to create the member-owned credit union. From its roots with a single employee operating the cash drawer in his desk, TVFCU has grown to one of the biggest credit unions in Tennessee, with more than 400 employees serving over 155,000 members in 13 area counties in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia.

"We're about serving our members and our community, not making money for shareholders," says TVFCU President Todd Fortner.

With more than $1.8 billion in assets, TVFCU is the largest credit union in the region. Janet Leamon, vice president of human resources at TVFCU, says the credit union wants to be the employer of choice for workers who are attracted by both the mission of TVFCU and the opportunities to learn, grow and have fun at work.

"Our associates are key to our success and we strive to listen to our employees and members and make this a place where people want to work and grow their careers," Leamon says.

Personalized service has been a cornerstone of TVFCU and most credit unions, but the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted most of the traditional face-to-face meetings. Like most financial institutions, TVFCU was forced to close most of its branches last spring and limit the number of people allowed in its offices.

Most of the credit union's staff was sent home initially in the spring of 2020 and many returned to reconfigured offices spread out to maintain social distancing. For a period, TVFCU even put workers back into its vacated corporate headquarters on Market Street to allow employees to spread out and for more tellers to interact remotely with customers.

Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union

* Established: 1936

* Employees: 415

* Why this is a Best Place to Work: As one of Tennessee’s biggest credit unions, TVFCU is owned by the 155,000 members in the Chattanooga region who rely upon the credit union for loans, savings accounts, checking, credit cards and other financial services. TVFCU employees serve a community mission and business decisions are made locally to serve the member-owners and as a growing financial institution, workers have the opportunity to develop and grow their careers in what credit union leaders say is a family-oriented atmosphere.

* Online: tvfcu.com

Leamon said the credit union prides itself on its innovation and technology and used that advantage to respond to the pandemic. TVFCU was the first credit union in the area to implement interactive teller machines in 2015. This technology allows for two-way communication and a touchless member experience, "which has been extremely valuable during the pandemic," Leamon says. Video banking launched during the pandemic also skyrocketed in popularity as the community moved towards online service channels to engage with the credit union.

"We've adjusted to changing needs and customer demands," Leamon says.

Last year, more than 10% of the credit union staff took on new jobs to boost online banking services while others worked to offer temporary relief for those struggling to pay their bills due to lost jobs or income from the economic slowdown.

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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Vice President of Human Resources Janet Leamon poses at TVFCU on Friday, March 19, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

With office lobbies closed and most people urged to stay home, the credit union switched a half dozen of its tellers to staff a new interactive video app, which allows customers to have a video conference with a credit union associate. The new app, which debuted last November but became far more popular when stay-at-home orders were issued, allows customers to connect with tellers via their phones and exchange and sign documents with credit union staffers online without leaving their homes.

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