Bay Federal Credit Union: Making a Difference

Bay Federal Credit Union’s branch offices were transformed last month into unicorn playgrounds, feasting halls for horn-helmeted Viking, Jurassic-era caves roaming with dinosaurs, even gunslinger scenes right out of the Wild West. From Cruella de Vil and her dalmatians to time travelers and the Scoobie Doo squad, the staff and offices transform each year at Halloween for one of the region’s most enthusiastic competitions, with costumes, decorating and all-out performances.

The employees – and the credit union members who come to bank there – have an absolute blast.

It’s an attitude that doesn’t just come once a year: The Capitola-based not-for-profit financial cooperative was recently named 2019’s “Best Credit Union to Work For” in Credit Union Journal’s ranking of the top 50 institutions across the country, based on a review of employers’ benefits, workplace policies and practices, and extensive employee surveys.


A workplace culture where employees look forward to coming to work and enjoy each other’s company didn’t just happen by accident.

“Our whole mission is centered around creating a culture of employees that are excited over getting up in the morning, excited about improving our members’ financial lives,” says President and CEO Carrie Birkhofer, who also serves on MBEP’s Board of Directors. “It takes focus and persistence, and it’s important to be very purposeful over what you want in a culture.”

As a member-owned financial institution, Bay Federal Credit Union is indeed making a difference, serving the needs of 77,000 members and 1,200 local businesses throughout Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey counties and reinvesting back into the community it serves. “The money that people deposit, we turn around and lend it out into the community,” says Birkhofer.

Its 225 employees make a positive impact on the region through an award-winning employee volunteer program that benefits numerous local schools, nonprofit organizations, and community events each year. For example, this past spring, Bay Federal Credit Union employees raised $11,055.33 in their annual Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals fundraiser, and credit union members and employees raised $11,285 for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Santa Cruz County through the credit union’s 28th annual Bowl for Kids’ Sake pledge drive.

Next year, Bay Federal Credit Union will start offering business loans, with the eventual goal of becoming an SBA lender. It also plans to add real estate business loans, enhance its credit card rewards and re-launch a new home equity line of credit program. “People could use home equity loans to build ADUs, a small unit in the back of their house, to increase the housing supply,” says Birkhofer.  “We’re trying to fill a niche that some of the larger banks don’t fill.”

A new Salinas branch office is the first step of an expansion into Monterey County, and the financial institution is continuously investing in its mobile technology platform, “so that members can engage with us wherever they are,” says Birkhofer,

Earlier this year, Bay Federal Credit Union achieved another noteworthy milestone when it surpassed $1 billion in assets, proving that an organization can indeed do good while still doing well. After all, you can’t get much nicer than handing out ice cream during the recent PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoff, which is exactly what Bay Federal Credit Union did for its members and neighbors.

It comes down to community.

“If you allow employees to be seen for who they are and recognize their creative talents, you can see amazing things happen in your business. People want to feel like they make a difference.”