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How NYU Federal Credit Union Is Forging Partnerships To Support Their Members

Community Partners

Mira Ness comes from humble beginnings: in her words, she was born into a very big family in a very small town in Kazakhstan. Still, Mira found a way to become the president of one of her country’s biggest banks. However, when she moved to the United States with her American husband, Mira found herself in a country that makes it difficult for immigrants to translate their professional skills into meaningful work. Mira struggled to find a financial services job that leveraged her leadership skills, and she was repeatedly passed over for manager positions because of her lack of “American experience.” 

Mira Ness, CEO of New York University (NYU) Federal Credit Union

Eventually, Mira took a job as a customer service representative for a commercial bank. After that, she took a job at an investment bank; however, when she learned that her position was being relocated to Florida, Mira started to look for a new job that would allow her to stay in New York City. That’s how she learned about New York University (NYU) Federal Credit Union, which was looking for a new CEO. Mira interviewed for the position, and in 2006, she was hired as the credit union’s CEO. She quickly discovered that she and NYU Federal Credit Union were a perfect match.

NYU Federal Credit Union was founded in August of 1982 by then-NYU president John Brademas for the benefit of the university’s employees. Since its inception, the credit union’s services have been extended to faculty, alumni, students, retirees, and their family members. When Mira joined the credit union in 2006, it had approximately 2,000 members and roughly $7 million in assets. Today, NYU Federal Credit Union has about 10,000 members and more than $70 million in assets. Additionally, the credit union is a CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution) with a Low-Income Designation, meaning that all interest it accrues is passed on to its members in the form of better rates on loans and lower- or no-fee financial services. According to Mira, 86% of NYU Federal Credit Union’s members are minorities and low-income, which in New York City, means that they make less than $96,000 a year. 

Over the years, NYU Federal Credit Union has expanded what it’s able to offer its members. That includes online banking, Zelle, and Apple Pay, as well as student loan consolidation, quick cash loans, and credit-builder loans. “We are able to provide the loans that our members need,” Mira said. “We’re constantly trying to listen to our members about what they want.” 

Mira Ness with two NYU Federal Credit Union members

One of the first additions that Mira made at NYU Federal Credit Union when she joined 17 years ago was a mortgage program. Within six months of joining, she added five mortgage loans to the credit union’s portfolio, which allowed the credit union to begin making money on interest “right away.” Since then, NYU Federal Credit Union has continued to expand its mortgage program to include mortgage preparedness loans, first-time homebuyers loans, and down-payment assistance loans, which has become the credit union’s most popular offering. 

Given the popularity of its mortgage programs, NYU Federal Credit Union offers numerous financial education and information seminars. Although much of the credit union’s business flows out of these seminars, Mira says that that’s not her and her team’s goal. “Our goal is education and to help people,” she said. “We want people to get the best possible deal, and if someone else is going to be able to give it to them, we tell them to go for it. Educating people and gaining trust is the most important thing.”

Growing Alongside Partners

NYU Federal Credit Union relies on a number of partnerships to serve its members. For example, the credit union partners with Citibank to give its members access to the bank’s sprawling network of ATMs, and it partners with Neighborhood Housing Services of NYC to host its financial education seminars about available housing grants for low income members. It even partners with Citi Bike NYC to provide its members with a considerable discount to access thousands of bikes across New York City, Jersey City, and Hoboken. However, one of NYU Federal Credit Union’s most innovative partner relationships is with United Nations Federal Credit Union, a large, international credit union that has a presence in New York City.

Although NYU Federal Credit Union’s assets have grown considerably since Mira joined in 2006, the credit union is still too small to carry a high number of mortgages on its balance sheet, despite the demand from its membership. Therefore, to meet its members’ needs, the credit union forged a partnership with the United Nations Federal Credit Union. NYU Federal Credit Union sells its mortgages to United Nations Federal Credit Union, but holds onto 10% of each loan. In return, United Nations Federal Credit Union gets to improve its balance sheet, while NYU Federal Credit Union gets to serve more members. Last year, the arrangement resulted in NYU Federal Credit Union earning approximately $400,000 in fees, which Mira says was a “huge boost” to the credit union’s bottom line.

Another partnership that’s proving to be beneficial for NYU Federal Credit Union is with CNote. In 2023, NYU Federal Credit Union became a CNote Impact Cash® Partner. CNote invests Impact Cash® dollars in mission-driven and FDIC- and NCUA-insured partners like NYU Federal Credit Union, generating returns on institutional investors’ cash allocations while supporting financially underserved communities across the country. “Because we need cash flow, and we have to have liquidity for our transactional mortgages,” Mira said, “CNote has been very helpful for us.”

The Right Team Today for Tomorrow

Currently, NYU Federal Credit Union has 14 employees, including Mira. However, in the next few years, she would like to be able to hire more people so that NYU Federal Credit Union can expand its product offerings and better serve its members from its two branch locations. Specifically, Mira would like to hire one or two full-time certified housing counselors to help grow the credit union’s most popular programs. Doing so, however, presents a chicken-egg scenario for the credit union: “you have to make more money to hire people,” said Mira, “and to make more money, you need more employees who can provide services. That’s where our challenge is right now.”

Despite that challenge, Mira is confident that she has both the right team and the right board alongside her to continue to find new and better ways to serve NYU Federal Credit Union’s growing membership. “These people devote their personal time and this team works very hard,” she said. “Nothing can be accomplished by one person.”

The NYU Federal Credit Union team

Learn More:

  • New York University (NYU) Federal Credit Union is a financial cooperative that was created in 1982 by NYU employees under the leadership of James Ramsey, to exclusively serve the NYU faculty, staff, employees, students, alumni and retirees and their family members.
  • CNote is a women-led investment platform that empowers individuals and institutions to invest locally to further economic equality, racial justice, gender equity, and address climate change.

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