In the Spotlight: ALPS Past, Present, Future
Sitka’s own ALPS Federal Credit Union has been in business since 1960. As president and CEO Sandi Riggs explained, ALPS was originally connected with Sitka’s pulp mill - Alaska Lumber & Pulp (ALP) - hence the name.
Sitka’s own ALPS Federal Credit Union has been in business since 1960. As president and CEO Sandi Riggs explained, ALPS was originally connected with Sitka’s pulp mill – Alaska Lumber & Pulp (ALP) – hence the name. Mill workers from Washington, Idaho and elsewhere came and wanted their own credit union. The new credit union was first located at the mill. Members started accumulating and ALPS moved into its own building on Sawmill Creek Rd., near Arrowhead Transfer. In 1985, ALPS became a community-chartered credit union – allowing membership to other local residents.
Said Riggs, “My parents, like many long-time Sitkans, had their home mortgage at ALPS.”
Well-established by 1993 (when the mill closed) ALPS continued to grow. In 1999 it moved to the current location near the juncture of Sawmill Creek Rd. and Halibut Point Rd. Its original charter expanded in 2013, to begin serving all of Southeast. Today there is a branch in Petersburg.
How does credit union differ from a bank? Traditionally defined as a member-owned financial cooperative, a credit union is controlled by its members and operated on a not-for-profit basis. Before Riggs came to work at ALPS in 2010, she was a member but had her mortgage at the Sitka branch of a large bank. Her philosophy has evolved.
A big boost to ALPS level of service came with the advent of “shared branching.” As part of a large network of credit unions around Alaska and the U.S., ALPS members have access even when traveling. In Alaska that network includes Alaska USA FCU and Tongass FCU.
Another example of how ALPS invests in the local community is the Scholarship Program. “It grew out of what started as ‘The Sandy K. Jones award for Outstanding Employee.’ The credit union took that concept and decided to shift it to scholarships. This will be our 4th year. We give out 15K per year.”
“We sit down every year in May to review applications. Every applicant has different strengths and different dreams. I am fascinated by the variety of applicants.” The scholarship committee may tinker with the structure each year (larger one-time amounts vs. smaller amounts but renewable). “What we really like to see from scholarship recipients is that they’re coming back to Alaska.” The applicant must be a member for at least six months. They may be a new high school graduate or have been in college already for a couple of years.
ALPS employees are helpful and friendly, even in these famously difficult times. This does not occur by accident, says Riggs, but is the result of a conscious effort by management to get the right person in the right position.
“It’s been hard for everyone in the past two years, but in financial services it’s been especially stressful. A couple things which help our staff is that we have excellent benefits that include college tuition, and we do community projects together. We’ve done outreach with Sitka High on ‘What is a Credit Union?’ and in 2021, we cleaned the playgrounds, skate park and harbors.”
“Everybody knows everybody in such a small town. The customers know us and we know them – they answer their phone when we call, even if it’s to talk about a problem. The purpose of the credit union is to share our resources – it takes the deposits to make the loans. If we all do our part, the profits come back to us and we can use them to help educate the community and make it a better place.”
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