Meredith Ritchie – Alliant Credit Union
- Written by: Fatima Taha
- Produced by: Matthew Warner & Cherie Scott
- Est. reading time: 4 mins
In 1935, deciding they’d rather pool their money to start a cooperative instead of putting it in a traditional bank, seven United Airlines employees launched Alliant Credit Union. The motto—“Be Bold”—drew Meredith Ritchie to the company in August 2007.
For the past 15 years, she’s helped Alliant grow safely and give customers competitive rates. On paper, her title is senior vice president, general counsel and chief ethics and governmental affairs officer, but her work often encompasses more. She recently partnered with the Illinois Credit Union League to sponsor the Illinois Credit Union Act, which as of May 2022 allows Alliant and other credit unions to invest in financial technology companies.
Ritchie also helped Alliant become entirely digital in 2014 which allowed the company to eliminate all overdraft fees. This was possible because the credit union’s few remaining physical branches, which were expensive and redundant, were eliminated. As a member-owned credit union, all profits go back to the members.
“In the end, it comes down to our members—over 700,000 across the country,” she says. “Our mission is to provide each one consistently superior financial value while making banking simple.”
Being bold—with ERGs
Ritchie says Alliant also seeks to empower employees by creating a collaborative atmosphere, which is why the company holds a free lunch once a week. These lunches can sometimes include over 100 people, which she says helps everyone feel included.
“We want them to look back and say, ‘I learned so much at Alliant and acquired so many new skills,’” she says.
That’s partly what led Richie to create Alliant’s first employee resource group. The main reason, however, came in 2017 when a recently hired co-worker lamented the lack of a forum where women could grow together and engage in professional development.
She and Ritchie began talking to companies and law firms that had such an employee resource group in place. After pitching it to leadership and receiving approval, the women-centric ERG, called INCLUDE, kicked off in 2019 with an on-site event that was open to everyone in the company. Ritchie hosted a panel discussion of five women—three business leaders and two Alliant board members—who shared their experiences and path to leadership while maintaining a work-life balance.
“It was a resounding success, and we received feedback that gave us full support for future events,” says Ritchie, who shares that Alliant has since created two more ERGs.
Innovation, expansion and foundations
To build and launch the ERG, Ritchie drew upon her work building the Alliant Credit Union Foundation nearly a decade before her co-worker approached her.
In 2008, she helped build the foundation at the request of Alliant’s CEO and the board. Working with a colleague in the finance department, she assembled a plan and mapped the legal requirements. This took nearly two years, during which she handled all the filings alongside outside counsel; this included getting approval from government agencies.
“When we finally launched, the executives at Alliant and the board made an initial gift of nearly $4 million in seed money, which was a very exciting moment and a wonderful beginning,” Ritchie recalls.
When the foundation launched, its purpose was providing financial literacy and empowering those within Alliant and the surrounding communities. Now the foundation focuses on bridging the digital divide—helping individuals get access to high-speed internet, devices and the skills to use them. Giving people the tools to be successful resonates with Ritchie because of her upbringing, she says.
“Everything goes back to my parents—amazing people who have sadly passed away—because they always focused on education,” she says. “They told me that it was the one thing no one can take away from you, and it will always open doors.”
Her mother also told her she should work hard and choose something she loves before translating it into a career. So, Ritchie graduated from Hamilton College with a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature. She studied French during this time, worked in several radio stations, and eventually came to realize that her diversity of thought would make her an excellent general counsel. By 1991, she’d graduated from DePaul University College of Law and was hired as an attorney and litigator at a Chicago firm.
From 1999 to 2005, she was a leader for public aid and then the deputy general counsel of Central Management Services with the State of Illinois. When the opportunity at Alliant Credit Union came along in 2007, she was ready to take on a new challenge, working in-house and helping develop the culture.
“I thoroughly enjoy working at Alliant, where I can really stretch my legal muscle—having helped launch new legislation, a new ERG and a new foundation,” Ritchie says. “We’re all excited about the governor signing the new legislation that allows Alliant to invest in fintechs as we continue to grow—and I’m particularly looking forward to the new workshops we’re developing for the ERG, INCLUDE, to help promote women in the workforce.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Fall II 2022 Edition here.
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