About Us

Cooperative Federal: Investing in People

Cooperative Federal is more than an ordinary credit union. Founded by local organizers and activists in 1982, we are a mission-driven, community-owned nonprofit focused on social and economic justice.

When you bank with Cooperative Federal, you’re making a choice to join our movement. Above and beyond community revitalization or economic growth, we are building a future that works for all of us: one that stands in opposition to the structures of racism, oppression, exploitation and injustice.


What are we here to do?

Cooperative Federal’s mission is to foster social equity and economic justice in Syracuse, NY by connecting all people with capital and banking services - especially in communities that have been unjustly excluded from wealth.


What future do we want to help create?

We envision a solidarity economy: a world where all people are valued, have opportunity, and can be part of a sustainable future.

Guiding Values

  • Solidarity: We're in this together. For each, for all.
  • Racial Justice: We recognize and work against systemic and institutional racism.
  • Social Equity: We all deserve the opportunity to reach our full potential. We understand the impact of privilege, and the difference between equality and equity.
  • Self-Determination: We honor everyone's right to decide who they are, what they want, and how to live their truth.
  • Sustainability: We strive to be part of healthy, regenerative systems - in nature and in society. We seek to do less harm and more good for the future of our planet.

Cooperative Federal is owned and operated by its members. There are no other owners. Unlike banks, we’re run democratically by an all-volunteer Board of Directors, not wealthy shareholders.

All of our members’ savings are invested locally through loans to people, small businesses, and nonprofits in our membership. Unlike commercial banks, we don’t invest in Wall Street and we don’t finance large corporations. Socially responsible finance is the heart and soul of our credit union.

Deposits are federally insured by the National Credit Union Administration and backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government. Read more about NCUA Insurance.

Founding Vision: 1981

Cooperative Federal’s story began in 1981 with little more than “a dollar and a dream.” A team of community organizers, dissatisfied with the mainstream financial system, used $30 in donations to fund a grassroots pledge campaign. Applying organizing skills learned from participation in the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the student and anti-war movements, and other social justice movements of the 1960s-1980s, they raised $100,000 in deposit pledges and secured a charter from the National Credit Union Administration effective February 18, 1982.

Our founders were specifically concerned with divesting from businesses that supported the Apartheid system of racial oppression in South Africa; providing fair, friendly financial services designed by and for people of modest means; and serving people that conventional banks failed to serve or subjected to discrimination: women; black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC); LGBTQIAP people; households with little wealth and low income; very small businesses; unconventional businesses and organizations such as cooperatives, community groups and nonprofits; and part-time workers including many women, artists, musicians, youth, and those coping with underemployment.

In addition, the founders demanded that the credit union be sound, fiscally responsible and accountable. Such a credit union, they hoped, would help build a foundation for a community-based economy and gain a measure of independence from a distant, unjust, and unaccountable global economy.

Putting Down Roots: 1982-1995

When Coop Fed initially opened, in the spring of 1982, we operated a volunteer-powered branch in the back of the Syracuse Cooperative Market. There, members could access savings accounts, personal loans and microbusiness loans. Our fledgling credit union gradually added a staff person, a home-based loan office, checking accounts, mortgages and more. In 1994 we celebrated our first major expansion: moving into a small building we purchased at 723 Westcott Street, in the heart of an underserved, multicultural urban neighborhood. That branch would remain our home base for nearly 30 years.

Embracing Community Development: 1996-2001 In the late 90s, we formally joined the emerging national movement for community finance. Coop Fed earned a Low Income Credit Union designation (NCUA – 1996), became certified as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI Fund / US Treasury Dept – 2001), and introduced programs for financial education, business advising, housing rehabilitation and more. Over those years we played a major role in the stabilization and revival of the Westcott/Near Eastside neighborhood, the redevelopment of the Westcott shopping district, and helped to sustain several key neighborhood nonprofits and businesses.

Citywide Financial Inclusion: 2002-2008

Our renewed and expanded community development vision soon drove us to expand throughout Syracuse. We answered calls from black-led community organizations to establish a credit union branch in the Southwest Community Center (2002), introduced a HUD Housing Counseling Program (2005), and expanded our financial education and business development programs. We developed bilingual Spanish services (2004) and rapidly grew in popularity within local Hispanic/Latinx communities. We opened our third branch in Syracuse’s Northside neighborhood (2008) and introduced multilingual programs to serve refugees and other New Americans building their futures in Syracuse.

Surviving and Thriving: 2009-2019

The most challenging chapter of our history unfolded in 2009, when shockwaves from the financial meltdown led to unexpected losses and lost income. The ensuing recession took a great toll on our members and our credit union. While this turmoil triggered a rash of mergers among small credit unions nationwide, we successfully adjusted our business plan, weathered the storm and remained independent.

Unwilling to retreat from our mission, Cooperative Federal spent the next decade reaffirming our deep mission commitment, developing new revenue streams, and building technological infrastructure for more efficient and automated services. During this phase we solidified our coalition-based approach to community finance, cultivating and nurturing dynamic collaborations with a growing cohort of community partners: schools, workforce development centers, entrepreneurship programs, refugee resettlement agencies, neighborhood development and housing agencies, local and regional government, community centers, social service agencies, faith based groups, neighborhood associations, and on. We also introduced a new Southside branch colocated with the Syracuse Housing Authority (2017).

Passing the Torch: 2019-Present

Finally, 2019 brought a monumental milestone: the retirement of our founding CEO, Ron Ehrenreich. Ron’s leadership throughout his 37-year tenure was not only invaluable to Coop Fed, which grew into a high-impact and resilient credit union under his care; he was also a pioneer and a true visionary for the community finance movement, and an unwavering ally in movements for social, economic, and racial justice. Christina Sauve, formerly Coop Fed’s Chief Operating Officer (COO), was appointed as our new CEO upon Ron’s retirement in October 2019.

Today, in the face of an unprecedented pandemic, economic uncertainty, and a national reckoning on racial justice, our community needs democratic finance more than ever. We are dedicated to rising to these challenges. By expanding our online services, cultivating BIPOC leadership on our staff and board, and relocating our Eastside branch to an expanded facility, we will continue to evolve in ways that affirm and help uplift Syracuse communities.