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Q&A with Denise Cooper, CEO of Upper Cumberland Federal Credit Union

Denise Cooper, CEO of Upper Cumberland Federal Credit Union in Crossville, will retire on Tuesday, April 30. Here’s a Q&A in honor of her 45-year credit union career.

How long did you work within the banking/credit union industry?

As of April 24, 2024, I have worked in the credit union industry for 45 years. I have enjoyed every day, month and year working for Upper Cumberland Federal Credit Union. My last official day on the job will be April 30, 2024.

Describe your first role within the financial services industry. How has the credit union changed since you started?

I was the only employee for five years. In those days, the credit union was so small ($480,000 in assets) that you filled out member ledger cards and hand-posted members transactions by hand. I calculated dividends and loan interest by hand. It is a wonderful thing that members can now view their bank statement on their iPhone, view transactions, dividends, share and loan balances while also having the convenience of an ATM card and/or debit card. It is awesome that members can even use mobile deposit, etc. at their convenience.

Looking back on your career, what has been your most rewarding accomplishment?

A few things: We began adding SEG groups in 1985 and then converted to a community charter in 1995. This was a true blessing since our main sponsor transferred all the local jobs to Mexico in 2000, so it was our saving grace to have already expanded to serving other employer groups and getting a community charter.

Also, I am thankful our board agreed to changing the credit union name in 1995 to fit the community that we serve. I have also been a part of expanding our community charter to five counties and we have branches in three of those counties.

Also, I have helped encourage and mentor the next level of employees who are about to take the rein at the credit union. We have several excellent leaders at our credit union.

What do you hope people will remember the most about your leadership?

I have always tried to involve people from different departments to help make the crucial decisions. I think we are always a better leader if we have involved more people before we make a final decision. I believe this is the reason we have so many capable leaders at the credit union.

What propelled you to stay within the credit union industry?

I worked for a bank for one year and really hated the job. The credit union is the only job I have ever enjoyed. It is my home because I always felt that we helped people have a better life. I love that credit unions take care of all members regardless of their income level, savings balance or position within the community.

What advice do you have for young professionals?

Show management you are willing to try different jobs and that you are willing to step up to a challenge. Help others, support your co-workers and do not whine if you are asked to do more than another employee. This may be a true test before the credit union considers offering a future promotion. Also, never let the older employees feel inferior if you catch on to technology a little quicker. The older employees bring a different skillset to the credit union with their years of experience that you have not yet mastered. There is a place for everyone to shine on the job and you will never be considered a leader if you try to tarnish someone else.

What’s next for you? What are you most looking forward to in retirement?

I am ready to slow down and enjoy the simple things in life. I will enjoy spending more time with family, friends and good neighbors. I will also enjoy spending time at my small homestead farm that consists of raised-bed gardens, a Yoderbilt greenhouse, goats and dogs! I have a goal of hiking every trail at all Tennessee State Parks. I will continue to be involved in some local community organizations.

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