O Bee Credit Union: Community-Driven Innovator


You’ve heard it before, but this time there can be no doubt: O Bee Credit Union is different. From its historical local roots to becoming one of today’s financial and marketing forward-thinkers, O Bee Credit Union simply does things its own, innovative way.

Chartered in 1955 to serve Olympia Brewing Company employees, O Bee Credit Union has branches in Tumwater, Tenino and Lacey. A framed photo in the lobby of the Tumwater branch depicts women workers in 1940 sorting bottle caps at the brewery.

It’s fitting that this photographic piece of history holds a place of honor among the bustle of today’s modern financial institution, because O Bee Credit Union (OBCU) looks respectfully on its past, while charging forward with pioneering programs that have landed a slew of awards.

The Unofficial History of an Unusual Name

First things first: What’s the story behind the curious name? No one actually knows for certain.

Former O Bee Vice President Carolyn Caruso shares the story as she heard it from Ted McGill, OBCU’s original Treasurer/Manager, who retired in 1971. “The original directors proposed something like Olympia Brewing Company Employees and Families Credit Union,” Caruso explains. But McGill knew he’d write the name a million times over the course of his career, and requested a shorter moniker.

According to Ted, the application went into the Secretary of State’s office as

“OB Credit Union,” but came back approved as “O Bee Credit Union.”

“I always speculated that it was done because there was a conflict of registered names,” says Caruso. “It may even be that it conflicted with the brewery’s registered names, because they often were known as OBCo. But I never knew officially.”

Another unofficial story of the credit union’s name comes from current Vice President of Marketing Lee Wojnar. “The story I love to tell is that they were testing a little too much beer when they were registering it. They wanted it to say O BEER, but they forgot the extra R,” he says with a laugh.

Credit Unions vs. Banks

OBCU is now open for membership to anyone who lives, works, or worships in Washington State. But why choose a credit union over a bank?

By definition, a credit union does things very differently from a bank. Wojnar shared this video as a succinct way to describe the fundamental differences.

In a nutshell, a credit union is a nonprofit, owned by members and run by a volunteer board of directors made up of members. Profits don’t line the pockets of shareholders who may not even live or work in the community – or the country. Surplus earnings at O Bee Credit Union are passed along to members via lower loan rates, higher savings rates, and lower fees.

O Bee also sets itself apart by being incredibly involved in the community.

OBCU offers all the services you expect from any financial institution, but also strives to do things in new ways, garnering a gaggle of local, state, and national awards for its forward-thinking style.

And that’s where the “different” comes into play.

Pioneering Programs

One of many programs pioneered by O Bee was its recent Capture the Tag contest, which awarded five iPads and cash prizes totaling $15,000.

The contest promoted local businesses and educated participants about finances, fraud, and saving money – by doing so in an utterly unique way.

Using a smartphone and free downloadable app, players visited 20 local businesses in search of a “tag,” which, when found, they scanned with their phone. An informational video about each business then played, which divulged the next business location. Educational videos also played at some locations.

“Some of the tags are hidden within the business, so people had to really walk around and look for them,” explains Wojnar.

Players who collected and downloaded all 30 videos were in the running for the prizes.

The program was a huge hit, stimulating foot traffic for local businesses, getting the O Bee name out there, and educating players about financial issues.

“We had over 4,300 tags, and introduced the next generation to businesses they would otherwise never go to,” says Wojnar.

Wojnar was the mastermind and architect behind Capture the Tag, but a local radio station, web developers, videographers, and the Olympian also chipped in to help make it happen.

“And I’ve already had some corporate sponsors approach us about doing it again,” says Wojnar.

This is just one example of the way O Bee approaches things differently.

“We’re seen as innovators,” says Wojnar, “I watch trends all the time.”

A corn maze as a fundraiser? It worked. The Amazing Money Maze was entertaining for locals who traipsed through, but also raised money and awareness for the Thurston County Asset Building Coalition, which Wojnar is involved in through his work on the board of the United Way.

“We have financial education classes, information about housing, health, food banks,” Wojnar explains, describing the Thurston County Asset Building Coalition. “If you’re in need and don’t know where to go, we’re developing a single portal with all the resource you need.”

The power of that as we build this community – we’re building a safety net for our community.

Giving Back to the Community

“I’m a firm believer in building community,” says Wojnar. “It’s the right thing to do.”

To that end, Wojnar is involved in a number of local organizations. But he’s far from alone at OBCU.

“Our CEO is a dog team handler for Search and Rescue. Our COO is a member of the Tumwater Rotary. Our VPs are involved with the Chambers.  O Bee grants up to 12 hours of paid leave time every year for all employees to volunteer within the community.

A lengthy list of organizations and events that O Bee is proud to sponsor can be found on their website and includes Sand in the City, the Lacey Spring Fun Fair, Boys & Girls Clubs of Thurston County, the Tumwater Harvest Festival, the Tenino Farmer’s Market, Children’s Miracle Network, and many, many more.

O Bee also works hard to create innovative programs and products to help local nonprofits. One example is a web portal developed by O Bee at the holidays that allowed folks to give to the local United Way and the local food banks.

“The food banks don’t take credit cards,” says Wojnar, “but we do.” O Bee’s web portal enabled donors to easily make a difference in the community.

“That’s the type of innovation we try to think of to get people to be interactive and part of O Bee,” says Wojnar.

Information about a variety of upcoming community events sponsored by O Bee and ideal for the whole family can be found here.

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