Of the many words of wisdom Nicole James—Merrimack Valley Credit Union’s (MVCU) new executive vice president, chief people officer and chief retail officer—offers, this quote most embodies the credit union philosophy of people helping people and her own passion for serving others. Her professional journey is driven by a desire to help others live their best lives and with an exciting new role at a growing credit union, she is looking forward to continuing to elevate the people around her.
Nicole James grew up on Trinidad, an island that is part of the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago. She moved to the United States at 19 years old after enrolling in classes at Boston University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in finance. There, James’ began working as a teller at University Credit Union and has remained in the credit union sector ever since.
James worked her way into leadership roles very quickly, holding her first management position at 22 years old. She went on to pursue her law degree at Suffolk University in Boston, Mass., working full-time and taking night classes. Her hard-working spirit and natural leadership skills eventually led her into the roles of executive vice president and general counsel at University Credit Union.
“I have a very strong belief in giving back to our communities,” says James, who shares that she fell in love with the credit union structure where the organization gives back to the communities and members that it serves through various programs. “Being a part of an organization that is there for the good of us all and doing so in a way that is financially thoughtful is incredibly important. You are really making a difference in people’s lives.”
While working as an attorney in her own law firm, the Law Offices of Nicole James, P.C., James expanded both her leadership roles and the size of the credit unions she worked in. James spent 11 years as CEO of Medical Area Federal Credit Union (MAFCU), then joined RTN Federal Credit Union as the senior vice president of retail services when the credit unions merged. From there she became executive vice president in 2020, where she oversaw every department of the organization.
James joined MVCU following the merger with RTN in June 2023. In her new role as executive vice president, chief people officer and chief retail officer, she considers herself a steward of both the credit union staff and membership. “My role at MVCU is all about internally advocating for and representing the people at our credit union,” James describes. “I work with our leadership team on how we can improve and how we can help our staff on their career paths. We prioritize two main values at MVCU: being the best place to work and being the best place to bank.”
James oversees MVCU’s corporate communications and community relations, marketing, organizational development, human resources and retail banking departments. Although she may not regularly interact with MVCU members directly, she understands how important her role is in ensuring that the credit union provides the best service and support for them.
“At this point in my career, I know that the decisions that I’m making every day impact our staff’s lives and our member’s lives and that matters,” she says. “Any touchpoint to our people, whether it is members or staff, is a responsibility that I don’t take for granted.”
At the core of what James does is a passion for elevating people and she says that her inclination for community service was instilled in her at a young age.
“My mother was a very giving person,” says James. “I grew up in a family that, when anything happened, such as a hurricane, my mom would have us pack clothes or items that we don’t need and donate them. When something went wrong, we knew that we were an extension of the community and we were there to help our community.” James also grew up attending a catholic school, which encouraged all students to get involved in their community through volunteer work.
Throughout her career, James has also served on various boards of directors. Currently, she is the treasurer of the RTN Insurance Agency board of directors and is a founding board member of the MAFCU (now RTN) Goodworks Foundation.
With her extensive responsibilities as a credit union leader and attorney, it’s easy to wonder how Nicole has time for her personal life. When asked about her hobbies, James simply reiterates how much she loves her work.
“I genuinely like it,” she says. “Most days when I work, it’s just fun. I get so excited. A happy life is much more than satisfying yourself.” She notes that problem solving, constantly learning and working to elevate her team and MVCU’s members are what motivate her both personally and professionally.
James is a free spirit who enjoys time with family and friends, spending time outdoors and trying something new. In the past, she’s tried competitive dancing and kickboxing. Now, she enjoys swimming. “You don’t want to live in a comfort zone,” she advises. “When you do, you’re not living your full potential. I feel like it’s better to be mediocre at something than to never try it at all.”
James is taking this optimistic mindset with her as she sets her sights on the exciting year ahead at MVCU. “I love our culture and the fact that we have been thoughtful about defining the culture of who we are, and created a language that we all use,” she says. “We’ve had this wonderful joining of two organizations and I’m really excited for when our systems are finally converged together and we can take off running. From there, we will grow together as OneTeam and it will be easier for us to elevate our members and staff.”