How Florida native Heather Gann became a familiar face in finance
Words by Kerri Starnes Parker | Image by Blakeney Clouse
When Heather Gann graduated high school in Auburndale, Florida, she was excited to begin her new life as a college student. Involvement in her local church had provided an opportunity to move away from home and experience life on her own at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee.
Back home in Florida, her mom owned a gift and home décor shop and Heather knew that a major in marketing and business administration could help with the family business. Heather had grown up going to Atlanta market with her mother, and for a while, was on that career track.
After graduating in 2003, she worked as a sales representative for a company out of Atlanta specializing in gift and home décor, but that job was short-lived. “Not long after I started, the company was bought out,” Heather said. “Everyone was being reassigned and that’s how I ended up in banking. I needed a job.”
Heather soon learned that Mid-Florida Schools Credit Union was building a branch in her hometown and looking for people with local ties. After being hired, she worked in nearby Winter Haven until the branch could be built. It turned out to be a perfect fit, and Heather stayed for 5 years.
As she began her banking career, Heather kept in contact with many of her friends from college. Through these connections, she met Nathan Gann, who was from Jasper, Alabama. The two began dating and when they decided to get married, Heather left home once again in 2009. The move would bring her to her husband’s new hometown of Jasper. She was once again starting over, excited to begin a new chapter in her life.
Heather continued her career in banking at Bank of Walker County and Compass Bank. She enjoyed her work at both of those financial institutions, but when the branch manager at Jasper’s AlaTrust Credit Union left in February 2019, Heather decided to apply for the position and was hired. “I had that familiarity with the credit union environment because of my experience at the credit union in Florida,” Heather said. “I got to come back to what I had originally done.”
Before Heather started, AlaTrust had once operated as a school credit union. Originally founded in 1935 as Birmingham Credit Union to serve the Birmingham Board of Education, the company name was changed to “First Educators Credit Union” in 1994 to represent its service to educators and their families throughout the state of Alabama. The name was changed again in 2014 to AlaTrust reflect the community credit unit, encompassing more than school employees and welcoming members from all backgrounds.
As branch manager, Heather helps with loans and IRAs and oversees the general operations of the branch. She says she loves meeting people in the community and educating others about the truths and misconceptions about credit unions. “This means if someone lives, works, worships, or attends school in one of the counties served by AlaTrust, he or she is eligible to become a member,” Heather says. “People are often surprised at the many options available when choosing a credit union. Credit unions typically offer lower interest rates on loans. Right now auto loan rates start at 2.15%. When a person comes in to apply, we see more than just a credit score.”
Heather and all of the AlaTrust employees are excited about their brand new building which will open some time in the Spring of 2020. Currently, AlaTrust is located in a temporary office behind Kentucky Fried Chicken on Hwy 78 West, and if you drive by the old location at 400 7thAvenue, you’ll see nothing but a wood frame surrounding a bank vault. “Everything is going to be new and up-to-date,” Heather says. “We were one of the busiest branches for AlaTrust and we were one of the smaller locations, so it will give us more space.”
Often when people move to Walker County, people struggle with the culture change associated with the move. Not Heather. “Everybody thinks Florida is palm trees and beaches,” Heather laughs. “But I’m from central Florida, where there’s orange groves and cattle. So Polk County, Florida, and Walker County, Alabama are not that different. My two boys, Braden and Camden, were born here; they go to school here. We are involved in the community. This is definitely home now.” 78