Women of Distinction 2022: Self-Help Federal Credit Union

This special section features some of our city’s most accomplished female leaders. These women represent a wide range of fields, from finance and education to hospitality, beauty and more. Join us in saluting them in our fourth annual Women of Distinction section!

Pamela Bell, City Executive VP at Self-Help Credit Union; Photo by Boutique Photographer Linda Smallpage


Pamela Bell had worked for BMO Harris bank for nearly three decades when a recruiter from Self-Help Federal Credit Union (SHFCU) reached out to her in 2019. The national nonprofit wanted her to lead its burgeoning Milwaukee footprint. She initially declined. But after researching and learning about the organization’s focus, she reconsidered. It was clear SHFCU closely aligned with her core values and desire to close the racial wealth gap. The credit union provides financial services, including mortgages, to low-income families and marginalized communities. “What I love about Self-Help is its mission of ‘ownership and opportunity for all,’ coupled with its 42-plus-year history of helping people who have historically faced systemic economic barriers to financial equity,” Bell says. In the two years since joining SHFCU, Bell has overseen the opening of Self-Help’s second branch in Milwaukee and the repurposing of the real estate development in the former Legacy Bank building. “My job aligns perfectly with my values and my personal mission,” she says. “Access to fair, responsible financial products can be key to building generational wealth and stability, and that’s especially for women and communities of color.”

“It’s an amazing feeling, to help a person achieve something they didn’t think was possible.” 


-Pamela Bell


You joined Self-Help Federal Credit Union after almost three decades at BMO Harris. Why’d you make the switch? 

I wasn’t looking for a new position, but I was approached by a recruiter from Self-Help, and when I researched the position, I realized that Self-Help’s mission was my personal mission. Self-Help is working to eliminate the racial wealth gap. It was just a perfect fit.   

What do you find most rewarding about that work? 

Providing hope. Individuals who haven’t been able to access financial resources have a certain burden. We can build a plan to position them to reach their goals. If they’re willing to put in the work, we’re there to guide them through. We can entertain prospective borrowers who have lower credit scores. People who may have a negative credit score are still able to build wealth with us. And we offer free financial coaching to our members. We look at what created these situations and get to the root cause so that we can create a plan and path to financial success and sustainability. Sometimes we’re working with people who, generationally, there have been no homeowners in their family, so they didn’t even think it was possible. When they see that it is, it’s an amazing feeling. It’s rewarding to be able to support people in a way that they didn’t think was possible. 


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s November issue.

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