Amy Downs, president and CEO of Allegiance Credit Union (photo by

Building through crisis

Lessons learned from Allegiance Credit Union and the Oklahoma City bombing.

April 24, 2024

Allegiance Credit Union in Oklahoma City lost 18 of its 33 employees—and more than 100 members—in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building that killed 168 people.

Amy Downs was there, one of the last individuals saved from the rubble before spending eight days in the hospital.

“I was about to die and realized I had never truly lived,” says Downs, who gave the keynote Tuesday at America’s Credit Unions’ 2024 HR & Organizational Development Council Conference in St. Pete Beach, Fla.

Today, she is president and CEO of Allegiance Credit Union, which has grown by 400% to an asset size of $351 million. It took a lot of work and positive thinking to get Allegiance, and Downs, from that day in 1995 to where they are today.

‘Your life can be better and brighter than your past, and you have the courage to make it happen with the power of hope.’
Amy Downs

Much of the work started with the questions: “What if you had a magic wand? How would your life be different?”

For Downs, it was getting a college degree, taking on a leadership position, getting in shape, and completing an Ironman. For the credit union, it was rebuilding the organization, finding a new location, and continuing to improve their members’ financial lives.

“Your life can be better and brighter than your past, and you have the courage to make it happen with the power of hope,” says Downs, author of “Hope is a Verb: My Journey of Impossible Transformation.” “Anybody can start at any point in their life. I don’t care how small your credit union budget or team is, or what you have, it takes getting clear about what you want.”

For the human resources and organizational development professionals at the conference, Downs suggests they also flip this mindset around to employees who come to them with questions or wishes.

“Ask them, ‘What do you want?’” Downs says. “And then, ‘Given your current situation and current limitations, what are your easiest first steps?’”

Many times, people won’t have an answer at the ready. But the question sparks the growth process.

“If you are stuck and you don’t know the answer, spend some time to dig deep and think about it,” Downs says. “Create time to think about how you’re moving forward. It worked at the credit union. That’s where I discovered it first. It can move you forward and make your credit union better and brighter.”