‘Heroic’ service during pandemic

‘Heroic’ service during pandemic

Small credit unions go the extra mile for members during COVID-19 outbreak.

April 1, 2020

Team members line up for health screenings before entering the building to work. They’re urged to wash their hands frequently and use hand sanitizer. Lines of tape six feet apart adorn the lobby floor for members who come into the branch to conduct business.

It’s the new reality for One Detroit Credit Union as it continues to serve members during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

“Our teammates are anxious about being exposed to so many people, and for good reason,” says Hank Hubbard, CEO of the $40 million asset credit union. “The team is serving heroically, and is in pretty good spirits.”

 One Detroit isn’t alone, as credit unions adjust operations and determine how to serve members while limiting physical contact.

For small credit unions such as One Detroit, the struggles are magnified. These credit unions continue to provide a safe place for employees and members to carry out financial transactions, assist members who are financially strapped, and alleviate members’ fears—all with limited staff and resources.

“In unchartered territory like this, it can be easy to feel alone, particularly for small credit unions. But we have seen small credit union CEOs and managers working together, sharing pandemic policies and member leave and pay policies on the CUNA Small Credit Union Community in ways that have truly reduced anxiety for a lot of people,” says Tom Sakash, CUNA’s manager of small credit union initiatives. “I encourage anyone who has not yet engaged with this resource to check it out now. Your peers are ready and waiting to help.”

‘Slow but steady’ operations

One Detroit has closed the lobbies in two of its three branches. The credit union meets with members for loans and new member accounts by appointment only.

Some staff work remotely while others were laid off. Three team members report to the branch regularly and are screened upon arrival, Hubbard says.

With Michigan under a “stay at home” order, member traffic has been “slow but steady,” Hubbard says. But members have been calm and patient while adhering to the precautions the credit union has taken to limit contact and ensure people stay far enough apart.

In the days following the order, One Detroit saw an increase in members coming in and withdrawing most of the money from their accounts. But in recent days, they’ve come back to the credit union and redeposited the money.

“They’ve realized we are here for them and the money is safer in the credit union than at home,” Hubbard says. “We serve a low-income population, and draining their account may only be $1,000. But it is their life savings. We’re happy they trust us.”

While the keeping employees safe and serving members remains his top priority, Hubbard says the sustainability of One Detroit through the crisis is a chief concern.

“This has all come on so quickly that we don’t know how it will impact us financially,” he says. “We’ve eased all business development of course, so there are almost no new members. Loans have slowed and savings have dropped. Our fee income is down dramatically.”

Hank Hubbard

‘The team is serving heroically and is in pretty good spirits.’

Hank Hubbard

‘Vestibule’ banking

State College (Pa.) Federal Credit Union has shifted to providing “vestibule” banking, says Terry Shoemaker, CEO of the $18 million asset credit union.

Its lone branch is in an office building with no drive-thru capabilities. Instead, staff meet members at the building’s inside entrance door to conduct transactions with no signed receipts.

Members who are financially strapped can skip their payments  for up to 90 days on all consumer loans. The credit union also waives some nonsufficient funds, ACH, and other fees.

It’s offering a “coronaloana,” which allows laid off or reduced wage earners to borrow up to $5,000 at a 3% fixed rate for up to 36 months, and interest-only payments for the first 90 days.

“I have received a number of very complimentary emails from members thanking us for helping out,” Shoemaker says. “We’ve even received some notes from members who don’t need the help right now.”

Understanding members’ situations

SoundView Financial Credit Union in Bethel, Conn., knows each member has their own story about how COVID-19 is impacting their lives. Many of those stories are centered on unemployment and furloughs, and the worries they have about not being able to pay their bills.

“We need to listen to our members’ stories, understand their situations, and figure out how we could best help them,” says Jo-Ann Palladino, president/CEO of the $37 million asset credit union. “We want to be empathetic and offer our members some relief during this time.”

SoundView Financial offers skipped payments for 90 days on personal and auto loans, and its VISA credit card. The credit union will also work with members on a case-by-case basis for second mortgage modifications, she says.

After Palladino heard from a member who had never missed a payment but was now unemployed and concerned about making mortgage payments, she researched ways to implement a mortgage modification to help members.

“We wanted to provide immediate relief for our members,” Palladino says. “ This is a unique situation and we want to ease their stress.”