MDC Credit Unions Respond to COVID-19: Protecting Staff, Serving Members

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The ongoing COVID-19 crisis continues to impact the lives of Americans everywhere, with even those affected minimally being asked to change habits and take additional precautions while on the job, in public, and even at home. Those communities hit hardest continue to deal with far worse.

Like all other industries, credit unions are also being affected by the pandemic, and our owners are at the forefront of the fight to serve members through the financial impacts of this change while also keeping their staff safe.  We spoke to a few of our owners about their efforts and the milestones they’ve reached over the past few weeks and included some of those updates in today’s blog.

At Coastal Credit Union (Raleigh, N.C.), acting quickly once it was clear that changes would need to be made was a priority for CEO Chuck Purvis. “We knew that speed was essential to making sure we kept our staff safe. Fortunately, we acted early. It only took us three weeks to go from thinking about things, to making a real plan, and to executing it.”

Coastal’s headquarters normally has 450 employees working on site, but between allowing staff to work remotely or dispersing them to branch locations, that number is now only 64, or just 14% of normal staffing. “And we’ve closed all the branch lobbies. Any in-person business is now being conducted via drive-through locations or ITMs.”

Coastal has also provided blanket consumer loan relief for members, automatically deferring all consumer loans to its members for 60 days. “You actually have to sign back up for payments to make a payment on your Coastal loans right now. We didn’t want to make anyone have to worry about it, so we did this proactively,” said Purvis, adding that Coastal would review the situation periodically and extend the policy as needed.

Coastal CEO Chuck Purvis talks COVID-19 in his credit union’s recent vlog

Other CUs in our network of credit unions are also focused on helping members through the financial hardships associated with the pandemic, which has placed millions of Americans out of work. In addition to implementing similar loan deferral measures to Coastal’s, VyStar Credit Union (Jacksonville, Fla.) has partnered with the City of Jacksonville to implement a new, independent Small Business Relief Program. “While there is uncertainty as a result of COVID-19, what is not uncertain is our unwavering support of our members as we all find our path during this new normal,” said Joel Swanson, VyStar’s Chief Member Experience Officer.

VyStar is also showing a strong commitment to their employees, making branches drive-through only, implementing a 10% hazard pay increase to employees remaining on site, and allowing any staffer to take a leave of absence related to COVID-19 (including child care) at full pay without using PTO.

VyStar’s leadership has also done what it can to keep things as fun as possible for staff who can’t work remotely while also supporting their local community during this new normal, such as providing lunches sourced from local restaurants.

At Wings Financial Credit Union (Apple Valley, Minn.), leadership has been especially proud of how their staff have been able to change operations around. “Before the pandemic, only a few employees were able to work from home. Our Information Systems team did an incredible job in securing the resources we needed to implement a wide-scale work from home effort,” said John Wagner, SVP for Member Experience. “There were some growing pains, like making sure our VPN had sufficient capacity, but by and large we’ve dealt with all of the issues and are now back to our primary focus, which is serving our members.”

Similar to other MDC owners interviewed, Wings has made branches drive-through only, and they are allowing members to implement skip-a-pays on loans with no fees at the push of a button via their mobile banking app.

Wagner also praised his CU’s use of annual mock disaster drills and flat organizational structures with his credit union’s positive response to the crisis, saying, “[While] none of our mock situations simulated a pandemic, it was the sense of ‘we’re all in this together’ when we realized what we were dealing with that helped us.”

Wings employees are still hard at work serving members despite branches closing their office hours.

We also asked each of our interviewees about what changes will become permanent for the credit union industry as a result of the crisis.

Chuck Purvis at Coastal suggested that working remotely will become far more prevalent even after the need for social distancing is gone. “We were never a work-from-home company before this, but I can’t see a path back. All employers, credit unions included, are going to have to have a permanent game plan for supporting remote employees after this if they are going to expect to compete for talent.”

John Wagner at Wings sees the industry’s long transition toward remote banking accelerating forward at a much more rapid pace. “I suspect that members will be more open to using online or mobile channels to access their accounts.  It will be interesting to track branch traffic to see if it returns to pre-crisis levels.”

Each of our interviewees also stated about how proud they have been about their organizations’ responses and their staffs’ capacities for empathy, solidarity, and hard work through all this.

“I’m incredibly proud not only of our team but of the entire credit union industry.  In the case of Wings Financial, our entire team understood the severity of the situation and did whatever was necessary to ensure that we were available for our members.  Our people put in an incredible amount of work in a very short period to make sure we were ready and able to handle the challenge,” Wagner said.

Here at MDC we are also doing our part to support our owners, rapidly rolling out solutions to help our members respond to the large influx of applications for small business relief as implemented under the CARES Act and helping them deploy advanced solutions for remote member service, including chatbot and online account opening products. In addition, we’ve created a space on our owner portal to share research, ideas, concerns, and successes about the industry’s—and our network’s—response to the pandemic.

We at MDC couldn’t be more proud of our owners and the part we have all played so far in our nation’s response to this crisis. We look forward to our network emerging strong and determined to help our members through the long-term economic recovery that is sure to come.