The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11. But even before March 11, credit unions everywhere had already started planning communications to employees and members about plans to work remotely, keeping safe social distances and continuing business operations on a scale that has never been required before.
It’s important to remember that while you can’t prepare for every nuance, you can engage a leadership team that is agile and can adapt and leverage existing services and technology for a smoother process once disaster strikes. The coronavirus presented unique challenges especially for credit unions, but most of what we’ll cover in this article can be applied when the next crisis inevitably strikes.
At Coastal Credit Union, our leadership team quickly realized that we needed to implement alternative ways of working for both our employees and members. Here, we’ll explain how we did it and why.
How We Adapted to the Crisis Internally
The key to managing through a crisis is to act quickly as a collective team and having a plan that allows for the flexibility to adapt to specific needs. Any delays can create a sense of anxiety and confusion among employees. It is also critical to remember that you want to avoid working in departmental silos because if your employees are not on the same page with the plan of action, you will hit many unnecessary roadblocks along the way. It is critical that your senior leadership team instills a heightened sense of teamwork during these moments.
One of our first priorities when coronavirus started to trickle into our communities was to keep our members and employees as safe as possible. Very early on, we implemented social distancing in our branches and offices and increased our buildings’ cleaning schedules. The next step was to close our branch lobbies to member traffic and offer drive-up teller service only.
We also quickly transitioned 460 employees to work remotely. To help cover additional personal expenses related to working remotely, we implemented a $50 per pay period non-taxable stipend. This reimbursement covers extra cell phone or home data usage under stay-at-home orders. We will continue to provide this benefit to employees until we’ve returned to our normal ways of working. We have also enabled our employees to use their company Cisco WebEx login to communicate with friends and family outside of work hours to stay in touch virtually.
Our leadership team demonstrated a commitment to our employees and decided that every Coastal employee would be paid for their normal working hours, even if they are self-quarantined and unable to work. The team also pledged to provide at least four weeks of notice should there be any change to this internal plan. In general, our leadership team has been in constant communication with our employees and internal updates are being shared on a near daily basis.
Finally, knowing that most stores were in short supply of some essential products, we provided all employees with a supply of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and re-useable cloth face masks to help reduce the need to check store inventory and ultimately put themselves at risk and to provide a small dose of peace of mind.
How We Adapted to the Crisis Externally
Similar to internal crisis management, it’s also crucial to communicate to your external audiences in a timely manner to limit confusion or anxiety. When the spread of coronavirus began, we knew we had to act quickly to ensure members had the right information from us at the right time. We had to think critically as a team to determine what features, offers, and services we could adjust to accommodate members’ needs during this crisis as we knew many people in our state had been recently laid off or furloughed.
In a fast-moving situation like a virus, having a central resource where the latest information is compiled helps ease fears. That’s why one of our first priorities was to set up a COVID-19 landing page for our members to communicate what we were doing – and going to do – to support them during this time.
We also wanted to be sure we were leveraging and overcommunicating the benefits of the technology we had already invested in, such as our Personal Teller Machines (PTMs), which enable two-way video teller conversations connecting our members with centralized tellers. This technology safely and efficiently provides a better user experience for both members and employees.
Between 2009 and 2011 we converted all of our branches to PTMs. Today, we currently have 94 PTMs located at 24 branches. The biggest benefit of PTMs for members is convenience. We offer 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. teller service, 7 days a week, so members can get fast service at a time that suits their schedule. In addition, they provide members with the accuracy and speed of a machine, and the knowledge and personal touch of real person.
Because of our PTMs, we have been able to offer more teller service hours than any other financial institution in our market. By having centralized tellers, they have access to more resources than traditional tellers, and we can staff for overall demand, instead of location by location. PTMs also empowered us to nearly double our hours of service with 40% less staff than traditional teller setups. During COVID-19, having our PTM systems allowed us to be able to close branch lobbies while experiencing no reduction in the teller services that were available to members.
To give our members immediate financial relief due to COVID-19, we are offering a feature called Skip-A-Pay on all eligible loans. With Skip-A-Pay, members have the ability to postpone their monthly payments for three months with no late fees and without impacting their credit score (interest will continue to accrue). Members are easily accessing this feature via our online and mobile banking portals. As another way to offer immediate financial relief to members, we reminded them about our Member Assistance Program (MAP) as a resource for those who have been affected by the impact of COVID-19. This includes loan modifications and Emergency Relief Loans.
Additionally, we suspended loan, credit card and mortgage late fees, and lowered NSF fees to a penny. Within our digital banking tools, we offer mobile check deposit and we adjusted the number of checks and dollar amount per check that can be deposited after hearing feedback from members. While our weekly dollar limits remain, these modifications were put in place to remove some of the hurdles members have been facing. During times of crisis it is of utmost importance to listen to the feedback you are receiving from members and to respond with action whenever possible.
We are also supporting the nonprofits in the communities we serve. That’s why we earmarked nearly $700,000 in grants from the Coastal Credit Union Foundation for COVID-19 relief efforts. Being involved in and giving back to the communities we serve always resonates with our members and we typically see very high engagement on our social media content and announcements about our contributions.
In conclusion, while the coronavirus pandemic has been a unique challenge, it is imperative for credit unions to have a crisis task force or leadership committee in place before an emergency strikes. If you put the right team together now, you will be prepared to tackle anything that comes your way in the future.