Pandemic can be an opportunity for credit unions, not an obstacle

COVID-19 has posed unprecedented challenges to the financial world. Like most companies, credit unions have had to adapt to the pandemic by working remotely, implementing more drive-through services and expanding digital resources. But the values that have guided credit unions for years can also guide us in our response to the pandemic.

If we refocus on our people-first values, the pandemic becomes less an interruption of service than an opportunity to render service in innovative ways. We shouldn’t be thinking of the pandemic as forcing us to “go back to the drawing board.” Instead, we should be viewing it as a way to filter our values through the prism of this crisis. The pandemic is an opportunity for credit unions to reaffirm our commitment to service and to reinvigorate our longstanding responsibility to our communities in new ways.

At PenFed, we have been thinking creatively about how to use our financial and human resources to benefit communities impacted by the pandemic. In May, for example, we gave out $100 Visa gift cards to seniors during the morning senior shopping time and passed out free cloth masks and hand sanitizer to shoppers. Through the PenFed Foundation, we created the COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund to extend emergency financial assistance to struggling military service members and veterans in the form of one-time payments for mortgages, car payments, utilities and rent. Especially as America faces the very real threat of mass evictions in the coming months, helping our members stay in their homes is one of the most important services credit unions can provide right now.

PenFed employees also participated in a company-wide blood drive in June at our headquarters. It was the first on-site blood drive during the pandemic in the national capital region. With the nationwide blood shortage continuing even after lockdowns have largely eased, there is still a desperate need for blood in emergency rooms across America. Credit unions should consider hosting a blood drive for employees and members at their locations, or using their networks and resources to encourage blood donations.

This holiday season, PenFed is proud to partner with Wreaths Across America to honor the brave men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice. This December, we will be following Wreaths Across America on their journey from Maine to Arlington National Cemetery and across the country, laying wreaths at cemeteries along the way. At these stops along the route, the PenFed Digital team will be highlighting stories of hope, resilience and inspiration. As we fight a national battle with COVID-19, we can help Americans find inspiration in those who fought for our country. I invite any credit union interested in joining us in sponsoring wreaths to reach out to me or Wreaths Across America.

PenFed also welcomes other credit unions to join PenFed in these community outreach efforts:

  • Donating laptops to students in need who are learning remotely.
  • Providing discounts to veterans and first responders.
  • Partnering with local YMCAs, homeless shelters and other organizations to provide food and essential items to people in need.
  • Furnishing apartments for veterans who have recently found housing.

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t just a crisis; it’s a chance to align our practices with our values of “People Helping People.” The restrictions that shut down our economy didn’t shut down the needs in our communities; the shut-down made the needs in our communities even more urgent. In the coming months, it will be just as critical that we consider our members’ physical and mental well-being. This ongoing pandemic is an opportunity for credit unions to demonstrate that our heart and soul is in our commitment to our members and to serving our communities.

James R. Schenck

James R. Schenck

James Schenck is President and CEO of PenFed Credit Union, headquartered in Tysons, VA.  PenFed is America’s second-largest federal credit union, serving more than 2 million members worldwide with ... Web: Details