3 Ways To Navigate The Corona Crisis

The current environment is springing unprecedented challenges on leaders nearly every day, but there are lessons from the past that apply to the present.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Look locally to offer aid: If the coronavirus continues on its projected course, local organizations will be looking for assistance as they work to support those suffering from the fallout.
  • Support members and employees: Credit unions must monitor the situation in their local communities to determine what aid is necessary, then respond accordingly with assistance loans, payment deferrals, mental health care, and more.
  • Be ready to communicate: Response plans should identify who holds the responsibility to speak to members and the public on behalf of the credit union, especially if the credit union must address a possible exposure event.

COVID-19 is changing the way businesses serve customers and protect employees. On recommendation of the federal government, companies are implementing remote service and staffing strategies; people are avoiding public spaces and declining to congregate in groups of 10 or more. All this to slow the spread of a virus with no cure or vaccination and with no assurance the efforts will help. 

In uncertain times like this, people want to know their money is safe. And, they want to know they can access it when they need it.  Just as they have for the past 100 years, credit unions are taking care of their members. Although the current environment is springing unprecedented challenges on leaders nearly every day, there are lessons from the past that apply to the present. Here are three.

Take A Closer Look At Local Aid

When Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Panhandle in October 2018, it destroyed houses and power lines and disrupted all sense of normalcy in Bay County. More than six months later, the area was still struggling to recover.

“It’s changed lives; it’s changed our community,” David Southall, CEO of Innovations Federal Credit Union ($253.6M, Panama City, FL) shared in June 2019.  “Since October, everything has been focused on recovery.”

In the aftermath of the storm, the needs of members were immense. As the months progressed, and the credit union recognized areas of continuous need, its donation dollars became more targeted. Before the storm, Innovations donated to large organizations with a local presence, such as the United Way and the American Heart Association, among others. After the storm, Innovations focused its efforts on larger one-time donations to local schools, universities, and food banks. It also started supporting additional educational fundraisers.

“It’s a new normal down here,” said Karen Hurst, chief marketing officer at Innovations. “We’ve given more money to the schools than we did before, but there are still many children in our community in need.”

Why this matters now: If the coronavirus continues on its projected course, local organizations will be looking for assistance as they work to support those suffering from the fallout.    

Relief For Members And Employees

Before the storm, Innovations had implemented DocuSign for loan eSignatures, so when the credit union introduced hurricane relief products, members could complete the application process from the safety of their own homes.

Innovations offered a $3,000 Hurricane Assistance Loan at 5% interest; 90-day loan deferments on any portfolioed loan, including credit cards and mortgages; and a waiver on certain fees, including overdrafts. It also suspended reporting to its two credit bureaus, TransUnion and Equifax, and the senior team published their personal cell phone numbers online and on social media to handle pressing member questions. The goal was to get members the services they needed with as little disruption as possible.

Further south, credit unions sprang into action after a series of earthquakes in late 2019 and early 2020 left thousands of Puerto Rican residents homeless or afraid to return to structurally damaged buildings. To make matters worse, some areas were still recovering from hurricanes Irma and Maria, which had both achieved Category 5 status when they hit the island in 2017. The earthquakes disrupted government services in the territory’s second-largest city and closed cultural attractions key to the area’s tourism industry.

In the wake of the earthquakes, Caribe Coop offered emergency loans as well as deferred payment plans to help affected members keep up with their monthly debt load. Adjuntas Coop channeled financial aid to employees and made the emotional health of staff members a top priority, paying employees who could not attend work and making a psychologist available for group and individual counselling.

“Employees were emotionally affected by the experiences that we are still living today,” Miguel A. Jusino, CEO of Adjuntas said in February. “We are providing measures to channel these emotions.

“We understand how fragile life is and the emotional control needed in the face of adversity,” Jusino continued. “We have to plan for what needs to be done at the family, community, government, and business levels.”

Why this matters now: The coronavirus will have wide, ongoing effects. Credit unions must continually monitor the situation on the ground in their local communities to determine what aid is necessary. Then, they’ll have to respond accordingly. And, like many crisis situations, credit unions will need to consider — and address — the emotional toll on employees as well as members. 

Reassuring Communications

The coronavirus is disrupting business as usual. By now, members expect it, but whether it's closed lobbies or closed branches, someone from the credit union needs to say something and be in charge of communications.

For credit unions that don’t already have one, it’s past time to create a well-documented plan that identifies the people with the most intricate knowledge of processes and infrastructure as well as their roles in business recovery. The plan should also identify who holds the responsibility to speak to members and the public on behalf of the credit union. This is especially important if the credit union must address a possible exposure event.

"Have a plan in place to address whatever happens," Mike Lawson of DML Communications told CreditUnions.com for an article about disaster planning. That advice still rings true today. 

Back then, Lawson said silence spurs rumor and innuendo, which can create a firestorm of falsities. Today, rumors and confusion around the coronavirus run rampant. Have a statement ready to go and a spokesperson ready to respond. Appoint one or two people at most — ideally the CEO and a subject matter expert — to communicate on behalf of the credit union. And although transparency is important, don’t report every little change in the situation, Lawson advised.

Finally, if the spokesperson doesn’t know information offhand or can’t answer a question accurately, it’s OK to tell members and the media the credit union will have to find out and deliver the answer ASAP. Then, it must follow up on that promise.

That’s where channel variety is important. 

“A great plan includes a mix of high-tech, low-tech, and no-tech communications channels,” Nicole Bowen,  vice president of information technology, compliance, and facilities at NextMark Federal Credit Union ($502.5M, Fairfax, VA) told CreditUnions.com for an article about the cooperative’s response to a fire in its data center. “High-tech channels include mobile/SMS, email, social media, and Internet. Low-tech communications include telephone blasts, hotlines, radio, and television. No-tech communications could be as simple as branch signage.”

Why this matters now: Although a traditional crisis recovery plan might feel woefully inadequate in the face of a viral pandemic, a solid communication plan and the flexibility to addresses the unexpected is essential in today’s environment. 

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