In the wake of the congressional hearing challenging credit unions to demonstrate their purpose, the most tragic natural disaster in U.S. history, and a slow growth environment; one credit union in Baton Rouge, Louisiana turned these challenges into a positive opportunity.
Eagle Federal Credit Union’s ($68 million in assets) membership was very affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Thirty percent of its membership lived in New Orleans. Employees from its core sponsor, the Department of Social Services, worked tirelessly to help victims and played a critical role in the recovery efforts. “We couldn’t just sit back and wait to feel the impact of this tragedy,” said Lisa Westfall, Chief Communications Officer.
Eagle FCU evaluated the situation and made several unplanned and expensive adjustments to its strategic plan. “During such terrible circumstances, we felt an obligation to reach out to members of our core SEG and our communities,” said Westfall. Eagle’s plan included:
Deferred member loan payments for 60 days. Eagle deferred all payments for members in directly affected areas and worked with others who lived near the disaster areas to help ameliorate their financial burdens.
Reinforced presence in communities. Eagle launched re-branding efforts originally planned for late 2006 and communicated its support through print ads, radio spots, and direct mail pieces.
Provided lunch for over 800 employees. Regardless of whether the Department of Social Services employees were credit union members, Eagle provided lunch to over 800 over-worked individuals.
These and other actions resulted in success across all fronts. Along with demonstrating the meaning of the cooperative difference, one major outcome involved the credit union’s relationship with its core SEG. “After all of these years serving our core sponsor, we really had a breakthrough,” said Westfall. "We helped each other get through the tough times and strengthened our relationship in an unprecedented manner.”
The credit union’s efforts also prompted positive word-of-mouth and PR opportunities. One example is a soldier (and member) asked to wear a shirt with the credit union logo during his TV interview for being honored as an “All-American Hero” on NBC. “That is PR that money truly can’t buy,” said Westfall.
Results are evident on the bottom line as well. The credit union reports that member growth is over four times the industry average at 7.74 percent as of September 30, 2005. “Many people called to say they could have joined the credit union years ago and did not, but are joining now because of what the credit union did for them,” said Westfall. Loans also grew to over 15 percent. Eagle expects to see continued positive results through year-end.
Eagle Federal Credit Union modestly offered its story in light of so many other organizations that have positively contributed to hurricane recovery efforts. But the results clearly demonstrate that the credit union emulated the cooperative difference, showed its support for the community and strengthened relationships with its members and core sponsor.