After a series of tropical storms swept through Florida last summer, 121 Financial Credit Union ($437.8M Jacksonville, Florida) offered an Emergency Repair Loan to members. The 8% fixed-rate loan had a 12-month term and offered standard amounts from $500 to $2,500, with higher limits available. The credit union started promoting the loan in July and made it available through the end of October. 121 Financial had nine branches and slightly fewer than 37,500 members as of first quarter 2013. Its average loan balance lags behind that of its asset and state peers, $11,277 versus $12,117 and $12,027, respectively. However, its average member relationship nearly triples that of its asset and state peers, $16,714 versus $5,832 and $5,719.
Here, Cindy Breslin, vice president of marketing for 121 Financial Credit Union, talks strategy and preparation for when disaster strikes.
Tell me about the response the credit union received when it offered emergency loans last summer?
Cindy Breslin: Members were grateful they had the opportunity to take out an emergency loan. We had at least a dozen members use the loans for emergency repairs. The credit union structured it as a short-term loan so members wouldn’t be saddled with long-term debt as they tried to recover from a disaster.
Were the lower amounts structured to help members pay insurance deductibles specifically?
CB: Yes and no. There is a lot that might not be covered under your regular insurance policy. For example, if rising water is to blame for damages, your homeowner’s insurance policy won’t cover it unless you have a separate flood policy.
Does the credit union offer insurance products?
CB: Yes, through CUNA Mutual. And we recently added home and auto insurance. We also try to educate members about all types of financial topics, including how to prepare financially for a disaster event like a hurricane.
How does the credit union educate its members?
CB: We have gone on local TV to talk about preparing financially for a hurricane. The credit union tries to do that every hurricane season — we have a segment on the morning news. We counsel them to know their account numbers, protect financial papers, and have emergency cash. If electricity is down, members might not be able to get money out of ATMs or use debit or credit cards to pay for necessities such as gas.
Did the local news station come to you as an expert or how did that relationship develop?
CB: We have a contract with the local news to run a Saturday morning financial segment. It airs every other Saturday and we include all types of general financial topics in addition to our annual disaster preparation tips. This year we are trying to educate our members to put their paperwork in safe deposit boxes — even if all of your paperwork is electronic, you should back it up on a thumb drive. If electricity is down and you can’t get online to find your account numbers, that can be a problem.
What has the feedback been like from the credit union’s TV segment?
CB: We have gotten more feedback from our members and the community on that segment than any other form of advertising we’ve ever done. People find it useful and we provide a variety of faces from the credit union to keep it interesting. Members walk into a branch and say, “I saw you on TV Saturday.” It’s really been beneficial for us. The station — News 4 in Jacksonville — includes a link to our segment on its money page as well as a list of the archives. The credit union also links to those segments on our Facebook page so those who missed them or just want general information can look at the archived footage.
Is there anything else you do to help members before or during a disaster or crisis event?
CB: Yes, we provide free financial counseling through Accel. This service is helpful for members [who want to get their budget back on track] after a disaster or an event such as a job loss. Helping them understand how missing payments impacts their credit report, assisting with debt management, or just giving general financial education can be beneficial.
Are there any lessons learned you’d share from your disaster experiences?
CB: Every event is different. We try to prepare our members in advance and try to be there for them when disaster strikes. We try to work one-on-one with members, especially our older members, so they know how to access remote services online. This is something that can help them on a daily basis, as it can be difficult to travel within Jacksonville. As a member of shared branching, we also continually advise them of all the different alternatives to access their accounts, whether there is a disaster or they are just out of town.