How Northwest Community Contains While Continuing

The Oregon credit union is sequestering staff while stressing member service continuity.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • NWCU is offering loan extensions and working on new products as needed; it is providing branch services via drive-through or by appointment only.
  • Call center agents are working from two different locations — a former community conference space and a branch location across town — but all 25 call center staffers have remote working tools in case either location is contaminated or a general shelter-in-place order is issued.
  • Finance and accounting staff is working remotely; technology services staffers are working in separate locations; and help desk staffers have the ability to work offsite. Branch support services, collections, and leadership are now distanced in their offices or moved offsite.

As unprecedented events keep unfolding, Melva Mackey takes inspiration from what she’s written in big, bold letters on her white board: “Create new ways to do old things.”

Mackey is director of training and member experience at Northwest Community Credit Union ($1.2B, Eugene, OR). Like all businesses, the coronavirus pandemic has forced dramatic change to how NWCU does business while delivering critical, responsible financial services. 

On the consumer side, NWCU has imposed branch limitations but has increased the number of payments extensions it will permit on loans from one a year to two and from six per life of the loan to seven. It has also added credit cards and home equity loans and lines to the eligible products.

The Oregon cooperative is also preparing to launch a new loan that will be interest- and payment-free for the first 90 days.

“There’ll be more to come,” Mackey promises. “We’re committed to examining every product and asking, ‘What can we do to make this product the most helpful for our members at this time?’”

A reminder on her white board keeps Melva Mackey focused on the imperatives Northwest Community Credit Union faces.

That “new ways to do old things” idea is also driving back-office changes at NWCU. Social distancing is the idea behind one: separating critical essential team members to limit the impact of possible viral spread and making sure they have what they need to do their jobs while minimizing moving around. 

“It’s almost the exact opposite of what you design a modern workforce space for, which is encouraging inter-team connections, friendships, and creative or supportive interactions,” Mackey says.  “Instead, we want to limit networking — we have some chat systems for this — limit use of the shared lunchrooms, and try to meet needs where teams are located rather than allowing the free range of the four floors in our headquarters building.”

One pressing question in all this logistical movement is ensuring data privacy. Mackey says NWCU’s business continuity plan accounts for that in the security plans reviewed annual for resilience.

The credit union also has had remote-capable workers for years and simply needed to extend that capability to more critical staff as they were moved to new locations. 

Check out the growing Pandemic Response Repository on CreditUnions.com. Credit union and Callahan contributions include team communications emails, business continuity plans, and more.

“Sounds simple, but in practice, this is a lot of work, and takes planning by technology staff to have the deep bench to respond with urgency,” Mackey says. “It also takes foresight to have the necessary equipment ready to deploy. These are efforts that are mirrored in many credit unions nationwide right now.”

NWCU is also among the multitude of credit unions urging members to use digital services while limiting face-to-face contact between members and member service representatives and tellers.

NWCU also has restricted traffic at its 14 branches to drive-through or by appointment only for its 109,000 members.

Emphasizing Empathy

Mackey emphasizes ongoing, updated, clear communication with members. NWCU, for example, has a COVID-19 landing page that includes service updates and safety tips alike.

The longtime credit union executive also hit the same note about the need to meet the movement’s mission of “people helping people.”

“When we’re pressing to the limits to achieve these shifts and accommodations, it’s good to stop for a moment and reflect: How can I express empathy for the challenges at hand for this member while invoking their trust and engagement?” Mackey says. “We know this is going to be key in calming the behaviors that spread panic.

Prepare your credit union's response to COVID-19 using the Ideas In Action: Pandemic Response page, a hub for all of our articles, webinars, and policies concerning the COVID-19 outbreak.

“This is what it’s all about, right?” she adds. “It’s certainly one of the main reasons I work at a credit union. We come together and bring a collaborative spirit and a genuine desire to help people. If there was ever a time to come together, here we are. Let’s get through this better than we started. Stronger.” 

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