Leaders Goes First In West Tennessee Reopening

With precautions in place, the Jackson cooperative opened its lobby doors again on April 27.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Leaders Credit Union became the first financial institution in its market to re-open branch lobbies when it opened its doors on April 27.
  • Multiple precautions are in place and managers review the member and employee experience each afternoon.

CU QUICK FACTS

Leaders Credit Union
Data as of 3.31.20

HQ: Jackson, TN
ASSETS: $470.4M
MEMBERS: 54,430
BRANCHES: 8
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 18.1%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 14.1%
ROA: 0.93%

Leaders Credit Union ($470.4M, Jackson, TN) has become a pandemic pioneer of sorts, re-opening its eight branch lobbies and separate mortgage office last Monday, April 27, ahead of any other financial institution in its west Tennessee market.

“We have a lot of enhanced features in place to keep our employees safe, and they’re excited to open again,” says chief experience officer Jared Freeman. “We were all getting a little stir crazy.”

Serving multiple SEGs — primarily in health care, education, and communications — the 54,000-member credit union is based in Jackson, a community of approximately 67,000 people located an hour or so east of Memphis. 

Tennessee itself is one of the first states allowing business to resume; however, Freeman points out his cooperative is following the guidance of a regional health office that calls such shots in his area, independent of state directives.

“Based on what’s happening around us in terms of COVID-19 cases and hospital capacities, our regional health director decided it would be safe to go ahead with the first phase of re-opening on April 27,” Freeman says. 



Works For Them, Works For Us

Included in that first phase were retail establishments and parks. The second phase begins this week, on May 4. It removes the 50% capacity restriction on restaurants while adding salons, gyms, and other establishments to the list of businesses that can begin re-opening, too.

“If it’s OK for restaurants to reopen, we felt it was for us, too,” Freeman says, adding that a resurgence in coronavirus cases can return his credit union and community to shutdown mode.

Leaders’ lobbies had been closed for six weeks, and most of the back-office staff were working from home. They’re now returning, joining member-facing branch staff that had been doing double duty as call center responders to handle the extra traffic.

Freeman points out that as an essential business, Leaders was never required to shut down its lobbies in the first place but did so out of an abundance of caution and following the lead of health experts.

Refine your credit union's response to COVID-19. Visit CreditUnions.com’s Ideas In Action: Pandemic Response for articles, webinars, and policies concerning the COVID-19 outbreak.

Precautions Still In Place

Jared Freeman, Chief Experience Officer, Leaders Credit Union

That caution will continue, with protections in place that include social distancing instructions illustrated by stickers on lobby floors, protective plates of plastic — called germ shields — between members and staff, and frequent cleaning of all surfaces, including restrooms after each use. 

The credit union has put hand sanitizers and Clorox wipes into heavy rotation, Freeman says. Masks, meanwhile, have been and will remain optional for members and staff. 

“We’ve seen a mixture of mask use,” he says. “Some do, some don’t. Hats and sunglasses are still a no-go.”

Even those wearing masks might still have to identify themselves. 

“If we don’t recognize them, we ask for the normal proof of identity, like driver’s licenses,” Freeman says.

Meeting Critical Needs, And A Lot Of Them

Leaders, like most member-owned cooperatives of its size and larger, has an array of digital offerings it encourages members to use in lieu of showing up in person. And although staffer has been coaching members on how to use tools such as the credit union’s mobile check deposit app, that hasn’t deterred folks in the small-town market from driving up and calling in. 

“Our call center volume has been through the roof,” Freeman says, adding that it’s not from members looking for idle chat time. “Our largest SEG is a hospital system. It just laid off 2,000 people, and we’re in a pretty rural area. That’s a lot.” 

I’m 32 and have been in this business since I was 16. Cash is filthy. I got in the habit of washing my hands a lot with warm water and anti-bacterial soap.

Jared Freeman, Chief Experience Officer, Leaders Credit Union

The credit union has done a booming business in skip-a-pay approvals and for a relief loan that offers 1% interest and no fees. 

“We’ve also done approximately 1,500 loan extensions,” Freeman says. “It’s been crazy.”

The Clean Hands People 

Meanwhile, lobby traffic has begun to pick up slowly, and Freeman, who also oversees HR, and his management colleagues have a 1:30 p.m. daily conference call to keep tabs on the member and staff experience.

So far, so good. Plus, Freeman says the credit union would never have re-opened its lobbies if the staff was anxious about it. 

“We didn’t hear that, and that’s why we felt we could do this,” he says.

And as for the part of the protocols that calls for frequent hand washing, Freeman says he was already down with that. 

“I’m 32 and have been in this business since I was 16,” he says. “Cash is filthy. I got in the habit of washing my hands a lot with warm water and anti-bacterial soap. I still do.”

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