Teachers Shares Stories From A COVID-19 Hotspot

Masks in hand, one of New York’s largest credit unions is now in a phased reopening process.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Teachers FCU is opening branches a handful at a time across Long Island, Queens, and Manhattan.
  • Senior management has been pleasantly surprised at employees’ willingness to wear masks.

CU QUICK FACTS

Teachers FCU
Data as of 03.31.20

HQ: Hauppauge, NY
ASSETS: $7.8B
MEMBERS: 344,958
BRANCHES: 31
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 5.3%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 9.8%
ROA: 0.73%

Teachers Federal Credit Union ($7.8B, Hauppauge, NY) isn’t masking its commitment to coronavirus safety. It’s handing them out.

Distributing branded facemasks to members and employees is just part of the protocols in place as one of the Empire State’s largest member-owned financial cooperative slowly returns its working life to a new normal.

New York City has been an epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States for the past few months, and with 31 branches in and around the Big Apple, Teachers has hardly been immune to the pandemic’s impact on business continuity, members, and staff.

President and CEO Brad Calhoun is marking his first year at the helm of Teachers this month, having made the move in June 2019 from First Tech FCU in Oregon. Inna Sprague, a colleague at First Tech, made the same move this past March, joining Calhoun as the cooperative’s Chief Experience Officer just as the nation was beginning to feel the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Here, Calhoun and Sprague share Teachers’ perspective on helping its members and community — who live in the center of the coronavirus crisis — recover from the pandemic.

Describe how Teachers has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brad Calhoun: New York has been one of the earliest and hardest-hit states during this pandemic. Overall, our goal has been to keep our people safe, minimize the spread of the virus, and ensure our members have access to their accounts and support as we navigate these challenging times.

We began monitoring the situation in February. In the first week of March, we began ramping up both internal and member communications about how Teachers was following the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York State Department of Health. We encouraged frequent handwashing and hand sanitization, shared social-distancing practices, and provided additional disinfectant and cleaning supplies to each branch and department. 

Marlon Elliott, a financial services manager at Teachers FCU, shows off his branded face covering while in his protocol-compliant workspace at Teachers’ East Meadow Branch.

How has Teachers supported members’ financial wellbeing?

Inna Sprague: As soon as it became apparent the recommended public health guidelines would potentially adversely affect members financially, our lending department and executive team put together new product offerings to support our members. 

We began alerting members via email on March 19 of such products as a $500 six-month no-interest loan and a $5,000 loan at 3.99% APR with a repayment period of three years. We also immediately began waiving any Teachers-assessed fees at out-of-network ATMs to make getting cash more convenient for members. And, we’ve made thousands of outbound calls to members to see how we can help. 

We also participate in the Payroll Protection Program and have made 419 of those loans for more than $11.1 million. These were to existing and new members running businesses in a range of industries, including hospitality, construction, engineering and consulting firms, to name a few.

Have you had confirmed cases within your workforce? How have you handled those?

Brad Calhoun, President and CEO, Teachers FCU

BC: Long Island has been one of the hardest hit regions in the nation, which holds true across our footprint as well. We’ve had numerous cases across the credit union. Fortunately, all teammates affected have either recovered, or are on the path to recovery. As we were made aware of positive cases, we took immediate steps to protect our employees and members by closing, cleaning, and disinfecting the locations where those employees worked, per the guidelines established by the CDC. We also notified impacted employees from those branches and asked them to self-quarantine as a precaution, regardless of the existence of symptoms. 

We’ve asked all our employees to refrain from coming to work if they’re experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms or have been in close proximity with anyone who has tested positive. We’ve also updated our PTO policies to ensure employees can prioritize their own health and wellbeing and still have financial stability. 

When did you shut down your lobbies? Where are you now in the process of reopening?

IS: We have branches throughout Long Island, Queens, and Manhattan. We shut down all of our lobbies on March 21, limiting access to drive-thru and video teller transactions. On March 31, we began offering in-branch appointments at select branches.

We’ve now fully reopened 13 branches. All other branches continue to serve members by drive-thru, video teller and appointment. All of our locations have strict safety protocols in place, including wearing masks, social distancing, and protective shields at desks and teller stations.

The protective masks Teachers provides members and staff includes an accompanying message reminding everyone to stay safe.

How do you decide where to reopen and how to staff?

IS: Our operations team determines which branches are ready to reopen by taking into account on-site remote teller systems, lobby layouts that naturally create better social-distancing conditions for members, and other similar factors.

From a staffing perspective, we’ve modified our scheduling system to reduce the overall staff in each branch and create greater social distancing. We’ve also provided in-branch staff with face masks as well as additional cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer to maintain the highest level of hygiene and protection. Plus, we hired security guards to assist with drive-thru traffic management.

What role has digital and drive-thru service played?

Inna Sprague, Chief Experience Officer, Teachers FCU

IS: We’ve been directing members to our website and mobile apps for the majority of their transactions, making sure they know about the how-to guides on our website, especially if they’re using these for the first time.

We also kept our 14 branch drive-thrus open as well as the exterior ATMs and video teller machines available at four branches six days a week. We encourage members to use those for critical and urgent banking needs as much as they can to help alleviate the potentially long wait times we’ve seen at some drive-thrus on occasion.

How much surge in use have you seen in these channels? How have you coped staff-wise? 

IS: Our members have certainly taken advantage of our mobile and digital capabilities. As branch transactions fell by nearly 70% at the height of the pandemic, we added several thousand new mobile banking users and saw mobile deposits increase by more than 50% month-over-month.

We moved 40 to 45 branch personnel to Call Center duties as that traffic has nearly doubled, and I’m glad to say abandon rates are at an all-time low. Our staff members were able to flex their muscles when it came to delivering member service on the phone at such a crucial time.

How have members responded to all this, like the wait times and the masks?

A Guiding Light

The coronavirus pandemic is unlike anything the financial industry has ever experienced, says Brad Calhoun, president and CEO at Teachers FCU. As the big New York credit union has mounted a response, it has looked to its guiding principles to help it determine the best courses of action. After all, “they ring true as much now as they did when Teachers was founded in 1952,” Calhoun says.

Those principles are:

  • How do we continue to ensure that we are the best place to work and bank?
  • How do we continue to be a strong partner for our communities?
  • How do we provide a solid foundation for our members and our community, built upon safety and soundness?

IS: We have had wait times of more than an hour at times in the drive-thrus, but our members have been understanding and patient. And, I’m pleasantly surprised at the generally positive reaction to wearing masks in the branch.

BC: I’d add that even during the recent PPP process, which was tough for everybody to navigate, we received a number of emails and phone calls from members, thanking our teams for the immediate and personalized attention they are receiving from our employees to navigate their specific personal and business needs. It’s been really incredible.

Do you think member behavior will change permanently as a result of this?

BC: I think, in general, we will continue to see a larger jump in the use of our digital and mobile services — as we’ve seen across industries. I think we’ll see this current trend transition into a more permanent habit in the future. 

How does all this come together as the “new normal” for Teachers?

IS: I think we’ll become even more adept at handling rapidly changing conditions, but I also think it’s hard to predict what will happen until there’s a vaccine. 

What we do know is that personalized financial services are now more important than ever —  even if the medium for how we deliver them has changed. 

So, what’s with the custom facemasks? Who gets them and how?

IS: We worked with our marketing agency to design a Teachers mask that communicates our passion for the people we serve, while also protecting our employees, their families, our members, and the larger community. We are in the process of distributing these masks to our employes and families. Once that is complete, we will have a supply of masks in our branches to hand out to members who are in need. We are also providing masks to our community and business partners.

You’re a year into your move from West to East. How has all this made you feel?

BC: I continue to be amazed at how our employees prove to be the best and brightest financial experts in the industry. Our 800-plus employees have been diligent in protecting themselves and members while standing ready to serve and offer smart solutions. I can’t thank them enough and appreciate everything they are doing during what have been stressful times for all of us.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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