Credit unions and the coronavirus: what to know

Hand holds test tube for Coronavirus 2019-nCOV analysis.

A recent visit to a local credit union, where bottles of hand sanitizer stand at the ready at each teller station and are strategically placed at every workstation within view, is just one indication that credit unions are doing their part to prevent the spread of germs – and the coronavirus.

Credit unions may also be reviewing their existing emergency contingency plans and preparing for the possibility of a long-time health threat or pandemic to limit impacts on their operations, their employees and members.

“During this time of uncertainty related to the coronavirus, credit unions should be reviewing their existing preparedness plans and updating them as necessary to ensure that their business operations are not adversely interrupted,” said William J. Mellin, president/CEO of the New York Credit Union Association. “The Association is committed to being a resource for its members, and as always, reminds credit unions that the safety of credit union employees and members should be a top priority.”

The Association has not canceled any events. However, if a registrant has, within 14 days of an event, visited a country that the Center for Disease Control has declared high risk, or if an individual suspects they have been in close proximity to a person that has been diagnosed with the coronavirus, the Association is asking those individuals not to attend the event. A full refund will be issued.

The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council updated its guidance on March 6 to remind financial institutions that business continuity plans should address the threat of a pandemic outbreak and its potential impact on the delivery of critical financial services. The FFIEC interagency statement on pandemic planning can be viewed on the FFIEC website.

To date, the NCUA has not provided specific guidance regarding the coronavirus, but has provided previous guidance to credit unions on being prepared for a long-time health threat or pandemic.

In a letter to credit unions in 2006, the NCUA advised credit unions and their service providers to consider include health threats in their event response and contingency plans, noting that “a pandemic event is a potential threat to any credit union regardless of size and location.”

Coronavirus or not, “in an ideal world credit unions should dust off their existing protocols due to NCUA’s expectations that credit unions test their pandemic preparedness on an ongoing basis as well as periodically updating their plans,” said Henry Meier, Association SVP/general counsel.

Whether the coronavirus will threaten to impact credit unions’ business operations is not immediately clear. However, credit unions are in a unique position to utilize technology to ease the impact if it does.

“On the bright side, technology has moved so rapidly in recent years that there are new ways of keeping your members tethered to your branch, even if they feel like minimizing the amount of time they spend in public spaces,” Meier said. “For example, remote deposit captured in conjunction with your existing online banking ensures that the credit union can continue functioning even if it had to close down a branch for a few days.”

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