Credit union CEOs talk re-opening plans, impact of pandemic on operations

Social distancing floor sign warning about safe distance between people of 6 feet. Public health measure to prevent further spread of new corona virus Covid-19 infections.

As New York state continues to reopen, credit unions, which have continued to provide essential services in person, via drive thrus, online or by phone during the COVID-19 pandemic, appear to be adapting well to the range of logistical challenges – and new ways of doing things – that have arisen as a result of the public health and economic crisis.

While some credit unions kept lobbies open and adjusted to the crisis day by day, others are only recently welcoming back members into their branches. Yet neither are immune from the everyday operational changes that have now become standard operating procedures, such as the use of masks in some branches, Plexiglas barriers, hand sanitizers, social distancing and frequent deep cleaning of lobbies and office spaces.

Three credit union leaders who served as guest panelists on the New York Credit Union Association’s most recent weekly Webex conference call agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic created some initial uncertainty and an array of new challenges, but are encouraged by both staff and members’ willingness to adjust to the new ways of conducting business.

Panelists Frank DeGraw, president/CEO of Sunmark FCU; Ed Butler, SVP/COO of Visions FCU; and Keith Stone, president/CEO of The Finest FCU discussed on the May 29 conference call how the pandemic has impacted their operations, as well as their plans for opening and re-opening their institutions.

Sunmark FCU has continued to offer all its services while lobbies have been closed, and drive thru and call center hours were extended during the pandemic, DeGraw said. Prior to opening some branch lobbies on May 18, Sunmark FCU surveyed members to see how they felt about using lobbies again.

Some members indicated that they still had high concerns, but more said they would use the lobbies, he said. “That was very encouraging for staff, since some were a little nervous about being back to work. When they saw the results of the survey, they felt more comfortable, and were actually very excited about coming back.”

DeGraw said that members have been policing themselves when it comes to social distancing and greeters provide face masks and hand sanitizer to members. “Overall, the opening went really well; we’re really pleased with it and didn’t find any operational issues.”

Visions FCU kept lobbies open and “immediately went out and sourced PPE,” and also utilized lobby leaders to greet members, Butler said, adding that “we made sure we were staying on top of all the health guidelines and communicating with the staff as much as possible. We were able to make decisions quickly, which helped.”

With lobby traffic down, Visions FCU transitioned to shorter hours, with half the team working one week and then the next team working the following week, Butler said, adding that, because the credit union has branches in three states, just keeping up with the daily mandates was challenging.

“The biggest thing we learned is to continue to communicate with staff and telling them why we are doing things and that we are trying to keep them and our members as safe as possible.”

The Finest FCU, which serves members of the New York Police Department and other law enforcement personnel, reduced its lobby hours, but kept doors open because “we felt we had no choice but to be open for our membership,” Stone said, likening the “typical CU mantra ‘people helping people’ to ‘law enforcement helping law enforcement.’”

And while face mask requirements for staff and members varies from credit union to credit union or location, Stone said that face masks are not a choice in his branches. “We have notices posted. It’s not a question, right now it’s a must that members need to wear a mask to come in the office.”

The Association has been conducting weekly Webex conferences with credit union professionals around the state during much of the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on a range of economic and logistical issues that credit unions are currently facing.

New York credit union professionals are invited to participate in the Association’s next weekly Webex conference at 9 a.m. on Friday, June 5. Call details will be emailed to credit unions Wednesday afternoon.

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