How Corning Credit Union is assisting members during the pandemic and re-opening

Gary Grinnell

During the pandemic, credit unions have provided members uninterrupted service while juggling Paycheck Protection Program loans and historic levels of mortgage refinances. At the same time, credit unions have successfully pivoted in response to new and seemingly ever-changing guidelines and regulations.

As more credit unions that closed lobbies now re-open, everyday operational changes have become standard operating procedures, from the use of masks, Plexiglas barriers, hand sanitizers, and social distancing to frequent deep cleaning of lobbies and office spaces and more.

Gary Grinnell, CEO of Corning Federal Credit Union, which has branches in New York, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, recently shared some of his experiences assisting business members during the pandemic.

Grinnell said that the pandemic posed a multitude of challenges, particularly increased business volumes related to mortgages, PPP loans and loan deferral requests. To handle the load of PPP loans in particular, Grinnell utilized staff members from closed branches and other slower departments, doubling the size of the business team from 11 to 24 at one point. This enabled the credit union to complete 300 business loan deferrals, actively take PPP loan applications and qualify 55 members for SBA debt relief.

“We have a great team,” Grinnell said. “We pulled people together to get through it, and we got through it. I’m really proud of what the team did.”

Serving members in multiple states during the pandemic also posed unique challenges, due to many laws and regulations varying on a hyper-localized level. “It certainly added complexity,” Grinnell said, adding that appointing one person to track all daily guidance was helpful.

Grinnell also explained that Corning CU lobbies are re-opening in a phased approach, in an effort to work out any potential bugs, each following all applicable guidance, including use of Plexiglas between CU staff and members, social distancing and a host of other measures. He expects all lobbies to be open in the next month or two, but is playing it by ear.

“I think one of the things we did differently is that we hired security to be present at each branch,” Grinnell added, explaining that the security guards greet members as they arrive and ask them to briefly pull their face masks down (so that their images can be captured). “Some things are better handled by security,” he said, adding that it particularly provides additional security and comfort to the team.

Members say they have been pleased with Corning CU’s re-openings, Grinnell said. “Overall, members have been very understanding during the pandemic and re-opening process,” Grinnell said. “Members have exceeded my expectations during this time.”

Knowing what he knows now, three months into the pandemic, Grinnell said that the advice he would give to other credit union CEOs in regions that may be further behind in the reopening process is to take a phased approach at opening.

“Don’t open everything at once; take a phased approach and consider security, if only in the beginning. It’s costly, but if I had to do it over, I would do it again.”

Grinnell said that it is too early to tell if the future of credit union lobbies and how services are provided is forever changed, but admitted, to some degree, that it may be, noting that the pandemic has changed the way some members bank, for example, increasingly utilizing online banking.

As for unique products or services Corning CU has provided during the pandemic, the credit union expanded its Skip A Pay program and that “by a long shot was the most popular assistance” the credit union provided to members, Grinnell said. He said they also offered a pandemic relief personal loan and waived fees, but by far, payment deferrals were most utilized.

As for PPP loans, Corning CU was already an active SBA lender before the pandemic, so the team was familiar with the SBA and its loan uploading system, Grinnell said. But because the PPP was a new product, the team had to learn the program guidance related to it.

“Everyone was learning this new product at the same time and everyone tried to do their best for small businesses,” Grinnell said of his team, who worked around the clock and stuck through the process to help members. “We want to be relationship lenders, not collateral lenders, and this really solidified that.”

As of last week, Corning CU had processed 425 PPP applications and funded 369 loans, totaling just under $24 million, Grinnell said. The average loan sizes Corning CU facilitated were between $50,000 and $60,000, with several others over $1 million, he added.

Despite the pandemic and difficult times, Grinnell said he sees the current events as a learning opportunity. “I believe very strongly you learn much more in a crisis than when everything is going well,” Grinnell said. “This has been a great learning experience and, overall, for our credit union and our team, it reinforces our primary mission that we are here to help people and our members and, in difficult times, that is when you have to step up.”

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