Once the decision was made there was no turning back. With COVID-19 raging, Carma Peters, President and CEO of Michigan Legacy Credit Union, knew that the only viable option was clear. All six of their physical brick and mortar branch offices had to be closed. Credit unions across the state of Michigan responded in like fashion.
This was a new era; the era of COVID-19, the likes of which had not been seen and experienced in over a hundred years. Credit Union leaders were given the opportunity to lead and they did not hesitate to take thoughtful action.
Things have settled a bit from back in March, yet what lies ahead for the credit union industry no one knows for sure.
In an updated version of the wise old saying goes, “When life hands you a lemon, open a lemonade stand.” As we look around and survey the landscape of the credit union world, there are several positive outcomes credit union leaders have created for their respective organizations due to COVID-19.
Robert LaPalme, President and CEO of Downriver Community Federal Credit Union shared,
“A paradigm was broken for many financial institutions as well as our own. We didn’t know how successful we could be with some of our people working from home. In the past we had refrained from trying it because we didn’t think it would work. However, with the pandemic forcing us to take this approach, we soon discovered that not all of our people had to be here in the office doing their jobs.”
LaPalme went on to explain that they sent some of their people home with their lap tops and other equipment to work. He added, “We were pleasantly surprised to discover that our team members working from home could do the job very effectively. In some cases, they could get even more work done because they were not getting interrupted as often.”
Jackie Buchanan, President and CEO of Genisys Credit Union shared,
“Like most organizations, our eyes were opened to remote working and we learned that for the most part, our team can be productive, and in some cases, be even more productive than while in the office.”
Peters echoed similar thoughts. “We immediately deployed 78% of our staff to work from home. We anticipated that there would be some resistance from some CU members wearing a mask, and rather than subject our team members to dealing with the conflict of dealing with uncooperative members and the health risks that went along with that, we made the decision to close and stay closed until we were ready. We closed all of our branches on March 16th and did not reopen until September 6th. “
Buchanan reported that while much of what has happened has caused a lot of challenges, they see several silver linings for Genisys, their members and their team.
“Members who traditionally avoided our remote channels needed to learn how to use them. Our branches were moved to ‘by appointment only’, and many of those members are continuing to use these channels even though the branches are fully open again.” She went on to say that they saw channels like mobile banking, remote deposit, electronic signature and online account opening increase about 50%. Buchanan added, “This is a great thing for our members, as it saves them valuable time, and keeps them from needing to come into contact with people during this time.”
Carma Peters added, “a few years back, according to our strategic plan, we had remodeled our first branch office to take us into the future of financial services, which also included touchless transaction. We had already signed a contract a with a company to supply us with our video platform, so when COVID-19 hit, we were able to communicate to our staff that we were enacting that plan and we had the systems in place and did not miss a beat.”
She went on to that they were not surprised when their electronic services increased. Through their research, they had learned the fastest demographic that was adapting to technology was the age group over 50. They discovered their mobile apps use was up 17 percent, desktop was up 3%, and text use up 3%. Across all age groups, their mobile sign-ons in the month of April was up over 40%.
LaPalme added, “Something else we learned, is that we needed to communicate internally, an enormous amount of information, with clarity, on a consistent basis. We needed to be sure everyone was receiving the same information at the same time.” When the pandemic hit, they began using, and continue to use, an intranet site for all of their staff.
Another positive impact felt by Buchanan at Genisys, was that the slightly reduced traffic in the branches, had also given their team the opportunity to learn new things and spend more time looking for additional opportunities to help their members. She also shared that, “Our team was also excited to be enhancing their skill sets, as they are better positioned to move up in the organization when those opportunities arise.”
Peters reported that another benefit that created opportunities to help her team still feel connected. She explained, “Since many of our team members were working from home, they were not able to see each other and meet face to face and to have the live interaction that goes with it. We were able to compensate somewhat by having a virtual staff development day, a couple of all staff meetings on Zoom, along with the communications I send out on a regular basis.”
As credit union leaders have recognized, there is no turning back the hands of time to avoid the COVID-19 era. However, by taking advantage of the opportunity it presented, they very likely will be looking back a few years from now and shaking their heads, realizing it could have been one of the best things that ever happened to advance their organizations into the future.
Tom Borg is a business consultant who works credit unions at the intersection of leadership, communication and culture. To ask him a question please call (734) 404-5909 or email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at: www.tomborgconsulting.com. Tom Borg © All Rights Reserved