by Ron Daly
Torrential rain. Winds up to 115 mph. An estimated $68 billion in damages. Portions of the eastern seaboard still reeling.
It's hard to believe a year has already come and gone since Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey. It's not an anniversary you really want to celebrate but it's an important one to mark. It's a prime example of how credit unions are supposed to be rooted in their communities and how, as a community unto itself, credit unions reach out and help one another.
CUs help members
In the aftermath of the storm, stories came pouring in from New Jersey- and New York-area credit unions re-opening and powering through to help members. Some offered overdraft forgiveness, some offered low-rate loans for repairs; a brave and thoughtful few opened up their branches to those displaced by the storm, giving them a warm place to rest, recharge their portable electronics and get their finances in order for the displacement and for the recovery.
If there's a better example of "the credit union difference" than these community-based institutions offering the kindness and care that members need in a time of crisis, what might it be? Because this is the clearest indication to me of what makes credit unions special — a degree of true empathy. It's an empathy that applies to more than money; it applies to the human condition.
CUs help one another
In the wake of the destruction came the cleanup effort. Some issues were tackled quickly and with the kind of focus and calm needed to keep operations on the rails. Some issues have taken quite a long time to address, and some still go unresolved.
One good example of CUs lending themselves a hand? CUaid.coop, which sprang into action collecting donations from credit unions across the nation. The money got passed along to those credit unions that needed it the most. We started the rebuilding process almost immediately after the destruction took place. How many other industries get money going from company to company that quickly? How many other industries bother?
CUs could always do more
The Edelman Trust Barometer tells us that financial services is the least trusted industry worldwide. What can we do to counteract the skepticism and reticence in members and turn the "trust equation" back in our favor?
Stories like the ones above are a good starting place. Showing members that credit unions really do care about their safety and security goes a long way in building our credibility. But how do you really drive that home?
- Be Visible - Before, During, and After — If your service area is under threat, you need to be in communication with members throughout the process. When will branches close? Where should they go with concerns or questions? What should they do if they return home to extensive damage or, worse yet, outright destruction? While you're at it, reach out to disaster planning departments in your city or town and ask how you can contribute, volunteer and improve the conditions of those who get displaced or sheltered.
- Make Sure Issues are Well Documented — Did an ATM get destroyed in a tornado or flooded or burned up in a fire? Let members know. Did a branch need extensive repairs? Let members know. Do members that frequent one particular branch or area of service need aid and could that aid be provided by members in other locations? Let members know. Don't skirt the issue, don't "dummy up" - play straight, deal fair, do good.
Recently, the University of Michigan Health System encouraged doctors to admit to mistakes and bad calls. Surprisingly, the number malpractice suits went down. Why? Because people prefer a company, or a provider, that doesn't try to cover things up or fudge the facts. They want answers and clear communication. Give it to them.
- Give Members the Tools They Need — Do your members know everything they need to know about direct deposit? If they don't, they might find themselves wanting when payday comes on the heels of a hurricane. Municipal CU learned that the hard way during Sandy and shared their insights. During a weather event, people might be lacking the resources they take for granted - mail stops being a priority, phone lines go down, the home computer might be done for due to electrical surges or fire or flood damage.
But the chances are good that the members leaving their homes aren't leaving without a mobile device in-hand.
Give members the tools they need most with your mobile offering. Check balances? That's a gimme. Transfer funds? Simple enough. Find branches and ATMs? Those tools are getting better all the time. Get copies of insurance policies, deeds, medical histories and wills? It's possible right this minute. If you're not offering these essential services, where is your operations budget going, exactly?
We hope that credit unions never have to deal with another "Hurricane Sandy". Unfortunately, we know they will. Here's hoping that they'll keep giving aid and comfort to the members that need it most. Here's hoping they'll keep looking out for each other and lending a hand in the spirit of cooperation and community building. Here's hoping that, when the crucial moment hits and it's time to be there for your members, you'll have given them all the information, attention, tools and time they need to get back on their feet. Here's hoping we can build more trust among our members and use that trust to turn them into lifelong members.