Members First Credit Union’s CEO and EVP answer questions about COVID-19, the future of banking, and their ongoing commitment to their members and communities.
Carrie Iafrate, EVP: At Members First Credit Union we are proud of the special responsibility we have to serve the community through this unprecedented time. As a financial institution we are considered part of the critical infrastructure with essential employees. Their health and well-being is our top priority to ensure we can fully serve our members.
We took the steps to close our lobbies early on to limit in-person interactions. More than half of our employees across the state are working from home with those still in the office in separate areas and maintaining social distancing to the maximum extent possible. We’ve heightened our cleaning procedures, secured supplies, and taught our teams how to protect themselves. Well-being time has also been a focus, allowing team members time out of the office or away from their computer to do what they need in this trying time.
We are already planning for when we do open back up to members for more than drive-thru service. Our goal will be to protect both staff and members and help everyone find a level of comfortability.
We are vital to caring for financial wellbeing. We are vital to ensuring that people are helping people. We are vital to encouraging a better tomorrow. We know that our actions provide piece of mind, confidence, and comfort. Three vital feelings humans need for healing.
Eric Brubaker, CEO and President: As a financial institution, our credit union is part of the critical infrastructure in our society with essential employees. As such, the credit union has remained open during this pandemic. We are here to serve our members. In order to do that we need to have healthy employees who can serve members in a safe manner. Our drive-thru windows are open, in addition to our contact center, and our online channels. We closed our lobbies to walk-in traffic early in the pandemic to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. We have enhanced our cleaning procedures across our branches and offices. We have been closely monitoring and following CDC guidelines such as social distancing, remaining at home when ill, etc. to protect each other. All employees who are able to work remotely are doing so, over half of our team.
Our members and employees have worked extremely well together to take care of business during this challenging time. We appreciate our members’ cooperation and understanding. We will reach the other side of this crisis and we will be stronger for having worked together in our communities.
Iafrate: Now, more than ever, our roots of “People Helping People” and our mission of “Encouraging a Better Tomorrow” ring true. It is in our nature to help and our capabilities have easily and quickly heightened to new levels to respond to members’ needs.
Members have deferred loan payments for 90 days on more than $95 million in loans. This offer gives our members ease in their monthly budget rather than taking on new debt to make ends meet. We have also been offering unique solutions on a case-by-case basis. Our team is caring and empowered to offer financial hardship solutions one member at a time.
Our website and social media channels are full of resources and guidance for members. The information is relevant and being updated consistently.
While we are not meeting with members in person, our team has happily adapted to taking on different positions. We have been able to more than double the size of our Contact Center and eLending teams so that we can continue to work directly with members 24/7. We know that during these unprecedented times people just need their questions answered and solutions offered. We are passionate about serving members in that way.
Brubaker: As we became aware of the how the COVID-19 pandemic was going to affect us in Michigan, we immediately started brainstorming how we could help members and our communities. We knew they would be facing financial hardship and our team wanted to provide relief quickly. One of the first things we did was offer 90-day loan payment deferrals to provide peace of mind for our members and give them one less thing to worry about as they restructured their lives to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The response to the loan payment deferrals was incredible and our teams came together to get the deferrals processed as quickly and smoothly as possible.
We did other things as well such as increasing card cash limits, increasing credit card lines, home equity lines. We doubled the number of employees available to speak with members through our contact center. We shifted other employees to help approve loans electronically.
We know many members may be facing unemployment or reduced hours. Our team is prepared to help you consider things such as; consolidating your debt into one lower payment, a bridge loan, the equity in your home, etc. We welcome the opportunity to talk with you to help you find a solution. Our mission of “encouraging a better tomorrow” has never been more relevant and we are proud to support our membership.
Iafrate: One of the founding principles of credit unions is to save together. At Members First we encourage our members to save regularly and build security for themselves and their families. This may be a time when members will need to use that savings and they can access it very easily through electronic channels or in-person with us. There is not a smart reason for pulling money out of accounts at Members First to have for “safe keeping.” Our members’ savings are federally insured to at least $250,000 by the National Credit Union Administration, a US Government Agency. Stay the course.
Brubaker: We have not experienced this behavior from our members. Member savings are federally insured to a minimum of $250,000. Members First Credit Union is financially strong, and indeed, the financial system of the country is strong. We often hear how important it is to save money in an emergency fund. This is exactly the type of situation when we need that emergency fund. Our mission at Members First is to “Encourage a better tomorrow” and we always encourage members to save together with us in a safe, insured manner. In today’s digital/electronic world, we have more ways than ever to access our money quickly, easily, and securely.
Iafrate: Small businesses are the heart of our communities and our membership. Our small businesses are as important to us as they are to their owners. The team at Members First is committed to ensuring our communities are full of thriving businesses on the other side of this crisis. It began with our Business Services team making contact with all of our members in the first couple of weeks. Each business and owner is unique; an individual call and solutions discussion was imperative. Now we are processing loan payment deferrals and submitting PPP requests along with offering those unique ways to help.
Purchasing gift cards, lunches, continuing our contracts, and ordering gifts and supplies are other ways we are working to provide revenue to our local businesses. We believe in a better tomorrow and that will come through the health of our small businesses.
Brubaker: Our local and small businesses are vital to our communities. They provide jobs to residents. They provide products and services we need and want. As we became aware of how the COVID-19 pandemic was going to affect us in Michigan, we immediately started brainstorming how we could help members, including our small business members. We knew they could be facing cash flow concerns. Our business services/lending team began reaching out to our business members to discuss how we could help. We immediately offered up to 90-day payment deferrals and we are now assisting members as they attempt to obtain federal assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program and other sources.
While we work through the pandemic, we urge residents to support their community small businesses by buying gift cards, ordering take-out/delivery, and such. Members First will continue to be here for our business members beyond the pandemic situation. In some cases, the effects of this crisis on businesses will continue long-term and we have flexible loan terms, products and services that can help, and a caring team of business professionals ready to assist.
Iafrate: The Federal Reserve is encouraging us all to borrow, invest, and spend! Interest rates are at an all-time low with the intention that we will stimulate economic growth. When rates are low it is an excellent time to lock in long-term loans like a mortgage on a home. If you can get at least a 1% savings on your current mortgage than refinancing might be a good option for you. Our team is action packed right now and enjoying helping members with their home loan needs.
Rates are also very low on auto and recreational vehicle loans, as well as business services. The Fed has said, “it is prepared to use its full range of tools to support the flow of credit to households and businesses.” Members First is enthusiastic about creating a better tomorrow through these opportunities.
Brubaker: We are busier than ever helping members refinance their mortgage loans to a lower interest rate. As you say, with rates being so low historically members are saving a ton of money by locking in the low rates. Every member’s financial situation is different. Our team is standing by to help you determine what is best for you, whether that is a mortgage or auto loan refinance, a home equity loan, or a consolidation loan to combine your debt into one lower payment. We are here to help.
Iafrate: Our longstanding Community Difference Project is always impacting lives in positive ways and allows our team members to share their passion for people helping people. We really enjoy random acts of kindness and volunteering most. The need for us all to be safe with our health makes that very challenging for us right now.
To keep making a difference we are asking our members what organizations they want to support. We’re gifting $1,000 at a time to the organizations of their choice. In these uncertain times it is inspiring to see people come together in unique ways. We’re proud to support our members in supporting the organizations that are helping our communities thrive the most.
Brubaker: As we became aware of how the COVID-19 pandemic was going to affect us in Michigan, we immediately started brainstorming how we could help. We considered how to help our members, our communities, and our employees. The procedures we put in place to keep our employees and members healthy and safe directly affects the health and safety of our communities because each of us individually is a part of our community.
Our Community Difference Project is the primary way we support our local organizations and nonprofits. Most of our staff is involved in our Community Difference Projects in one way or another. Although the Stay at Home Order makes it difficult for our staff to be involved in-person supporting our community charitable organizations, the credit union continues to find alternative ways offer financial support to these organizations. We stay in touch to monitor how we can best support them given the in-person limitations in place.
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