Into the COVID-19 Fire to Make Things Better for Members and Staff

A strong alignment of the CEO, senior leaders and the board enabled early, effective action.

We were talking with one of our clients, F&A Federal Credit Union in Monterrey Park California, the other day and were struck by their early, decisive actions in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. (F&A was chartered in 1936 to provide financial services to employees of the Los Angeles County Forestry, Fire and Agricultural Departments.) 

We soon learned that the decisiveness in responsive to the coronavirus situation was the result of a combination of a well-thought out pandemic response plan and the courage to act when some might have argued that it was too early to do so. F&A FCU’s actions were made possible by a strong governance culture of trust between the credit union’s board and CEO Tim Green and his management team, all of which enabled Tim to make some tough, early calls. 

Tim told us that by late January he was concerned enough about the likelihood that the virus would impact the United States that he decided to implement the credit union’s pandemic response plan. 

As Melia Keller, VP/marketing notes, “Tim a visionary on this … the need to prepare for a quarantine. It was really hard to fathom. We ordered laptops and set them up to work remotely, came up with a communication plan, prepared for kids being at home, employees working remotely and identified people of a higher risk and started them working from home right away.” And, the board was supportive of it all.

In February, F&A FCU developed and prepared call center scripts and emergency member communications, Melia told us, “We had a communication plan in place, with scripting for outbound messaging. It all emphasized caring for the member. That has really differentiated us. We approached everything from a perspective of compassion and humanity.”

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the credit union focused on ways to make things better for its members and its employees. It developed programs to meet the members’ needs, including loan deferment through enhanced skip a pay, the waiving of loan late fees, and a short-term 0% APR loan of $5,000 for any member impacted by COVID-19—regardless of credit score and knowing some loans may not be repaid. Employees are empowered to help where they can, and for one desperate member, this meant F&A FCU even provided a couple of rolls of toilet paper at the drive-through window.  

For employees, Tim initiated a short-term 30% raise and offered 40 additional hours of paid time off to use as needed. For employees working in the branches (one is drive-through only, the other has limited teller hours), the credit union caters lunch, so they don’t have to go out. They even gave each staff member two rolls of that precious toilet paper from the credit union’s supplies!

According to Tim, the goal was similar to the goal of its firefighter members: to make things better. “Everything was pre-planned, except the toilet paper and the decision on the 30% temporary pay adjustment,” he said.

Tim felt confident that he could make that command decision and that the board would support it—and indeed it has. Tim noted to us that COVID-19 “has crystalized our values without us having to talk about it. We are the ones who are there for you.” 

It struck us that the F&A FCU leadership—board and staff – were running “into the fire” of the COVID-19 pandemic, ready and able to help its members, just as its own firefighter members are ready, willing and able those in need. The CU’s preparation, shared dedication to service and, perhaps most importantly, culture of trust (even though Tim is a relatively new CEO) have been invaluable for F&A FCU members.  

Caitlin Hatch serves as a senior consultant with CUES strategic provider Quantum Governance and has worked with credit unions for the past eight years, focusing on governance and strategic planning. Prior to that, she served for 25 years as general counsel and corporate secretary for the largest anthracite coal company in the United States.

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