Although the federal government appears to be on the brink of ending the shutdown -- at least until Feb. 8 -- credit unions shouldn't be too quick to consider the crisis to be entirely or permanently averted.
And for some credit unions, the repercussions go well beyond the psychological impact of a shut down -- or even just the impact on individual members who work for the government. For credit unions that specifically serve federal workers, it goes much deeper, with some having to shutter their own branches that were located inside of federal buildings.
Among those is Department of Labor FCU, an $88 million-asset credit union whose branches are all located inside federal buildings, one of which was closed as a result of the shutdown.
“Our front office staff has been relocated to the main office while our back office people work remotely anyway,” explained President and CEO Joan Moran. “We also use remote branching and most of our members apply for loans online.”
Moran and others who spoke to Credit Union Journal for this story did so before the Senate voted to end the shutdown.
At Chantilly, Va.-based Justice FCU, which was originally chartered to serve employees of the Department of Justice, 22 of the credit union’s 26 branches across the country are located within government facilities, explained Patricia Duke, AVP of marketing and business development at the $731 million credit union.
“When a government shutdown occurs, our branches remain open and fully operational to assist members within buildings that remain open,” Duke told Credit Union Journal. During the brief shutdown, Justice FCU had three locations that could not be open. Duke said staff was shifted from closed branches to headquarters in order to assist with higher-than-normal phone traffic as a result of the programs Justice FCU put together for members impacted by the shutdown.
Justice FCU, Duke noted, takes “great pride” in being prepared well in advance with “special assistance for our members and training for our staff should a shutdown occur.”
Is it worth it?
As a general rule, whenever a branch can’t be accessed – whether due to natural disasters, nearby crime scene or government shutdowns – most CUs reassign employees to other branches until normal operations resume, said Dennis Dollar, a former NCUA chairman and credit union consultant in Alabama.
“The key is to let members know the access is restricted and where they can go for service,” Dollar stated. “This is much easier today in the text and email notification world than it was twenty years ago.”
With shutdowns (or at least the threat of them) a semi-regular occurrence now, is it worth it for credit unions to continue to operate branches in facilities that may not be able to serve members in difficult times? Particularly considering the increased security many of those government buildings put in place after the Sept. 11, 2011 terrorist attacks?
Tracy Montgomery, SVP of branch operations at Navy Federal Credit Union, the world’s biggest credit union, said her CU would not consider scrapping those branches.
“Despite potential disruptions, we are proud to have branches on military bases and we want to continue to expand our on-base presence whenever possible,” she said.
Similarly, Justice FCU’s Duke said her credit union wouldn’t think of stopping operations at government sites.
“We stand ready to offer our assistance,” she said. “We take pride in upholding the credit union philosophy of ‘people helping people.’”
Navy knows the drill when it comes to shutdowns
None of Navy FCU’s branches closed as a result of the shutdown, noted Montgomery, including those on U.S. military bases.
“The on-base locations remain open because they serve essential personnel,” said Tracy Montgomery, senior vice president of branch operations at Navy FCU.
Montgomery also said that any time a branch is closed temporarily, for weather or any other reasons, Navy FCU staff from the impacted branch are sent to work at nearby branches which remain open.
“Our branch network consists of on-base branches and most of those locations are supported by off-base branches located in the neighboring community,” Montgomery added. “When an on-base branch has to be temporarily closed, we direct members to the nearest open branch. We also work to help members understand that we have a network of more than 30,000 ATMs that can be used free of charge.”
Given all the questions surrounding this latest shutdown, Montgomery pointed out that Navy FCU’s branch employees are familiar with the “uncertain nature” of such closures, particularly in light of the 2013 government shutdown.
“Our branch managers remain in constant contact with their teams and with Navy Federal leadership in order to resume branch service as soon as it becomes possible,” she elaborated. “Currently, none of our branches have been impacted by the government shutdown.”
Montgomery reminded that Navy FCU understands the importance of making sure its members understand how the credit union is there to help them through a ”stressful time” like a government shutdown.