BLOOMFIELD, N.J.-If executives at XCEL FCU didn't know better, they'd start to wonder if someone had it in for them.

The $142-million credit union that serves the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey once called the World Trade Center home. It was there in 1993 when the Twin Towers were bombed. It was there on Sept. 11, 2001, when those towers came tumbling down, as well. Then-CEO James Wisnieski vowed his credit union would never call that site home again, regardless of what was built there. Instead, the CU moved to safer ground in New Jersey.

Disaster Planning Down To A Science

So when Hurricane Sandy made a beeline for New Jersey, the folks at XCEL could hardly be blamed for thinking, "you've got to be kidding." But if ever there was a credit union that's got disaster recovery down to a science, it is the all-too-experienced management team at XCEL.

"We've got three branch offices plus our corporate headquarters," said CEO Linda McFadden, who served as COO under Wisnieski on Sept. 11, 2001. "One of our branches is in Federal Plaza in Manhattan, and that is a federal building, so we can't get in there until both the city and the feds clear it. Our call center is there. Using what we learned on
Sept. 11, we were able to transfer the call center to our headquarters."

One of its other branches is located at a PATH train station, so it also was closed, but the rest of the branches were up an running-which was as much a boon to other credit unions' members in the area as XCEL's.

"At our Kennedy Boulevard branch, we have two tellers there, and most of what they're doing is shared service transactions for members of other credit unions," McFadden said just days after the storm. "Most of our members are tech savvy. About 90% of our transactions are done remotely, either through ATMs, POS, online, mobile or by phone."

In the immediate aftermath of Sandy, the credit union took a lot of calls from members wanting to know if their transactions had posted or not. Once the word got out that everything posted as usual, the calls largely died down, she said.

"What we learned from 9/11 was the importance of having flexible systems, like the ability to move our call center with minimal disruption and minimal help from the outside world," McFadden related. "I'm sitting here in an office with 25 people, and only four of us have power at home. When I built this office, we included a gym with showers and back-up generators, so those of us without power are pretty happy to come here."

Get The Systems, Test The Systems

Another key disaster recovery plan aspect that some likely forget: it's not enough to have back-up systems; you also have to test them, she added.

In addition to helping serve other credit unions' members, XCEL is also helping out other credit unions. "We've extended ACH services to some of the other smaller credit unions," she said.

Like many credit unions in the storm-torn region, XCEL is offering a variety of financial relief programs for its members, such as the ability to skip a payment without incurring a fee, special lines of credit and other offers. "Our message to our members, we've got your money safe and sound, and if it's not enough, we can help with that, too," McFadden said.

Subscribe Now

Authoritative analysis and perspective for every segment of the credit union industry

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.