Trust and reliability are key components of successful member communications.
It’s hard to believe that at the end of 2019, “Pandemic Plan” was just a chapter heading in many credit unions’ disaster recovery and business continuity plans. Then in January, Chinese state media reported the first known death caused by the coronavirus, and six weeks later, every organization worldwide needed to have a pandemic plan in place.
Before COVID-19, disaster recovery planning for credit unions typically focused on such weather events as hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, floods and earthquakes, and other natural disasters. The uniqueness of the coronavirus pandemic has impacted businesses across the nation in ways that were never imagined—even in the most comprehensive DR plans.
One element of business continuity that may be overlooked, especially when everyone seems to be spending so much time online while social distancing, is the key role print and mail play in credit unions’ critical communications—including statements, loan notices, and other business-critical and regulatory-related documents. If your plan does not include print and mail, this missing link could impact cash flow, member loyalty and compliance.
Now, More Than Ever, Consumers Trust and Value Mail
Ask a dozen people which they trust more—an email that appears to come from their credit union or a physical letter from their CU—you’re likely to hear most say the physical letter is more trustworthy. The almost daily warnings about phishing scams rarely, if ever, have a physical mail component associated with them. Far from losing importance, print continues to be valued by consumers of all ages, particularly those that make up the current core membership base for credit unions.
While there are many advantages to email and other digital media, one disadvantage is how easy it is to ignore it or question its veracity. Critical communications delivered to a physical mailbox take more thought and action to discard than simply clicking a close, delete, or unsubscribe box on a screen.
The USPS Market Research & Insights department conducted an online survey of more than 1,000 adults in mid-April of this year. The survey results were striking:
- Approximately 67% of consumers surveyed are feeling increasingly isolated and distant from people and have acknowledged the effect of the pandemic on their mental well-being.
- 62% said that “receiving a card or letter in the mail makes me feel more connected during social distancing.”
- 42% said they were more reliant on mail as a result of social distancing.
- 60% said it means more to receive a card or letter in the mail than an email.
Plan for the Unexpected
The phrase “hope is not a strategy” is frequently used when justifying the need for business continuity planning. You may hope or even have experience that shows most disaster events are short in nature and your credit union can survive a short interruption in distributing critical communications. However, COVID-19 has proven to be unprecedented in its duration and impact. Hope and previous disaster experience are probably not showing positive results while your employees are quarantined, or your in-house processing center is shut down for deep cleaning and sanitizing. Have you calculated the financial impact of having your print and mail services disrupted for one day? What if the interruption lasts for months? Can you survive if your statement processing interruption is compounded by service level agreement penalties, fines and lost members due to a delay in mailing your critical communications?
Take the Right Approach to Critical Communications Recovery
Print and mail is often overlooked in the planning process for failover or backup plans for business interruptions. If you need to add print and mail to your disaster recovery or pandemic plan, where do you begin? If you already have a print and mail DR plan in place, is it the right plan? Is it comprehensive enough? Is it fast enough? How do you know it works? When was the last time you tested it?
A long-term print and mail recovery solution starts with addressing such elements as identification of critical assets, key recovery roles, disaster communications, applications and components, data transmission and material management. Once the plan is created, it must be tested on a regular basis to ensure changes are captured, service level agreements can be met and new applications and technologies are addressed. An effective change management plan is also critical to ensure your recovery provider is using the most current data and schedules.
Keeping your recovery provider apprised of changes before a pandemic or other disaster strikes is critical to a successful recovery. When your usual critical communications channels are unavailable due to a pandemic, weather event, equipment failure or technology upgrade, your print and mail recovery plan must be current and tested in order to be successful. Even while financial institutions encourage consumers to move toward online banking and paperless statements, consumers still have the ability to request paper disclosure statements sent via postal mail, and businesses must be able to comply with this preference 24/7.
Including print and mail in your recovery plan ensures your members will continue to receive critical communications from you no matter what, during events that might make staying informed particularly important to your members. And in these difficult times, perhaps include a note that says, “Thanks for your patience and understanding while we navigate and recover from COVID-19.”
Michael Henry is vice president of IWCO Direct’s Pennsylvania and Mail-Gard manufacturing operations. Mail-Gard is a division of IWCO Direct that provides business continuity and disaster recovery services for critical communications. He has more than 30 years of direct mail production, disaster recovery and continuous improvement experience and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.