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Patelco CU Responds to Pandemic Crisis

blue coronavirus floating in bloodstream with red blood platelets
Contributing Writer

3 minutes

Credit union task force tackles remote work obstacles while staff is empowered to help members cope.

Handling information overload has been one of the unexpected challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, says CUES member Erik Welch, VP/centralized operations at $7.2 billion Patelco Credit Union, based in the San Francisco area.

The credit union has closed one branch because it is located in a building ordered shut by the governor, reduced hours at its other 37 branches, and shifted most of its Dublin, California, headquarters staff to working from home.

Government and cross-industry responses to the spreading virus have changed quickly, so the credit union has been making such decisions and carrying them out as best it can on unsteady ground.

“It has been challenging to stay on top of the large velocity of important, ever-changing information coming from numerous city and county governments, the state of California and various U.S. government agencies,” Welch says. “To ensure we’re able to stay stronger together, Patelco leadership has prioritized the critical work to be done into several cross-functional working teams that remain in touch with each other multiple times throughout the day.”

Welch says the teams have worked to ensure operational roadblocks and obstacles are identified, “allowing us to quickly implement necessary changes to our digital, branch and phone channels.”

The organization’s existing business continuity plan provided a strong foundation that was adapted to the pandemic situation, says Suzanne Rumsey, VP/talent at Patelco CU. The cross-functional task force has teams focused on workforce mobilization; technology, operations and third-party vendor support; team member health, safety, security and time management; internal communications; and member communications and safety.

The credit union quickly recognized that its business continuity efforts would have to center around staff, not facilities, and got ready to move. The task force tested the IT system’s readiness to support remote work and then quickly mobilized non-branch employees to work from home, “the minute Bay Area counties and then the State of California instituted ‘stay-at-home’ orders,” Rumsey reports.

Providing the equipment, software and training the staff needed to make the shift to working from home—while continuing to provide excellent member service—was an initial priority of the cross-functional task force. Patelco CU has dealt with the operational impact of wildfires and power shut-offs in the past, but nothing has had a staff impact like COVID-19. “Previously, a limited number of team members worked remotely on a periodic basis,” Welch says. “Most had not ever done so before the pandemic crisis.”

Patelco CU’s HR team has been holding twice-weekly webinars for the management team to provide updates and recommend actions to take should various scenarios arise that affect their team members. It has also created a website with up-to-date information on the credit union’s COVID-19 response that staff and managers can easily access.

Patelco CU is also focused on helping members cope with the impact on their financial situation. The credit union offers a skip-a-payment request feature online for most consumer loans and credit cards and is also offering interest-free emergency loans to members.

“We have also empowered the entire team to make transaction exceptions, waive fees and make more funds immediately available on deposited checks to support our members’ financial health and well-being during this unprecedented time,” Welch says.

Members have responded positively to Patelco CU’s outreach communication as well. The credit union has been sending emails offering budgeting advice, investment insight, updates on branch hours and tips to avoid the increasing number of financial scams targeting people worried about the coronavirus.

“A member’s recent quote says it best,” Welch recalls. “‘Patelco gives me a lot of information that I need for my family. Please keep this up.’”

Art Chamberlain is a writer based in Campbellford, Ontario, with almost 15 years working with and writing about credit unions.

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