Better Together

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Many of us woke up Friday, March 13, to the news that Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer had closed all K-12 public and private schools during a late-night press release addressing the novel coronavirus. We were instructed to “Stay Home, Stay Safe.” Eleven days later, it became a global pandemic — one with no vaccine and no cure.

As financial institutions, credit unions qualified as essential businesses…we were now part of the front line.

An industry-wide response

In record time, we distributed anti-bacterial hand sanitizer to every teller station, office desk, and countertop. We passed out latex gloves to our drive-thru tellers, stitched together cotton masks, and circulated them to staff and branches.

Our employees separated into two parts: those who worked in the office and those who worked from home. Some of us booted up and zoomed in from our makeshift office in the household basement or spare room, while others greeted each other from a safe six-foot distance and sat at a desk shielded with a germ guard.

As we studied the country’s curve of rising cases, we were recording our own peaks. We saw a 200% spike in chats, a 184% surge in website traffic, and a 62% swell in calls to our support center. We immediately re-assigned staff to that department until we saw the curve flatten.

We watched state and national press briefings inform us of the daily statistics and facts of those infected. We listened to how the Federal government was rationing out ventilators, masks, and test kits. We were broadcasting emails and texts to our members, keeping them informed of the financial relief options we were offering to those affected. We publicized our skip-a-pays, low-interest loans, and balance transfers.

We witnessed the economic impact this virus was having on our small communities so, we deployed our business department and quickly processed over 415 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans totaling over $30,000,000.

We listened to the stories of the everyday heroes who braved the pandemic to serve our communities. So, we served them. We delivered meals to over 1,400 local emergency room nurses, grocery store clerks, first responders, and mail carriers. We reacted to the hardships televised on the evening news and the stories whispered between staff of how our members were suffering. So, we reacted.

Leaning on each other during the crisis

As the days turned to weeks and then months, our President reminded us that the “cure should not be worse than the problem.” As a CEO, I was certain the only approved cure would be for us to work together. And inevitably, we became better together.

Together, we learned to overlook the messy kitchen table and the barking dogs during the at-home zoom meetings. We became confident with new roles and rallied together to help overwhelmed departments. Together, we shared stories of new babies being born and messages of hope, albeit not in person, but by video and intranet feeds. Together, we learned to become patient with the exhausted staff member who juggled working nine to five and teaching their children six to ten.

Together, we showed kindness to the member who swallowed their pride to ask for help.

I don’t know when this will end or what the new normal will be, but I know we will survive — and we will do it together.

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