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This month, we’d like to share how one shared branching credit union is going above and beyond in the midst of this paralyzing pandemic. Over the past month, we’ve been saddened to see not only the closing of branches, but the closing of shared branches specifically to guest members. The impact this has had on guest members has been a challenge to experience. With stay-at-home orders and restrictions on travel, some members truly have no way to access their money if their local shared branch restricts guest member access. The cooperative spirit of credit unions is strained like never before in their near 100-year history.
But let us introduce you to $135M Reliant FCU, a Wyoming-based institution with four - soon to be five - shared branches across Wyoming. During this time of crisis, they have buckled down and opened their drive thru to guest members with no restrictions (check out our FAQ on helping guest members at the drive thru). This is especially important because Reliant is the only shared branch within hours of car travel, and at their Cody, WY branch – within a 250-mile radius!
I sat down with (and by sat down with I mean called on my cell phone from my guest bedroom) Krystle Frye, Operations Manager at Reliant FCU to chat about their approach to serving the community, including guest members, and their vision as a 21st century credit union.
Alicia Disantis (AD): Reliant is relatively new to shared branching – you joined about a year ago, right?
Krystle Frye (KF): We started out with our two Casper and Douglas locations, and then we opened a new branch in Cody, which started shared branching a year ago. We are expanding shared branching to an additional branch in Glenrock, Wyoming this year. It's a small, remote branch and we've had a handful of guest members stop by, but I think it can get confusing when you have one branch location not offering shared branching services.
I too am relatively new to the credit union industry, being here with Reliant for two years. Before then I was in commercial banking; I had a bit of a culture shock when I came into the credit union world. Shared branching was extremely foreign to me and it took me a while to really understand how it was possible. The shared branching service elevates the credit union philosophy of people helping people.
AD: I can't think of anything else like it in the world. Why do you think Reliant is going the extra mile compared to other credit unions who are choosing to shut their doors to guest members?
KF: Our senior management has responded well to the pandemic situation. I feel very blessed to work for the management team that I do. Each credit union’s financial situation is different, and that affects many of the decisions that they're making. Reliant has been around for a long time, since 1936, as a teachers credit union. The senior management believes very strongly in the people helping people philosophy (^ Reliant FCU's hat day, a team-building event). When Coronavirus began, the first thing we thought about was, “How is this going to impact our community, members, and employees?” Our senior management team really empathizes with what different people in the community are going through. Even some of our employees have had family members that have been laid off or having to take furlough days. There are so many uncertainties.
AD: Can you walk me through specifically what Reliant is doing for guest members?
KF: From a personal standpoint, how scary would it be to feel like you don't have access to your financial accounts? It's frightening for folks who rely on shared branching.
Previously, we did not offer shared branching through our drive thru. There are quite a few services that we're offering through drive thru right now that we didn’t in the past, and we're just trying to make it as easy as possible to do business with us. We are trying to do the right thing for each member’s circumstances, which includes offering a lot more flexibility.
There have been so many credit unions across the country who are reducing their staff, limiting branch hours and closing locations down. Our senior management team understands that shared branching is more important now than ever before for all credit unions to ensure that members are being serviced. We don't know what tomorrow looks like. What if we must close a couple of our branch locations down completely due to illness spreading in our team? We want to hope that there are other credit unions that haven't experienced the pandemic to that extent yet who can still service our members.
A question I'm always asking is: Is it the right thing to do for our members? Does it make sense? We empower all
of our employees to make these decisions.
AD: Usually you can feel it in your gut, especially when times are tough. When a credit union like yours, which is kind of rare nowadays, who is the only shared branch within 90 plus miles, it’s much more critical to stay open to guest members who have come to rely on you. What else would they do?
KF: Exactly. There are daily conversations about our transaction volume and what our staffing situation could look like. As soon as something changes, like if the virus hits our Metro County area pretty hard and we start having a handful of employees sick, we may have to close one of the branches. However, maybe we stay open three days a week there: Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We are being proactive and reviewing worst-case scenarios.
AD: Anything you would like to say to credit unions who are currently serving members and or maybe tossing around the idea of closing down shared branching?
KF: Thank you for staying open. Thank you for serving guest members. The more of us that can continue to do that, the better service our members will receive. That's really what we're all about. If one of our branches does have to close down, it comes back to this scenario: another branch in the network can fill in the gaps and help all of us empower our members and keep them financially safe.
A big thank you to Reliant FCU, and all the credit unions out there who are going above and beyond to keep members money accessible during these times. You are the backbone of one of the most incredible cooperative services on the planet – shared branching.