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Credit Unions Should Tell your Members' Stories
Monday, April 4, 2016 6:45 AM

By Jon Knoll, VP Sales and Service, Credit Union Resources

In November of 2015, I attended the Cornerstone Credit Union League Chapter Leaders Conference in Oklahoma City. Downtown OKC was a great venue for the conference. Chapter leaders from across the Cornerstone region came together to celebrate the successes of 2015, plan ahead for 2016, and make playful jabs at one another for who was going to earn the “Best Chapter” awards for the year. It was a lot of fun!

The conference also featured guest speaker Cynthia Campbell. Cynthia is the director of impact at Filene, and presented a timely message. At the time, I did not realize that she was preparing me for this blog. She simply asked us to tell our story, tell it often, tell it better, and tell it “impactfully.”

Just two weeks after the conference, my father-in-law would pass away on Thanksgiving, after a long battle with heart disease and cancer. I wrote about it in the CU Resources blog about how credit unions supported my wife’s family with many great financial services, car loans, medical emergency loans, etc. Ultimately, credit unions had been there for my wife's family since she was a little girl. 

After the funeral (and I know many have experienced this, and may be experiencing it currently), there are piles of paperwork and many phone calls to make. There are many stressful details to figure out, such as:

  • Depositing checks that have the deceased's name on them;
  • Receiving income that is due;
  • Paying immediate bills, such as cars, mortgage, cable, phone, cell phone, and medical bills;
  • Paying for funeral services; and
  • Changing names on all accounts at banks, credit unions, service providers.

All of these things must be done with the proper paperwork, including the death certificate.

In our experience, the local medical examiner’s office was required by law to investigate the matter since a fall had occurred at the hospital. This investigation does a couple of things; it slows down the process of issuing and receiving the death certificate, and it places immediate financial distress on the ability to deposit funds, withdraw funds, and ultimately pay bills.

Checks had to be returned and re-issued, social security had to be changed and re-calculated. There was a document that could be used to prove the situation provided from the medical examiner’s office, but it still took almost two weeks to receive this letter (after all, it was a holiday and everything happens much slower at this time). The stress and the time crunch for money were real.

The car payment needed to be paid quickly, and the loan was at a bank. I offered a bit of advice before leaving to come back to Texas: "try calling the bank and asking for a skip-a-payment type service. What was I thinking? Would/could a bank help someone in need in the time of great emotional distress?

Here is what the bank representative said when asked if the family could skip one month since her husband had just passed away, and she needed some relief to help her through December: “I will transfer you to collections, and they will help figure out payment options. However, your payment will be considered late, and the credit bureau will be notified.”

My mother-in-law was beside herself. For their entire financial lives, they'd had great credit, never been late, and never asked for one favor—this was a no-brainer. What bothered us even more, the representative from the bank showed no empathy and did not ask a manager to assist or try to find other solutions. It was off to collections they went as far as the bank was concerned, with not even a simple "Sorry for your loss."

Last time I checked, providing financial services is still all about people—or in the case of credit unions, people helping people.

My mother-in-law called us immediately. She had hung up on the bank, and didn’t let the call get to collections. It was time for Plan B (which should have been Plan A).

I asked her to just take all the auto loan information to the credit union, and she might as well take the mortgage information also. She had planned to go there anyway to review some other information.

While visiting with her member services representative, tears began to flow, but not just by my mother in law; the credit union employee cried also. The credit union immediately expedited a refinance of the car loan with the credit union. Amazingly, they provided a loan for the exact term left on the existing loan and offered a better rate, which saves $100 per month on the auto payment. The first payment would be due in 60 days, which provided immediate relief.

The credit union investigated the mortgage loan, and after discussion of goals, financial needs, and the overall status of the mortgage, it was decided to leave the mortgage in its current position. No charge for the financial consultation on the car or the mortgage loan, no threat to put the loan in collections, and a real human interaction with empathy. For the first time since Thanksgiving, my mother-in-law felt like an organization actually cared about her and wanted to help.

Imagine that, what we have been saying all these years is true. Banks are in it for their stockholders, and credit unions are there to serve their owners/members. 

Cynthia Campbell’s message is crystal clear:  we must tell our stories. We are different; we are better; and the communities we serve need to know this.

I spoke with my mother-in-law afterward to make sure I had the story right. While we were saying good bye, she made one comment that encapsulated it all, and I wrote it down with a big blue marker: “He always said to me, before you do anything, go to the credit union.”