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  • Writer's pictureRoy Urrico

2021 Tekkie Award for COVID-19 Response: Community First Credit Union, Delta Community Credit Union

By Roy Urrico

Finopotamus acknowledges all credit unions that made such herculean efforts — from creating safe-socially distanced staff and member spaces and processes, to accelerating their digital timelines, to embracing remote transactions and service — in addressing challenges presented by the pandemic.

Two organizations — Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Community First Credit Union (CFCU) and Atlanta-based Delta Community Credit Union — share the spotlight as co-winners for our 2021 Tekkie Award for COVID-19 Response.


Community First Measures Its Pandemic Response

At the pandemic’s onset, the $695 million Community First Credit Union (CFCU) implemented a metering process in its branches to ensure the credit union maintained safe capacity limits. The system came about due to public health directives requiring face masks in California’s public spaces. Consequently, CFCU needed to manage for the safety and security of everyone at, or entering, one of its 11 locations, which serve Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, and Sonoma counties in California.

Todd Sheffield, CEO, Community First CU

This challenged the credit union to identify members at the door. Or as Todd Sheffield, CEO of Community First Credit Union, puts it, “You understand that we don't (normally) like people coming into our branches with masks on.” But with COVID-19, members could not enter without a mask. The problem was members needed to identify themselves at the entrance and then again at the teller window. “It felt like we were at the TSA line – every time you put your wallet and ID away, you’d have to pull it out again. Not a good experience, so what can we do to make that experience better?” recalled Sheffield.

The credit union quickly identified a cost-effective opportunity to streamline the member experience by implementing a check-in process to identify and control the number of individuals entering its branches and ensure buildings maintained safe capacity limits. They deployed the check-in using an affordable wireless scanner, connected via Bluetooth to a Microsoft Surface equipped with the Corelation Keystone core processing system.

A Community First associate positioned at the credit union’s entrance took a contactless reading of the barcode on the back of California driver’s licenses, which sent the data to the Surface running KeyStone. Community First’s in-house programmers developed a script that read that information and pulled up the person’s account automatically if they are a member. “We knew about the capabilities Corelation had and some of its built-in functionality and the ability to write a script really quickly,” Sheffield said.

The script then utilized Corelation’s KeyInsight, which tracks member exchanges, to creates a new member interaction (or opportunity) and sent it to a teller work queue at that branch. “If they were a non-member, we would just do a dummy account,” Sheffield said. All the teller needed to do was select a name in that queue and their account pops up, explained Sheffield. “The member doesn’t need to pull out their driver’s license again.”

In achieving its initial goal of improving the member experience, while maintaining safety standards during the pandemic, Community First realized a few other added benefits.

Before the pandemic, (CFCU), a certified Community Development Financial Institutions Fund lender, offered remote deposit capture (RDC) capabilities to savings or checking account holders, but not borrowers. “We actually have members that are loan only members,” said Sheffield. “They can't deposit to the savings account and then transfer it to the loan.”

During this period the credit union discouraged people from coming into their branch, many came into one of CDFU’s branches to make a loan payment. “We had to fix that. We made it so people could make a loan payment, an RDC payment to their loan, because it wasn't originally in our capability and our platform,” Sheffield said. Community First also increased and customized ATM limits to provide alternatives to coming into the branch.

Another big concern due to the uncertainty with members and the amount of loan deferrals CFCU did at the beginning. Sheffield recalled, “I think we had a third of our portfolio ask for it, which is pretty frightening. But most people did not really need it. There was so much uncertainty then when they unwound a couple months later, 99% of them restarted paying.”

“The biggest challenge was that balancing act of staying open and making staff feel secure so that they would keep coming to work because there was a lot of fear about the branch’s safety and security in the beginning.” However, during the height of the pandemic and the shelter-in- place recommendations, the credit union kept all of its branches open. Sheffield explained, “Not everybody has a debit card and they can't use the ATM. (Members) needed to come in and get their money for buying groceries, put gas in their car, simple things. We had to keep her branches open.”

Community First does have remote options with mobile and online. The biggest uptick the credit union saw was with loan payments. “People that used to come into the branch (to make a payment) couldn't anymore. They started paying with plastic. We did waive the interchange fees,” Sheffield said. In addition, call center volumes definitely went up.

The credit union became an exception to what seemed to happen at other financial institutions when it came to working remotely. “We have 165 employees, and I think at the peak we had about 15 work from home, which I think is a pretty low number (compared to) most credit unions,” Sheffield explained. Because the credit union’s back offices are spacious, staff remained social-distanced from each while continuing to work in the branch or in operations. “No employee got (COVID-19) from work. We were able to manage that safely,” Sheffield noted.

When it came time to bringing staff back, the credit union did not have the same problems as other organizations, which Sheffield said was a benefit. “I don't have to worry about that now because we're all still here.”

“The story is how powerful (Keystone) is – that CFCU was able to come up with a solution on its own using some of the tools they have,” Tim Maron, Corelation director of business development, pointed out. “By scanning visitors’ IDs, the credit union has a time-stamped record in KeyStone of every person who has entered the branch, adding an increased level of security as well as the ability for COVID-19 contact tracing if the need should arise,” Maron noted.

Delta Community Readiness Helps Its Quick Transformation to Pandemic Mode

For the $8.5-plus billion Delta Community Credit Union, being prepared helped it meet the in-person and digital demands within days in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and social distancing requirements.

Because Delta Community — a full-service community institution with 450,000 members, more than 1,100 employees, and 30 branches — began its multi-year IT and core banking system transformation in 2015, it was well-prepared to take on the concerns of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Delta Community’s technology team and internal incident-response program were prepared for any type of emergency or significant incident.

Prior to the pandemic, Delta Community members could access remote banking services, including online and mobile options, a 24-hour call center, a reliable ATM network and remote-work capabilities for some employees.

At the onset of the public health crisis, an existing, six-to-nine-month project already underway to expand work-from-home capabilities suddenly kicked into high gear.

Tim Mitchell, CIO, Delta Community CU

“We had done a lot of work over the past several years to improve our technology infrastructure,” Delta Community Chief Information Officer Tim Mitchell said. “But 2020 was the year we really planned to improve our Virtual Private Network (VPN) as well as our Microsoft environment, specifically Microsoft Teams.”

Mitchell says the pressures of pandemic-related business needs and a critically short time-frame prompted his IT team to expedite plans to upgrade the VPN. Instead of taking most of 2020, as planned, nearly 1,100 employees were migrated to the new VPN. IT professionals created and staffed a virtual war-room to ensure most employees had access to other resources they needed to work remotely.

The Delta Community COVID-19 response team also proactively contacted nearly a dozen critically important vendors to get details of respective business continuity plans in order to understand and, if necessary, coordinate pandemic response.

Another significant technology deployed to address pandemic-related communications challenges was the dramatic expansion of access to Microsoft Teams. When the pandemic hit, there were only a few Microsoft Teams users at Delta Community — with plans for full deployment to all employees in 2022. That quickly changed as the credit union implemented Microsoft Teams for all users over a three-week period.

Over the same three-week period, the credit union provided about 100 call center employees with the necessary hardware and software to securely work from home. They reallocated about 75 laptops on hand because of a scheduled equipment refresh later in 2020. When shortages of monitors occurred, the IT team improvised by borrowing equipment from the empty desks of other employees who had already started working from home.

One of the best examples of the credit union’s agility and responsiveness was its nearly immediate establishment of an appointment-scheduling process for members who wanted to visit branches in person. In just five days, IT conducted market research, selected a scheduling tool to meet enterprise-wide needs, and on March 24, 2020, launched the online booking platform.

“We knew we were going to have branches open for appointments only, and we didn't want people to be frustrated by not being able to get an appointment,” Mitchell said. “We ended up with not only a great tool for managing money, but a great way for members to communicate with us and get help from us.”

Delta Community relies on Jack Henry for its Symitar core, roadmap and technology assessments, and partnered with its SymAdvisor consulting team throughout the transformation to access capabilities for new core banking products and services as well as streamline existing processes. Shanon McLachlan, vice president of Jack Henry & Associates and president of Symitar, said: “Together, we’ve helped Delta Community maximize its existing technology and strategic partnerships to save time, effort, and costs. Our open infrastructure has provided the credit union with flexibility, customization, and functionality to deliver a better experience for members and employees.”

Delta Community, proving that growth and service can thrive in a pandemic, increased membership by 4% in 2020. Member service levels also excelled last year. Delta Community earned a member satisfaction score of 76% (Net Promoter Score) in 2019 and 2020.

“While this transformation started five years ago, it’s a perfect example of why information technology processes and operations need to continue to evolve and adapt,” McLachlan added. “No one could’ve predicted a global pandemic but having adaptable infrastructure in place can make the shift more manageable and cause less impact to the members and employees. We’re providing more than just our technology; we have become a trusted advisor and consultant for the credit union.”

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