Give Yourselves a Round of Applause!
by Shawn Marie Brummer
Communications & Media Specialist

Credit unions are always there for their members and their communities, in good times, and in bad. Never has this been more evident than during the COVID-19 crisis that has impacted individuals, businesses, and institutions in some very detrimental ways.

The Credit Union Association of the Dakotas (CUAD) began gathering information from our member credit unions almost as soon as the pandemic was announced. We continued to seek feedback over the next several months through surveys, personal contacts, and by monitoring social media. We were not surprised by what we found, but we can clearly say how proud our association is of our Dakota credit unions’ outstanding efforts to continue to serve and assist their members, staff, and their greater communities. Here is a sampling of what we have learned.

Almost from the start, credit unions realized that many members and staff would be facing financial hardships during the pandemic. One of the first steps credit unions took was to loosen restrictions on money that people had already managed to save through Christmas Savings Accounts and Certificates of Deposit. By removing penalties for early withdrawals, members were able to use their money whenever they needed it. In addition, most credit unions offered payment extensions or “skip a payment” options and loan modifications during this time without additional fees. Many credit unions offered low interest hardship loans and waived common fees, such as ATM charges, balance inquiry fees, loan application fees, low balance/activity fees, and late fees. Some offered stimulus advances while people waited for the COVID assistance payments authorized by the federal government.  

Even though the loss of income impacted many credit unions negatively during this time, volunteer boards and management made the decision to hold true to the credit union philosophy of “People Helping People,” focusing on service, not profits.

Not only did Dakota credit unions take these steps to assist their members, they continued to reach out to the greater community, supporting local businesses by purchasing gift cards, ordering take-out meals from local restaurants, often treating entire staffs. One credit union even started a community appreciation project, where they gave away $50 cash awards to workers at gas stations, grocery stores, and other essential businesses. Another gave cash bonuses to their employees to spend locally. 

Credit unions in the Dakotas continued to support charities as well, by donating cash, supplies, or by volunteering with organizations such as Meals on Wheels and the United Way. Credit unions and credit union staff supported local hospitals by donating personal protection equipment (PPE) or by donating money so additional supplies could be purchased. Numerous credit union employees and members went to work sewing masks for healthcare workers, and many credit unions provided free lunches, coffee, water, and other supplies for frontline workers. One credit union made a generous donation to a ministry fund that provides rent and utility assistance.

Our credit unions continued to show compassion for their staff. Schedules were adjusted for parents who now had children to care for at home, hours were made flexible when possible, and arrangements were made so many staff members could work remotely. Offices were rearranged to allow for social distancing, staff were rotated to limit exposure, and some credit unions continued to pay full salaries and wages even though staff could not complete a full 40-hour work week.

Perhaps most remarkable, while all these adjustments and humanitarian efforts were underway, many credit unions began administrating the new (and somewhat daunting) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, working with the Small Business Administration (SBA) to meet the criteria so they could provide this much-needed relief to their business members.

According to data provided by the SBA, 32 unique credit unions made more than 1,460 PPP loans under $150,000 to South Dakota’s small businesses. Those loans amounted to over $30 million in assistance – and likely saved more than 5,500 jobs. The loans went to small businesses, sole proprietors and self-employed individuals, nonprofit organizations, independent contractors, including minority/female owned and veteran owned businesses.

In North Dakota, 27 unique credit unions provided nearly 1,400 PPP loans under $150,000 (in fact, the average loan size was just $23,000) to small businesses in the state. These loans totaled almost $32 million in assistance – helping to retain more than 4,880 jobs. Again, these loans went primarily to small, local main street businesses. 

Our great country has never seen a shutdown of this scale, nor have financial institutions ever had to deal with operating under the health and safety precautions that were enacted. Despite the tremendous challenges, credit unions continued to provide the personal care, attention, and safety net that is so well represented by “The Little Man,” the iconic image in U.S. credit union history. First presented by artist Joe Stern in 1923, it was a symbol for the average man besieged by financial difficulties. While there is an updated image (compliments of CUToday) that better reflects today’s modern-day world, the message is still the same: In hard times, sickness, and financial distress, credit unions are the umbrellas that shelter us from the rain.

*Thank you to Lori Welder, Amy Kleinschmit, and Jay Kruse for compiling much of the anecdotal and hard data for this article.


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