Coronavirus upends credit union hiring

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The coronavirus has upended credit union hiring practices at a time when the number of Americans out of work is at its highest level in years.

Data released on March 26 showed that nearly 3.3 million workers applied for unemployment benefits the week before, shattering the previous record set in 1982. Officially the national unemployment rate remained at 3.5%, but that figure is widely expected to change when new data is released at the end of this week.

While the number of active credit unions shrank by roughly a third during the last decade, credit union hiring has increased by roughly 38% since the Great Recession, according to data from the National Credit Union Administration.

But that could all change in the wake of COVID-19.

“We took our open requisition list and scrubbed that out of the gate,” said Suzanne Rumsey, VP of talent at Patelco Credit Union in Pleasanton, Calif. The $7.3 billion-asset institution had nearly 50 jobs posted before the coronavirus crisis hit but that has been shaved down to just 16 open positions now.

“We’ve taken a good hard look at where internally we would be redeploying capacity and then evaluating open jobs and saying, ‘Which ones do we still need to move forward with and hire and which ones do we need to delay for a while and pause?’” she added.

The positions Patelco is continuing to hire for are in areas such as mortgages — which Rumsey said have seen a significant uptick since interest rates were cut — technology and information security. Member-facing positions and other branch roles were put on pause as traffic slows and existing staff are being cross-trained for other duties. In some cases, jobs held by staffers who had resigned are not being refilled.

Honor Credit Union in Berrien Springs, Mich., has taken a similar approach, shifting existing staff to where they are needed and putting some hiring on hold. But a statewide shelter-in-place order is currently scheduled to lift after Easter, and management hopes to start getting back to normal shortly after that.

“We feel like it would be irresponsible if we continue to hire in all positions, but we also know we’ll be ready to open our doors up and go back to normal soon, and when we do that we want to make sure we have the right team in place to do it,” said Katie Berry, VP of human resources at the $1 billion-asset institution. “We’re not going to stop all potions but we are going to evaluate and make sure our efforts are focused on the right ones at the right times.”

Compounding the issue for both Honor and Patelco is that governors in Michigan and California — along with a host of other states — have directed residents to stay home as much as possible to prevent the outbreak from worsening. As a result, many CUs are using platforms like Zoom, Skype and WebX for interviews.

“We’re spread out already [so] it’s not uncommon for us to have some part of our interview process done virtually,” said Honor’s Berry, noting that it is currently conducting candidate interviews via Zoom. “Typically that person is sitting at one of our locations speaking to someone at a different location. The technology is a bit different but the concept is pretty much the same.”

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When new employees are hired, as was the case with four new Patelco staffers recently, they “came into the office in a very focused, targeted location. I met them, we had one person from IT bring them their laptops and get them set up for remote, and we promptly saw them home and continued to do their onboarding and orientation virtually,” said Rumsey.

But that is also not without its challenges.

In addition to ensuring current staff have the resources they need to work remotely, some CUs are juggling making sure that new employees are properly equipped for remote work — not just in terms of items like laptops and access to internal systems, but in some cases even helping out when staff either can’t afford internet access or live in areas where it’s difficult to get it.

‘A bump in the road’?

Maria Kell, senior executive compensation consultant at Texas-based BCC, suggested that while remote interviews are a surmountable challenge, the bigger difficulty may arise if credit unions have to figure out how to train remotely, which could slow down the onboarding process and ultimately have a negative impact on the institution if new candidates can’t be brought up to full speed quickly enough.

Representatives from Patelco and Honor said even with the steep increase in jobless claims, they have not yet seen any change in the quality or skillsets of candidates applying for open positions, though some indicated that might come at a later date.

“I would think the natural outcome would be potentially that you’d see people with higher skill sets available in the market who previously weren’t,” said Kell. “You might wind up with a candidate who might even in some regards be overqualified for what you’re looking for.”

Despite current social distancing practices, she did not anticipate a change in jobseekers’ willingness to work in positions that require a lot of face-to-face interactions. As more retail and service workers lose their positions, she added, "the fact that there are credit unions who are hiring and can benefit from people who already have good customer service skills and can work on more of an 8-5 schedule will actually be appealing.”

Kell said the outbreak is generally not impacting C-level hiring differently than frontline personnel.

“People have had openings and been functioning with those positions open anyway, so they have people serving in interim capacities,” she said. “They’re able to continue to operate in that environment right now, they just aren’t really sure what their budgets will look like when this is over. So they’re just putting a freeze on that for now.”

And, she added, the pandemic could bring credit unions to reevaluate positions at all levels and which staff are “mission critical.”

For now, Honor Credit Union is viewing this as “a blip” that hasn’t changed its hiring outlook for the year.

“We’re looking at this as a bump in the road and we’ll come back on the same path we were on,” said Berry.

It’s been a learning experience for Patelco management as well.

“We’ve found in many ways that what we shifted to for an online orientation got better reviews than our in-person orientation did for many, many years before that,” said Rumsey. “What’s helpful about this situation is we’ve been forced to do that.”

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Coronavirus Workforce management Recruiting Career moves Employee turnover