With many of their members thousands of miles away fighting a war, military credit unions are feeling the effects of war in a much different-and personal-way than many credit unions.
One military credit union CEO noted he monitors killed in action (KIA) reports for the names of members so the credit union can move to provide immediate assistance. Other military credit unions told The Credit Union Journal they are dealing everything from security issues related to on-base branches, to reduced transaction levels, to providing a "family away from family" for soldiers and spouses alike.
At Fort Campbell FCU's on-base branch, day-to-day transactions are down by about 35%, according to John Moorhead, CEO of the CU that supports the Army 101st Airborne Division.
"With the increased security and limited access to the post, plus the deployments, transactions are down at that location. It's just tough to even get to it right now, because they closed five of the gates, so everything has to come through one of three gates right now," Moorhead explained. "But as a result, transaction volume at our Clarkston branch has actually picked up."
And it's not just day-to-day transactions that are down. "I don't know who is still making (consumer) loans, but we aren't," he noted, "though our mortgage loans are holding up all right."
For military credit unions, members being deployed is an everyday occurrence-but deployment for war is different. "To a certain extent, this is routine stuff for us. Every six months we see 3,000 troops coming and going," observed Lou DeCarlo, CEO of Pacific Marine CU. "Obviously, we see a slowdown in lending and an increase in deposits, because the kids can't get at their money. Of course, that goes away just as soon as they return. We'll have mothers coming in, child in arms, trying to get access to accounts that don't have their names on them and a power of attorney that's just too general. We work with them on a case-by-case basis. We want to help them, but we also have to be very careful."
It's not just the members whose spouses are away at war, it's also the employees.
"Forty-three of my employees have husbands overseas, so I've got watch out for these kids. I treat them like my daughters-I've got to take care of them," DeCarlo commented. "Morale has picked up, but they're very sensitive to the reports that are always coming out. I get the KIA (killed in action) reports, and I check to see if any of them are our members. We need to be there for the families."
Indeed, when the military goes to war, it's not uncommon for spouses to move off base to be with family, and since many military CUs rely on military spouses to staff the credit union, that can cause problems.
"Unlike our experience with Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1991, we have not had anyone depart because their spouse was deployed, but that can happen," Moorhead commented. "Back in 1991, we did have several of our staffers leave. But we did not reduce the size of our staff, and we haven't this time, either. So far, morale seems to be pretty good. They're pretty well glued to CNN, which personally, I wish they didn't show all that."
And the CU does everything it can to be there for the soldiers, too, even from thousands of miles away.
"I received a letter-it was just a note really, scrawled on a scrap of paper, from Cpl. Kaplan. He said. 'I hadn't received any mail for 30 days until I got yours, and now you're part of my family,' " DeCarlo related.
The treasured piece of mail: just his regular statement. "I wrote a note back to him telling him that as a vet in both Korea and Vietnam, I knew how it felt not to get any mail for days at a time and to let him know that we're thinking of him and we're proud to be part of his family. See, that's the way it is. I have to take care of my kids."
Military-based credit unions aren't the only ones that are doing what they can to support the troops. Many non- military CUs do have military members, particularly reserve officers who have been called up. Just like their military- based counterparts, these CUs have had to bone up on the Soldier & Sailors Credit Relief Act, which calls for discounted loan rates, among other things.