Will it be a total eclipse of service?
If you’re planning to visit the branch at Greater Wyoming Federal Credit Union on Aug. 21, you’re out of luck. The CU, nestled near downtown Casper, Wyo., will be closed for the total solar eclipse.
Casper, population 55,000, sits directly in the “path of totality” – where the best views are expected – and locals are predicting the eclipse will bring an additional 35,000 people to town.
And they’re not the only ones closing up shop for the day. Nearby Wyo Central FCU – located in the heart of downtown and at the center of public viewing activities for the event – was scheduled to be closed both Friday and Monday.
Credit unions across the country plan to observe the eclipse in a variety of ways, but – from an operational and logistical standpoint – it will likely have the biggest impact at CUs located along the path of totality.
“Some people are being bused in from surrounding communities and we expect quite a few people driving up from Colorado, because we’re only four hours up from Denver,” said Elizabeth Stetz, CEO of $22 million-asset Greater Wyoming FCU. “The board and I decided to close for the whole day. We debated just having the drive-thru open because our main street right in front of us will be open so people could come through, but my biggest worry is parking. I don’t even know if staff would be able to park here.”
And one parking spot is already taken – the local police department has doubled its force for the entire weekend, said Stetz, and has already parked a car in the credit union’s parking lot.
“They’re strategically placing police cars in the surrounding area so police have easy access to a car, but I think they’re mainly going to be on bicycles in the area where the biggest crowds are going to gather,” she said. Even with the credit union closed Monday, Stetz said she plans to come in to the office on Sunday to ensure the ATM is full. And if the crowds are too big, she added, “I’ve got my bicycle ready in case traffic is so bad I can’t get here.”
The credit union isn’t running any promotions tied to the eclipse, but Stetz is still hoping the credit union can make some money while it’s closed.
“We have three repo vehicles in our parking lot – two cars, one motorcycle – and we’ve marked them down and put bright neon signs on them,” she said. “Hopefully we can get rid of them over the weekend.
But with the credit union closed, how will potential buyers make an offer? Stetz told CU Journal she was considering putting her cell phone number on the for sale signs, just in case.
At Oregon State CU in Corvalis, Ore., Monday will be a normal business day, though the credit union will not open until 11:00 a.m. According to EVP/COO Rhonda Heile-Brown, staffers have been asked to come in for regular business hours, and the credit union has purchased eclipse glasses so everyone can watch the event at its height before opening the CU’s doors for the day.
While OSCU will only be closed for a portion of the day, other credit unions in the state are planning to shut down for the entire day. Most notably, Salem-based MAPS Credit Union will close all branches for the day, as are some other smaller Salem-area CUs. Heile-Brown told CU Journal current estimates are that an additional 1 million people will be traveling into Oregon for the eclipse.
'It's going to be gridlock'
Further east, in St. Joseph, Mo., about 45 miles north of Kansas City, $13 million-asset Stationery CU also plans to shut down on Monday.
“We just feel like it’s safer for our members and our employees,” explained CEO Marti Nurski. “We’re a town of 75,000 people. If we get another 50,000 to 100,000 people in our town, it’s going to be gridlock.”
For the last month, said Nurski, the credit union has been educating members about what to expect from such an influx of people, including the possibility for malfunctioning ATMs and card readers.
“We’re telling them to have cash – don’t just rely on cards,” she said.
With that in mind, Stationery’s ATM will be replenished Friday and Saturday night, as well as Sunday, if necessary. Of course, that’s assuming staff can make it to the credit union through the expected traffic.
“We do have cash set aside to [refill the ATM] if we can get here,” said Nurski.
‘We’ll do it the old-timey way’
Spartan FCU in Spartanburg, S.C., also in the path of totality, is marking the event by offering up to $7,500 in personal loans (subject to income) at 8.21% APR. Members can apply for the loans in advance and the loans will be funded on the day of the eclipse.
According to CEO Isaaileen Rankin, schools in the area will be closing for the eclipse, but the $16 million-asset credit union will be open. But there are fears in Spartanburg – and elsewhere in the path of totality – that the high number of people coming to town could lead to cell phone service crashes, internet outages or even blackouts.
“We’re looking at it as if it will be business as usual, as if a storm came through and we lost power,” said Rankin. “I can’t say I know what to expect, because I’ve never been through this for a big eclipse and don’t know what to expect.”
If there are outages of any sort, “we’ll just handle it as usual,” she said. “We have what we call ‘down-time forms’ we would use to hand-write things for the members, so we have the capability of handling business as usual. We’ll give them a receipt for what they want to do, give them the cash they need and then post it after the power comes back on. We’ve had that stuff happen before and we’ll do it the old-timey way – by hand.”
Spartan FCU’s promotion was put together with the help of South Carolina-based credit union marketing firm Your Marketing Co., which has helped coordinate similar eclipse-related promos with at least three other credit union across the country.
CEO Bo McDonald said some credit unions within the path of totality are worried about being able to fund loans if internet service goes down, but quipped that there may be a benefit to applying for a loan during the eclipse.
“It’s a whole lot safer to be in front of your computer so you’re not blinded if you look up at the sky,” he joked.
‘We’ll stare at the sun for a bit’
At $128 million-asset Malheur FCU in Ontario, Ore., CEO Ron Haidle plans to close up shop for the eclipse, but not for long.
“For the benefit of our staff and members, we will close our doors probably for a maximum of 20 minutes – the totality will only last for less than two minutes,” he said. “We’ve bought a case of eclipse glasses for the staff and for members who are inconvenienced by [the closing] we have eclipse glasses and ice cream sandwiches for them to partake…We’ll stare at the sun for a bit and then go back to work.”
Ontario’s population is only about 10,000, said Haidle, but plenty of visitors are expected. Hotel rooms are nearly impossible to find and single rooms on Airbnb are renting for hundreds per night, he said. Rental cars are similarly hard to come by, he added, and one employee has even agreed to rent his car to a couple coming into town from England for the event – at the rate of $1,000 for three days.
Haidle said some officials in the area have raised concerns about the potential for power, phone and internet service outages.
“Our biggest concern is if we have an issue with our communications network,” he said. “If that’s the case then we may have to say we can’t conduct business…We look at it from the standpoint of ‘What would our members expect from us?’ We don’t want to overreact by shutting the doors. We feel our members would want us to be here, and we’ll try to serve them the best way we can. If it turns into a difficult situation we won’t have a choice.”
The bigger problem, he noted, may actually be traffic.
“If we have an issue with people getting to work, we may have to rethink our whole plan,” he said. “Those in some of the outlying areas – this may sound crazy, but they’re calling dibs on the couch in the break room and bringing cots with them just in case it gets so terribly gridlocked that they can’t get back home again. We have our refrigerator stocked here and our board room has some fabulous speakers, so we’ll watch music videos or watch movies on the screen have a night of it.”
Not everyone is coming down with eclipse fever, though, including Haidle.
He recalls seeing one in Montana in 1979 and “in my humble opinion, it wasn’t that big a deal. It got a little bit like dusk and then it’s dark, the street lights come on and two minutes later the darkness starts just like it’s a sunrise, and within two minutes later it’s bright again. It’s just kind of like waiting in line at Disney World for two hours to get on a ride and you think: ‘was that all?’”