(Editor’s Note: Aug. 29 marks the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina making landfall in southeast Louisiana, the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States, and resulting in more than 1,800 deaths in the storm and subsequent flooding. The story below illustrates how a Louisiana credit union served its members in this disaster – and then prepared for the next.)
“If you don’t live in this environment, you may not understand.”
The words are those of Cami Crouchet, Chief Operating Officer of New Orleans Firemen’s Federal Credit Union (NOFFCU), based in Metairie, La., located seven and a half miles from New Orleans’ city hall, and at the center of the disastrous August 2005 Hurricane Katrina. More than 1,800 people lost their lives, the fifth deadliest in the history of the United States. In its wake, it left at least one credit union determined that on behalf of its members it must be ready next time.
“Our story revolves around Hurricane Katrina,” says Crouchet. “Everything we have done for the last four to five years is to prepare for another disaster.”
Part of its solution was to contract with CO-OP Member Center, based in Fort Worth, Texas, a fully-owned subsidiary of CO-OP Financial Services. In late 2007, NOFFCU simultaneously started using the center’s 24×7 LoanLink and Member Services.
In August 2005, NOFFCU knew Hurricane Katrina was coming, and its employees stayed on the job until the last minute, making sure that its members could attend to their financial affairs before evacuating. This, says Crouchet, was always part of their business model. But, even well after most other local businesses, the credit union had to close its doors.
“We didn’t have a plan for when our employees couldn’t get back to the main office, and our employees scattered as far away as Colorado,” says Crouchet. “We could reach all of our employees, but we did not have a call center solution where members could get in touch with us.”
NOFFCU’s make-shift solution was to start posting updates on its Web site. In the great credit union tradition of people helping people, NOFFCU eventually received call center assistance from Member Source Credit Union of Houston, Texas, where most evacuees temporarily settled.
“We had our main number transferred to that Houston call center and we had enough employees report so that we could run it,” says Crouchet. “But it was not an optimal solution. Our employees had to leave their families. Some had lost their homes. We just knew we didn’t want to ever go through this again.”
So, NOFFCU went looking for 24×7 loan and call center support.
“The CO-OP Member Center was perfect for us,” says Crouchet. “Now, should we need to evacuate, we can simply roll over the phones to our service provider. We do not even have to wait until the last minute, because we know we have someone covering for us.”
The credit union has derived a number of benefits from using CO-OP Member Center. Yet, Crouchet still returns to the peace of mind she has in terms of disaster preparedness. And, that peace of mind has been verified by experience. In her words, “there’s something about Labor Day,” because in August 2008 the New Orleans area was threatened again with disaster – this time by the approach of Hurricane Gustav.
Though it “only” turned out to be the second most destructive storm of the 2008 hurricane season, NOFFCU went into contingency planning mode, staying in contact with the CO-OP Member Center so that representatives could provide status updates to members.
“A lot of our members evacuated the area as a precaution, and we noticed a strong spike in the number of calls to our after-hours call center – people were just calling in, testing the waters,” says Crouchet. “As a result, they felt like they could get in touch with us no matter what, that they had access to their money and that their financial affairs were in order.
“We are not the biggest financial institution in the world and we don’t have branches on every corner, but our members felt connected to us,” says Crouchet. “We got a lot of good compliments after Gustav. Our members thought, ‘This credit union has its act together. We don’t have to close our accounts and go to a bank or an institution with a nationwide presence.’ Our credit union can’t compete with a nationwide institution by ourselves, but with CO-OP Member Center we can.”