Community Service Credit Union CEO Brenda Hooker pinpoints March 23 as the day COVID-19 forced her associates to work apart but positioned the credit union to bring its small community of Huntsville, Texas, closer together. That effort required around-the-clock work and a keen understanding of how to make Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans work for local businesses.
"On March 13, I was on the phone with my CFO, declaring an emergency at the credit union so we could implement our business continuity plan and move more quickly to serve our members," Hooker said. "By the 23rd, we had personal bankers, loan officers – you name it – doing everything from home. That same week we closed lobbies entirely."
But Community Service had an advantage going into the stay-at-home environment: It already had a full digital presence and digital tools, such as biometric authentication, and process enhancements to continue providing members in its community of 44,000 with the support they expect.
The question for Community Service, Hooker said, was: What more can it do for its community?
The U.S. Small Business Administration's PPP provided one answer. When the program was announced, Hooker and her team were determined to bring relief to their small-business members and, by extension, their town.
The most important thing to all of us was that we work together to help our community. And it's a good feeling.
– Brenda Hooker, CEO, Community Service Credit Union
Finding Innovative Ways to Help the Community
As the PPP loans rolled out, Community Service turned to Fiserv to help streamline loan applications and review and automate data entry for faster underwriting, approval and disbursement.
"Our business members are important to us," she said. "We aren't a large financial institution serving high-volume transaction businesses and larger enterprises. Instead, we work with CPA firms, trucking companies and other similar businesses."
The goal, Hooker said, was to do everything possible to help those companies that had been knocked back on their heels by the pandemic and resulting stay-at-home order. And for Community Service, accomplishing that goal meant breaking down traditional barriers among financial institutions.
The credit union partnered with a regional bank office in Huntsville to process PPP loans that might otherwise have been missed. Community Service served as a reference institution to businesses that were unable to process their loans with the bank because it was at capacity for the PPP program.
The credit union provided needed overflow lending capacity in the interest of supporting every local business that needed a loan. It was an approach that never would have happened during normal times, but a laser focus on making sure no business was left out made the partnership seem obvious, Hooker said.
"Normally, you'd never see collaboration of this nature between two financial institutions – opening the book of business to a competitor," she said. "But we're sponsoring the same ballgames and seeing each other at the same events. The most important thing to all of us was that we work together to help our community. And it's a good feeling."
The patience and gratitude of our members has been moving.
– Brenda Hooker
Building Lifelong Bonds
By the end of the second round of PPP loans, the leadership team at Community Service knew it had accomplished its goal. Because of the credit union's innovative strategy and engagement with its member base, many businesses had PPP loans when they needed them most.
"Those member business owners are grateful that their credit union was able to get it done," Hooker said. "Not every institution was able to process those loans, and that is sobering and sad at a time like this. The patience and gratitude of our members has been moving."
That success goes back to the Community Service team, Hooker said, and its willingness to adjust to change and keep a sharp focus on community when normal, day-to-day routines disappeared in mid-March.
"It was an immediate ‘grab your laptop, and, by the way, congrats, you work from home' feeling," she said. "It happened that quickly, and we couldn't be prouder of our team. They have taken it in stride."