Freedom Credit Union was chartered in 1922 as the Western Massachusetts Telephone Workers Credit Union. While we have been in the business for 98 years and have been through many turbulent times, it is safe to say we have not faced a challenge like COVID-19.
We have 11 locations in the counties of Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin. On March 18, we made the difficult decision to close our doors to members and offer only drive-up service.
Freedom has invested significantly in technology and services over the years, allowing members to do business with us without having to come to our office. We partnered with Allpoint ATM networks in 2019, giving our members access to their money at over 55,000 free ATMs.
We have a very robust line of online and mobile banking products that allow individual and business members to make deposits, transfer money, pay bills and more, all without having to join the credit union.
In 2019, we implemented a 24/7 system that allows members to request a consumer loan online or over the phone and get immediate approval. With the help of e-sign, the member can also take out his consumer loan from home.
At the beginning of 2020, we started using a video banking solution in our call centers, allowing our members to communicate with our employees in a secure environment for various banking matters. We can verify the caller’s identity while we help them through transactions and share documents within a secure portal. During our drive-ups, we distributed pamphlets to our members to help them understand how to bank remotely with Freedom.
As we have gone through the stages of reopening the state, we have had to adapt to new ways of doing business and rethink how we provide our banking services and how our employees serve our members. To keep our employees safe, we have reconfigured our office space to allow for good social distance. We used some meeting and training rooms as temporary office space. While our offices were closed to lobby traffic, we invested in Plexiglas shields at our counters and in desks where in-person interactions take place.
Freedom has about 116 employees, and about half of our employees have the ability to work remotely: this was just 10 when the epidemic started. About 15% of our employees work completely remotely, and the rest can switch flexibly between remote and office.
This was no small feat for our IT department, especially in light of the fact that the whole world is trying to get as many people as possible to work remotely. Working remotely brings new challenges for both the employee and the company. Managers had to develop different ways to check in and manage people from afar. Remote workers had to find ways to stay connected so as not to feel isolated.
Freedom has created new ways to keep its employees informed about our products, services, industry trends and events within our organization. Although we were already using online training software, we moved to a video conferencing solution for online meetings and webinars. These face-to-face solutions enable us to communicate more productively.
Freedom has also created ways to connect with our employees on a more personal basis. Senior management has taken several trips to our facilities to celebrate our essential employees and express our gratitude by simply standing outside the driveways and windows with homemade signs to thank them for everything they do. We had theme days where we posted photos on our intranet and people competed for prizes. We also held online social gatherings with virtual cocktail hours, virtual games, and an open phone line on Fridays where staff could call and just talk to others about anything they had in mind.
Visits to our branch lobbies have declined dramatically. We don’t know how much of that is due to the different ways we have had to work to keep our employees and members safe and how much of it will remain permanent. Industry experts believe that the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of online and mobile banking by five to 10 years, so there will certainly be some changes in the way our members interact with us in the future.
Freedom Credit Union has been here for 98 years and has evolved from a one-room office in the telephone company to our existing organization.
COVID has committed us to evolve and adapt to remain relevant to our members and the community. This evolution will continue.
Glenn S. Welch is president and CEO of Freedom Credit Union. For more information about Freedom and its services, please visit online freedom.coop
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