People Helping People
Business View Magazine interviews Sean Daly, President & CEO of People’s Credit Union, for our focus on Top U.S. Credit Unions
People’s Credit Union has always been about “people helping people.” But that’s never been more evident for the Rhode Island-based credit union than when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With mass shutdowns and people forced to stay home, People’s Credit Union management and staff sprung into action, making sure their members’ needs were well met.
“The staff came together as a true team to help our members,” says People’s Credit Union President and CEO Sean Daly. “It has been inspirational.” Though the lobbies of their six Rhode Island branches were closed to the public, People’s Credit Union members still had their banking needs met online, by phone, through drive-up windows and scheduled appointments. The credit union managers also quickly adapted to provide as many services as they could, car-side, including closing loans, notarizing, and opening accounts, along with the more typical deposits and withdrawals.
Founded on Aquidneck Island in 1922, The People’s Credit Union’s seven founding members wanted an institution that would provide financial solutions for the community. According to Daly, “Our founders didn’t feel there was an institution on the island that could service the citizens in the way they thought they should be serviced – giving them the products they needed at a fair price.” Today, People’s Credit Union has 44,000 members, six branches and more than $555 million in assets. They offer the full range of products and services you’d expect from a financial institution, but with the added benefit of listening to their members’ needs before offering solutions. They pride themselves on making personal connections with members to ensure they get the products and services they need to reach their financial goals.
One of the ways they helped the community when the pandemic started was to quickly evolve credit union processes to help eligible businesses maximize their use of the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program; processing hundreds of loans averaging $44,000 each and totalling around $6 million worth of lending with the Small Business Administration. It was all hands on deck to get as many applications as possible through before the funding was exhausted. “We drafted a diverse team around the organization, including senior management, to help businesses fill out the paperwork working long hours for a month,” explains Daly. “It was an interesting time because the rules were constantly changing so we were having to adjust as we went. Other institutions were inundated as well and not able to help their smaller customers, so we focused on helping other non-members in the community. They would call us and say, “I can’t get through, they won’t call me back at Bank of America or Citizens, will you guys work with me?” I would estimate that 30 percent of those loans were non-members and they ultimately became members because we were able to help them out.”
Growing their membership was never a pandemic goal for People’s Credit Union, just a continuation of their constant desire to help people. Daly relates, “For us, it was not about ‘what’s in it for us?’ These are businesses in our communities and our members work at these businesses as well, so we are focused on doing what ever we can to help keep them open. We had a team that came together solely with this as our motivation. When we hear our members share their uncertainty and frustration with a crisis they had no part in creating, it motivates you. I have run and owned businesses myself, so I appreciate when this is your lifeblood that you need to keep going, not only for your employees, but for your family as well.”
In addition to helping members apply for loans, People’s Credit Union also helped members defer loan payments and worked to restructure loans to allow members some short-term relief. They also went outside the credit union financial options to help their members’ businesses to stay open. They were not able to host their annual employee appreciation event, so instead gave each employee a $100 gift card along with a list of all business members. “We asked them if they wouldn’t mind putting that gift card toward supporting our business members,” says Daly. “We didn’t track that, but I know in talking with employees that they made sure the business member knew they wanted to help and that they appreciated their business. And they felt good about helping our business members out.”
People’s Credit Union also stepped up its communication efforts to keep members educated and feeling confident about their banking. Bill DeWitt, EVP, Chief Marketing Officer, notes, “Since March we have sent out probably eleven emails to members about what is going on with the credit union and how we are supporting them through COVID. We have reinvigorated our member newsletter and used that as a vehicle to communicate how they can use remote channels, how they can sign up for online banking if they are not already a user, how they can use the mobile app if they are not already using it. We have provided step-by-step instructions on how to do some of the basic transactions online for people who were not familiar. So, we have tried to use our member communications to educate members on how best to use the channels in this environment.”
Daly praises his employees for keeping People’s Credit Union’s services running uninterrupted for members during the pandemic. He shares, “I would credit the branch staff for their creativity, their collaboration, that they came together. We had daily meetings and they were problem solving as things came up. We trust our branch managers. As they came up with solutions, we allowed them the flexibility to make independent decisions. They are continually adjusting with the focus on how to keep each other and our members safe, but beyond that, they’re creative on how they help them.”
People’s Credit Union prides itself on not only its member experience, but its employee experience as well. It is important to them to have engaged employees who love what they do. And they ensure that through investment in their staff, such as recently introducing an employee engagement survey and adding a learning and development group. “It’s about understanding what they are trying to accomplish with their life goals, as well as what their skills are, and helping leverage that,” Daly says. “Hopefully, there will be opportunities here, but if not, at least we have done our part to help them in their careers. That’s a big part of our responsibility.”
The weekend before COVID rocked Rhode Island back in March, People’s Credit Union’s management team had gathered to hammer out details of their strategic plan. The pandemic has put a spin on those plans, but it has been a valuable learning tool. Daly reports, “We are actually taking the opportunity – if you can – of this situation to relook at everything. Looking past COVID to where we want the organization to go, we’ve incorporated things like remote work and digital customer service into our strategy planning.”
Future planning for People’s Credit Union is a bit less rigid than before. “We’ve introduced to our board the goal of having a rolling strategic plan,” says Daly. “I think COVID taught us that we need to have more of a flexible planning process and, quite frankly, with my background outside of banking that’s pretty typical, but it’s unusual, especially in the credit union space.” Now, he says their focus is on the digital member experience, with a better online banking presence featuring more tools and functionality as well as the ability to provide member service through digital channels.
They will also be launching new core values that better reflect the behaviors and principles that are needed to service their members going forward. Daly took over as CEO in November – he and most senior management have been with the credit union for under two years. He admits, “There’s a lot of things we are doing as an organization that are kind of a refresh across the board. So, we are spending the time that we have now to get ourselves prepared for these changes. Once we get past the pandemic, we’ll be able to leverage the momentum that we’ve built helping our members with the planned changes to come out of this stronger than when we came in.”