Seven Years After Attacks, CUs at Ground Zero Have Healed, but Scars Remain
NEW YORK -- Credit unions and credit union organizations that were in and around the heart of the 9/11 attacks in New York City have managed to recover along with the city, but not without changes.
"September 11 pretty much bonded me to this city in a way that I never thought it would," explained Cliff Rosenthal, president of the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions. Rosenthal explained that he had grown up in New Jersey and moved to Manhattan after he married in 1980, but the move was never meant to be permanent. Until 9/11.
"I became a part of the New York nation then," Rosenthal said, explaining that part of attachment to the city arose from persevering with it through the waves of reconstruction.
"For a long time I couldn't talk about the events themselves without choking up and even now it can be hard to dwell on them without doing so," Rosenthal said. The federation's offices then were on Wall Street a few blocks away from the World Trade Center.
"Every day you would come out of the subway, and you could taste the burning taste in your mouth from the ongoing fires at the site. In the days immediately after the attack, you had to make your way along the street past huge generators being used to keep the buildings going and vendors carts which had been abandoned in the attack still standing there. Sometimes you would see some green bagels, molded there in the weeks since," he said.
But even through it all, Rosenthal said, none of the federation's staff left--at least not right away. Later, as the disruption in Manhattan continued, particularly stretching out the commute times, more federation employees departed for jobs closer to home, but not in the first days.
Rosenthal explained that, overall, the city has rejuvenated even as delays and disagreements have prevented the towers from being reconstructed.
The federation and other nonprofit groups were displaced by that reconstruction. Rosenthal described the federation's previous Wall Street offices as "nonprofit heaven" with relatively low rents, sweeping vistas of the East River and a Wall Street address. But as lower Manhattan picked itself up from the attacks, it also changed. Many of the office buildings are being renovated into high-priced condominiums aimed at executives and investors in the nearby buildings who want to walk to work. The building boom helped price the city out of the range of many people who might want to work at a nonprofit like the federation, Rosenthal explained. A sure sign of a stronger local economy: when demand for housing starts outpacing supply again, he mused.
Linda McFadden, CEO of the $88 million Xcel Federal Credit Union also reported that her CU has changed since 9/11. XCEL, formerly the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey FCU, had its headquarters in the World Trade Center, as did the now $1.4 billion Municipal Credit Union. No one from Municipal could be reached to comment.
Unlike the federation, McFadden said that none of the staff who were in the CU's World Trade Center headquarters on 9/11 stayed with the credit union.
"We had 100% turnover of the staff who were in the office that day," McFadden said, "they either left to do other things or some of them just never could get past it and emotionally self-destructed," she explained, a fate she avoided by having been fortunate enough not to be in the office that day and by throwing herself into the mountain of work to keep the credit union going after the attacks.
Other post-9/11 changes included a shift in affiliation as the former New York-based credit union set up its new headquarters in New Jersey and became a solidly New Jersey CU, McFadden said. The credit union was also pressed to adopt electronic banking even faster than it planned to do, she said.
"At the time most of our membership either worked in the Trade Center or passed through there on a regular basis," McFadden said. After the attack, the Port Authority spread its employees out across a relatively wide geographic area, leaving the CU to rely on a mix of ATMs, shared-branch locations and electronic banking to continue serving them.
But even though the CU had to change a lot of the details of how it served it members, McFadden stressed that the core of the CU's work of helping members remained the same. "We're still here, still focused on our members and meeting their needs."