Hurricane Sandy: NYC Credit Unions Reeling But Keeping Their Feet
Credit unions across the greater New York City area suffered a wide variety of different damage from the superstorm and with different levels of response.
The 5,000-member, $30 million Bethex Federal Credit Union, a community development credit union headquartered in the Bronx, reported being fully open for business at its one branch and online and available for all transactions.
“Yes, we are open and all systems are go,” reported Bethex founder and CEO Joy Cousminer, a 42-year veteran of the institution.
Cousminer reported that the credit union opened despite her not having power or hot water at her home in Manhattan and despite the credit union's 23 staff members not having access to public transportation.
Bethex had arranged ride pools and offered to pay the cab fares of staff who needed to take a cab to make it to work during the emergency.
Cousminer reported that the storm has had a salubrious impact on at least one aspect of life in the Big Apple. In the absence of working traffic lights, drivers had begun to show respect and patience with each other, something she had rarely seen before.
She also noted that the credit union had been fortunate in that it had not suffered any flooding in either its member service or back office facility and that neither facility had large numbers of trees nearby to bring down power lines.
Cousminer declined to criticize any of the larger credit unions which have struggled with the storm's impact, observing that with greater size sometimes comes greater opportunities for problems. “Sometimes it’s good to be small,” she said.
One of the credit unions struggling with the storm's effects is the 340,000-member, $1.8 billion Municipal Credit Union has a down website, down phones and a number of members publicly worrying about not being able to access their funds.
A reader named “katricemoored” posted a comment on the Credit Union Times website that said she has not been able to contact the credit union about a check. “MCU website is down and when I call a recording says the phone is disconnected ...don't feel very safe right now...check deposited on Friday still hasn't cleared I don't have anyone money to feed my family.”
Another comment poster who identified herself as Christine Joseph, added: “NYMCU being out is a rather large concern right now to me. My funds get directly deposited -- does that mean that it's just out in limbo somewhere? What about the impact to scheduled recurring payments? Or, for that matter, utilization of my ATM card? I'm astonished that there isn't a suitable backup mechanism to keep very basic functions going. I moved from the big banks to CU even though they are smaller in comparison, but more community focused. Is this the price of moving to a credit union?”
Municipal's situation is notable in part because of its size but also because the credit union was one of those especially hard hit by the Sept. 11 terrorist attack which significantly impacted the credit union's headquarters. The credit union at the time also allowed members to overdraw their accounts via ATM withdrawals. The vast majority of the credit union's members who did so made good their overdrafts, but Municipal wound up prosecuting a few members who had refused to make up their imbalances and the credit union has faced questions about its emergency preparedness.
Late Wednesday morning, the credit union issued a statement: "In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, like the members we serve, MCU is working hard to restore service. We hope to have some of our branches open later today. Members can call 212-693-4900 for an updated status on branches open. Members can also access their funds through the NYCE network. We hope you and your family are safe."
And Municipal is not the only credit union to struggle. The 5,800-member, $33 million Lower East Side People's Federal Credit Union has its branch in Harlem open Wednesdays but its main branch on the Lower East Side remained closed due to power outages, according to the credit union's website.
The 22,000-member, $165 million Actor's Federal Credit Union, headquartered in mid-town Manhattan, had its website up but has had to post alternate phone numbers after the credit union's main numbers went down.
“We are operating with limited staff, so there may be delays in processing your requests,” the credit union wrote.
In addition, the email and Internet systems are down, but directly deposited ACH transactions are being posted, albeit with delays. The credit union also urged members to be careful in how it used the institution's Facebook page. “Our Facebook page is being monitored, however, do not use this for personal or private information. It may be used as a means to alert the Credit Union of your needs or general Credit Union questions,” it said.
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