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JERSEY CITY HEIGHTS, N.J. – From New York to New Jersey ….and back again? As the board of XCEL FCU convenes for its monthly board meeting on Oct. 30, the issue of where to build new facilities will be front and center. One pressing question will be whether they should be in New York, New Jersey or in both. XCEL of course is one of the CUs most directly affected by the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Its headquarters on the 39th floor of Tower 1 was obliterated on that fateful day. The credit union still has a presence in New York through an office in Federal Plaza, but it has moved the majority of its employees across the river to Jersey City Heights, N.J. “Right now I’m working out of a kitchen with two of our VPs,” said James Wisnieski, president/CEO of XCEL FCU. “This building is only like 3,000 square feet,” said Wisnieski, who is eager to get the CU’s staff a more adequate facility. “No contingency plan could have prepared for this.” Despite the devastation the CU suffered, it was operational on Sept. 11 with extended hours in New Jersey to serve shaken members. “In the beginning there were a lot of withdrawals. People needed cash and the ATMs in Manhattan weren’t working.” The Jersey City facility has been retrofitted so to speak from a member service standpoint. Prior to Sept. 11 it only had a part-time teller and was open from 8 to 3. Post-Sept. 11 it now has five teller stations and is open from 9 to 6 during the week and 8 to 12 on Saturdays. The CU’s Federal Plaza branch (just six blocks from WTC) is open 8 to 3 Monday thru Thursday, and from 7:30 to 4:30 on Fridays. The CU is looking to build multiple facilities to make up for the loss of the WTC branch/headquarters. “We’re talking about small techno branches, with something like a 1,000 square-foot footprint. Maybe with a Net cafe, ATMs, and member service type telephones.” Those facilities would likely be situated in Queens or Brooklyn, he said. As for the new headquarters, Wisnieski said it’s not a given that it will be in New York. “We want a true operations center. It doesn’t have to be New York. It can be anywhere there’s a telephone hook-up. We’re looking at different places,” he said, including New Jersey. There are too many stories to recall, said Wisnieski, of the personal effects of Sept. 11 on XCEL members and staff, but one thing that has worn on the CU’s staff is redundancy. “You can’t blame anyone for telling their stories, but our staff has been forced to relive so many situations as our membership gets all their stories out. The staff has been on an emotional rollercoaster ride. They’re up and then they’re down,” said Wisnieski. “We did counseling for staff the week after. We constantly encourage them to go to counseling. One of my employees is out on workers comp. She had a nervous breakdown from all this,” he said. There’s no official tally on how many of the CU’s members were killed. Serving the Port Authority workers of New York and New Jersey, many who worked right at ground zero, the number is likely to be high. Wisnieski said an unofficial number as of now is 73. As for Wisnieski, he’s getting over it, even finding ways to laugh at the CU’s current facility shortage. “My vote for the new facility is the Bahamas,” he joked. “Emotionally in the beginning it was very difficult. The morning after I stayed at one of my VP’s houses and we drove in on a road by the site and could see directly into the World Trade Center. Through all the smoke, we knew we were never going back to that office.” Wisnieski said things have returned to normal in terms of withdrawals declining, and deposits increasing, but one definite byproduct for the CU has been an increase in Net banking use. “Home banking is picking up. We used to add about two accounts a day, now we’re more along the lines of 15,” said Wisnieski. The CU is currently in roll-out mode of an online lending system. Despite not serving a particularly high-tech membership, over 4,000 of the CU’s 14,500 members are enrolled in online banking. [email protected]

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