Two credit unions and a stranded CU member recently discovered just how personal the people helping people part of the credit union philosophy could be.A member of the $161 million Dow Louisiana Federal Credit Union, headquartered in Plaquemines, found himself stranded without a ready source of cash when his ATM card stopped working in Shanghai, China. Somewhat desperate, the member called Dow Louisiana for help to see if money could be wired to his hotel from his account.Dow Louisiana CEO Jeff Hendrickson said the CU wanted to help but was a little hampered, first by the time difference (the CU could only deal with the hotel night staff because of different time zones) and even more so by the language barrier. No one on his staff spoke Mandarin Chinese, and the staff of the hotel working at midnight there had very limited English.Frustrated by the circumstances, Hendrickson sent an urgent message to a listserv used by credit union executives. Did any other credit union have an employee who spoke the language they use in Shanghai, he asked. It turned out one did.The $266 million Group Health Credit Union, headquartered in Seattle, had a 22-year bookkeeper named Mei Barker who was born in Taiwan and spoke Mandarin. Group Health Chief Operations Officer Carol Belland wrote back and offered to help put Hendrickson and Barker together. A few minutes later Belland’s phone rang.Once Barker was on the line, Hendrickson was able to connect her with the hotel in Shanghai. Communicating with the hotel night staff, Barker was able to find out the address of a local Western Union and to convince the hotel to pay for a taxi ride for the member to the office and charge the cost to his room. Barker was able to arrange the whole thing in about 20 minutes once she was on the line, Hendrickson reported.“It took us 20 minutes just to try to say hello!” said Hendrickson. “It would have been nigh to impossible to get all that done without Mei’s help. When someone calls and needs cash, we have to respond. We can’t just leave that individual there. They know what they need, and nothing else is going to work. When we got off the phone call with the hotel, we had every confidence that he was going to get the help he needed, thanks to Mei’s translation abilities.”Hendrickson explained that the member’s ATM card had stopped working after Visa had miscoded some of the information during a card portfolio upgrade. The miscoding had not impacted cards being used at domestically deployed ATMs but had disrupted transactions being conducted at ATMs overseas.Hendrickson reported that the mistake had been caught very quickly, but that the delay in deploying the correct coding information meant that the ATM cards did not work immediately overseas.“One of the greatest things about this whole event is that even though it was midnight Saturday in Shanghai, Dow and GHCU were busy resolving a major banking dilemma without ever having to get a bank involved. It was all credit unions, working together,” Hendrickson added. Mei Barker agreed. “I felt really incredible to be able to help,” she said, “and I was so impressed with everybody working so well together.”“It’s a wonderful validation of the cooperative model of credit unions,” said Belland. “When someone needs help, and we can give it, we do. That’s the way credit unions have always operated. And it’s why I love my job.”Hendrickson acknowledged that the incident was not the first time Dow Louisiana had gone above and beyond regular procedures in service to the people helping people philosophy. In 2008, Hendrickson and Dow Louisiana offered Texas Dow Employees Credit Union help and expertise in hurricane recovery as Hurricane Ike bore down Brazoria, Texas, where Texas Dow is located.Dow Louisiana’s help included the use of space, resources and even sending some employees to Texas. Hendrickson said his credit union had been motivated to help because the CEO of Texas Dow, Edward Speed, had flown $600,000 in his small private plane to help Dow Louisiana get through the cash crunch in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.–[email protected]

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