Military Credit Union Duty
On Aug. 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. That event set into motion 25 years of war and conflicts that have kept credit unions that serve the military busy providing specialized services to their members.
Arty Arteaga, president/CEO of the Defense Credit Union Council, served in active duty with the Army during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He also served as commander of the U.S. Army Financial Command.
Because of his experience, he already knew what was expected of credit unions when he was recruited to run the DCUC in March 2000.
And then Americans were attacked on U.S. soil on Sept. 11, 2001.
“We were co-located with CUNA on 8th Street at the time,” Arteaga recalled. “Thankfully, I knew enough about navigating [Washington D.C.] to quickly make my way across the Key Bridge to I-66 and get out of the city. We could see smoke coming from the Pentagon.”
After a couple of days off, Arteaga and his staff were back in the DCUC office putting together guidance for member credit unions. The first order of business was putting together a readiness checklist for credit unions as their members prepared to deploy to Iraq and later Afghanistan and other locations around the world in the War on Terror.
One such item on that checklist was a requirement of on-base branches to serve as a cash disbursing agent for the military, as many bases had shuttered their finance offices years before.
“If units were being deployed, agents needed cash in their pockets to secure areas,” he said. “For example, once they arrived, they needed to pay for food and materials to construct camps. I recall we received requests from the Air Force shortly after 9/11 asking for a DCUC member on an air base to provide $300,000 cash immediately, and they had to ensure they fulfilled the commander's request.”
Additionally, following 9/11, many bases that had been open to the public shut their gates.
“We had to make sure folks coordinated with command groups to ensure not only mission essential personnel had access but even tellers had no trouble coming on base,” he said.
Restricted access to on-base branches also affected members who were retired military and family members of enlisted personnel and civilian employees.
“They had to go elsewhere, so we advised members to be aware of limitations to access, to be prepared and educate them about other locations and shared branching,” he said.
America had not experienced that level of military enlistment and deployment since the Vietnam War. However, Arteaga said, many military credit unions had senior executives with military experience, which helped them quickly meet additional operational demands. Additionally, all had board members who were either still serving or had served in the military.
That in-house experience also helped military credit unions understand the challenges deployed soldiers other enlisted members of the military and their families faced during deployments.
Did the increase in military enlistments present a growth opportunity to credit unions that served the armed forces? Perhaps, Arteaga said, although many bases were closed and military operations have been streamlined since 1990.
However, for those who run military credit unions, the business opportunity was the last thing on their minds, he said.
“There was definitely a spike, especially since we were attacked here in the homeland. Many folks were so angered about 9/11 they wanted to go to a recruiting station right away,” Arteaga said.
“But did credit unions see that as an opportunity to increase business? I don't run a credit union, but I think they would say the only thing on your mind is doing what needs to be done to support our troops and their families,” he said.
Technology helped military credit unions serve deployed members.
T.V. Johnson, vice president of corporate communications at the $19 billion Pentagon Federal Credit Union, said his Alexandria, Va.-based credit union invested heavily into call centers to ensure its 1.3 million members could call from anywhere in the world, at any time day or night, and reach a member service representative.
Mobile banking more recently helped members manage their finances in areas with secure internet access, he said.
“Battlefield banking is indeed a reality,” Johnson said. “However, because of issues with military security, bandwidth, host nation infrastructure or a combination of all three, at times mobile devices may not be fully functional during a deployment.”
Because of limited mobile access, PenFed recommended members set up automatic payments to ensure recurring bills and other obligations were paid on time.
The $2.7 billion Service Credit Union in Portsmouth, N.H., also serves a large military population. President/CEO Gordon Simmons said anticipating and serving the financial needs of the credit union's military members remains at the core of its products and services.
“We harness the power of new technology to provide our mobile military membership with 24/7 banking either online, by phone or mobile app,” he said. “This is critical to our deployed membership.”
Both credit unions also offer military members special products and services.
“Our Warrior Program for those deployed in combat zone and peacekeeping missions offered deployed members 1% off consumer loans and our highest rate on a certificate,” Simmons said.
Arteaga said that while military credit unions represent nearly 25% of the Top 100 credit unions in the country by asset size, it's not the opportunities armed conflicts provide, but instead the excellent products, services and commitment to members those credit unions provide that are responsible for their success.
“Credit unions have been on DOD installations since 1928, and our members have held firm in their support of the DOD and always ensured our troops and the families are supported with financial services,” he said. “We’ve experienced five major wars, 12 significant conflicts, five rounds of BRAC (base realignment and closure) and numerous downsizing and right sizing. And we’ve been through the Great Recession, military budget reductions and even government shutdowns. And yet they’ve never waivered in their commitment to serve the DOD for nearly nine decades. In my opinion, our members have been at the forefront of our industry in ensuring the financial needs of their members and their families.”