(From Mainebiz) – Mainebiz caught up with Todd Mason, President and CEO of the Maine Credit Union League, to get his read on how the state’s credit unions are weathering the pandemic along with its longer-term impact on the sector, and what he sees as the biggest cybersecurity weak spots.
Mainebiz: How are Maine’s credit unions weathering the pandemic and what do you see as the biggest challenges?
Todd Mason: We, of course, remain focused on the challenge of keeping everyone as safe from COVID-19 as possible. Credit unions did an amazing job quickly pivoting to drive-up and digital services, which did just that. As lobbies start to slowly reopen, we’ll have the same focus and that members will understand there will be a new normal. The other challenge we see is the financial well-being of members. We’ve already helped with skip-a-pay, emergency loans, financial guidance, and in other ways. But more help will be needed the longer COVID-19 lasts, and credit unions will continue to be there.
Mainebiz: What innovative loan products or new approaches to customer service have impressed you the most and why?
Todd Mason: When we decided to place a greater emphasis on digital banking platforms, we knew we would have to communicate about the ease and convenience of these technologies to drive adoption. Our messaging worked. More members are paying their bills online, accessing their checking account information and even are applying for loans, all from the comfort of home. I am thrilled our members are utilizing the digital tools that are available to them, and I believe adoption will continue to grow.
Mainebiz: To what extent are credit unions seeing new members these days, and do you see that continuing?
Todd Mason: We don’t have precise numbers. But what we are hearing is that credit unions are seeing new members from two primary areas. First, we saw new members from helping small businesses get Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans that didn’t belong to a credit union before. Second, we are seeing new members coming from those that may not have had a debit card before or another means to pay electronically. With so much emphasis now on cashless transactions with curbside pick-up, deliveries, and the like, digital payments are critical. It also provides an easier way to process a stimulus or other similar payment.
Mainebiz: The pandemic is straining broadband networks everywhere. Are there any concerns for credit unions, particularly in rural parts of the state?
Todd Mason: Access to reliable broadband service is critical for our members, especially as more members turn to digital platforms for their banking needs. High-speed internet is a gateway to accessing the power of these services, so I hope broadband expansion continues in Maine, especially in rural areas of the state. And with more Mainers working from home, a robust broadband infrastructure is needed now more than ever.
Mainebiz: What do you see as the greatest cybersecurity weak spots that need enhancing?
Todd Mason: Fraud remains a big concern. We always remind members not to share personally identifiable information, to change passwords often, and to delete emails or messages from senders they don’t recognize. Criminals read the headlines and will stop at nothing to prey on people’s fears and vulnerabilities. We don’t want anyone to become a victim, which is why fraud prevention and education must remain a priority.
Mainebiz: Are you aware of any Maine credit unions that applied for a PPP loan, and are there any lessons to be learned from their experience?
Todd Mason: Credit union, banks and other lenders are not allowed to apply for PPP loans. However, nearly half of our credit unions are SBA lenders and able to provide them to their small business members.
Mainebiz: When branches reopen, what do you see as the greatest challenges for Maine’s credit unions both as employers and public-facing businesses?
Todd Mason: We recognize it may take some time for people to adjust to our new normal, but all the procedures we will be implementing are designed to keep our employees, members, and visitors healthy and protected. We also will be encouraging people to continue using drive-through or online services instead of coming into lobbies. These changes aren’t meant to make transactions less personal, it’s simply to keep everyone safe.
Mainebiz: How likely are we in the future to see credit unions with physical branches that are smaller in size than now, with more drive thru service?
Todd Mason: Even after the pandemic is over, I believe there will be a continued reliance on drive-thru services regardless of the size of the credit union. I think people are going to be reluctant to enter public spaces like they did in the pre-COVID era, and that’s understandable. I also expect online banking will continue to grow.
Mainebiz: How do Maine credit unions survive, and stay strong, in the long term?
Todd Mason: Credit unions are committed to moving Maine forward and Maine families upward, especially as we look past COVID-19. We will remain strong because we will play a key role in supporting our state’s social and economic recovery by doing what we do best — fostering career advancement, enabling home ownership, mentoring young people, welcoming new Mainers, providing financial guidance, bolstering small businesses and ending hunger. By continuing to demonstrate our value, we’ll be able to survive and thrive in the future.