By: Brian E. Wolfburg, President/CEO, VyStar Credit Union
It is remarkable to think that only a few months ago we were sharing our plans for the upcoming year and were ready to hit the ground running on new projects involving our branches and the community. When the coronavirus pandemic caught us all by surprise, we instead found ourselves hitting the drawing board to plot our next steps as social distancing forced us to adjust.
Like the rest of the world, our only option was to adapt to an ever-changing environment that seemingly required a new set of guidelines each day. We used our best judgment and always considered the needs of our members as we looked to deliver high-quality service and offer peace of mind through effective communication, financial assistance and community relief initiatives.
In late March, VyStar automatically deferred payments for 60 days on all eligible consumer loans and credit cards as well as auto and equipment loans. We also offered a 90-day forbearance on mortgages, including commercial mortgages, allowing our members to better manage their financial challenges. Altogether, we deferred over 800,000 consumer loan payments totaling more than $2.6 billion, and processed more than 960 loan forbearances totaling more than $121 million. As members resume making their regularly scheduled payments in the coming weeks, VyStar representatives continue to be available to review and discuss options.
I hope you have found our employees to be accessible and attentive to your requests, whether that be in person, via email or through our social media channels. Throughout the pandemic, we have kept most of our branches open and adjusted operations to accommodate almost every transaction via drive-thru service, which included helping non-members apply for business membership so they could benefit from our various loan relief programs. These programs included the Business Community Relief Loan program, offered in partnership with the City of Jacksonville (COJ) to provide critical aid to businesses, as well as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), offered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) to help small business owners obtain funding to retain their employees.
We could not have accomplished those things without our dedicated employees. Behind the scenes, employees from different departments leaned in and worked together with one common goal: to support you, our members. When we temporarily closed select branches, many front-office employees transitioned from their usual roles to assist our Contact Center with higher than normal call volumes to ensure members stayed informed. The theme of employees going above and beyond their usual responsibilities, which included training in new areas in order to best serve our members, was a recurring one. I could not be more proud of how VyStar employees responded to the obstacles they faced.
Perhaps the largest challenge our employees overcame was brought on by the SBA’s PPP. Because the PPP was new and funding was urgently needed by many, the program had its share of issues, including changing requirements, depleted funding and frequent system outages. Our employees reacted to the difficulties by finding creative and efficient workarounds. Even when the first round of PPP funding was exhausted, we continued processing applications so that we would be ready to submit them once the second round of funding was disbursed. When we received news that the SBA would no longer accept applications from automated bots, which was our primary processing method, we had to quickly adjust our strategy again, which meant manually submitting applications to the SBA.
Without hesitation, close to 100 employees stepped up to help. For many, this meant working through the night to manually enter and submit PPP applications to help as many people as possible. Thanks to the efforts of our dedicated PPP team, VyStar was able to fund $133 million in PPP loans and help more than 4,000 small business owners obtain funding, allowing them to continue paying their employees.
Even when our employees weren’t on the clock, they were still helping our community. We gave each branch $10 per employee per week as a token of our appreciation for their commitment to serving members throughout the pandemic and to support our small businesses. It was a small gesture but proved to be terrific for morale and meaningful to restaurant owners. We also showed our community support in other ways by donating to the United Way of Northeast Florida’s First Coast Relief Fund, Operation New Hope, JASMYN, the Jacksonville Arts & Music School, Nemours Children’s Specialty Care, ArtRepublic and City Year Jacksonville, in addition to our efforts to help Baptist Health and Ascension St. Vincent’s Jacksonville through Rethreaded. So far, we have contributed over $150,000 to provide relief to nonprofit organizations.
It’s during times like these, when we are driven into unfamiliar territory, that we get the opportunity to grow and discover our true capabilities. As an organization, we learned some important lessons along the way, but we also saw how far we were willing to push ourselves to achieve a common goal. Our employees exhibited incredible resilience and determination from the start, coming together and adapting to changes to help our members and the community on scales large and small.
Although living among uncertainty has been challenging, there is comfort in knowing we are not alone. Rest assured that no matter what obstacles may come our way, we have always and will continue to make decisions that are in the best interest of our members, employees and the communities we serve.
Brian E. Wolfburg,
VyStar Credit Union