The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq sometimes hit painfully close to home for military credit unions. Some employees of military credit unions have spouses currently serving in combat. “We’ve already had two of our employees’ husbands killed in Iraq,” says Craig Chamberlin, president/CEO of $678 million asset Marine Federal Credit Union, Camp Lejeune, N.C. “That’s tough duty, and it’s a time when you provide all the support you possibly can for the families.
“It’s important to recognize that these are America’s heroes,” Chamberlin continues. “Even if there wasn’t an armed conflict going on, they’re America’s heroes because of what they’re willing to do. We need to do everything we can to take care of them.”
While the loss of an employee’s spouse is rare, it underlines the stress and anxiety credit union employees and members live with constantly. Military credit unions do everything they can to alleviate a portion of that stress by financially preparing their members for deployment.
These credit unions remain fiercely committed to meeting the financial needs of their members and their families—whether the military makes up 5% or 95% of the credit union’s members. And more challenges lie ahead with the planned drawdown of more than 60,000 troops from Afghanistan by 2014.
That commitment is demonstrated daily by development and delivery of exceptional products and services, such as rewards savings programs, special low-cost loans, short-term financial assistance, financial education, and sponsorship of base activities and local base commands.
“Our main focus has always been supporting our troops and their families,” says Roland “Arty” Arteaga, president/CEO of the Defense Credit Union Council (DCUC), Washington, D.C., which serves about 235 credit unions with 14 million members. DCUC is a chartered member of the Department of Defense Financial Readiness Campaign. “In today’s environment, that means supporting a highly mobile and expeditionary force that deploys frequently to over 100 countries around the world,” he says.
Serving today’s military, according to Arteaga, requires:
- Dealing with frequent deployments that can create major shifts in base population, prompting many military credit unions to diversify membership by adding nonmilitary select employee groups (SEGs) or acquiring community charters.
- Supporting a transient population that moves from one duty station to the next on average every two to three years, taxing the financial stability of military families.
- Using technology, such as shared branching and online banking, to maintain contact with members and support their financial needs when they’re deployed overseas, relocating to new assignments, or departing active duty.
- Adapting to Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) legislation that has closed or realigned more than 450 bases since 1989, causing a reassessment of credit unions’ futures.
- Providing financial education to help young military members live within their means and stretch their pay, including developing alternatives to payday lenders.
Next: Deployment Challenges