The challenges of dealing with deployment have changed dramatically since Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the 1990s, says Chamberlin.
Then, troops went overseas and their families went back to their hometowns, leaving the credit union to scale back operations and cope with staff vacancies as employees who were military spouses departed. Today, families are more likely to stay in the Camp Lejeune area that Marine Federal serves.
“Since we went back into Iraq and now into Afghanistan, the troops and particularly the Marine spouses and their families have become accustomed to deployments,” Chamberlin says. “We have 24- and 25-year-old Marines and Navy Corpsmen serving with the Marines who have had two or three tours in Iraq and are now going into Afghanistan.” Most families stay in the Jacksonville and the Onslow County area, he adds, because “the best support they’re going to get will be here.”
Deployment sometimes leads to loan delinquency, although Chamberlin says strong lending policies and financial counseling helped restrain delinquencies to 0.78% as of May 2011. When members fall behind, Marine Federal provides loan modifications or offers a short-term payment hiatus while members sort out their personal lives. “Members appreciate that and will go the extra mile to try to pay their debts,” Chamberlin says. Marine Federal encourages savings by inviting members to join the Deployment Club, which offers 3% interest on deposits up to $25,000.
Financial counseling has been removed from formal military training so troops can better focus and prepare for combat.
“The training tempo in the Marine Corps no longer allows time for financial education and won’t in the foreseeable future so long as deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq continue,” Chamberlin says. “The Marine Corps is focused on keeping these kids alive with proper weaponry and making sure they can take care of one another as opposed to making sure they can balance their checkbooks.”
To help fill the gap, Marine Federal participates in predeployment and postdeployment briefings and offers financial education classes. Chamberlin says the most effective financial counseling often occurs one-on-one, such as when a loan officer persuades a young Marine who wants to buy a new Mustang that purchasing a used vehicle is both a better deal and a better match for his salary and credit rating.
Technology plays a major role in retaining military members, whose paychecks arrive via direct deposit. Online banking, shared branching, and ATM networks keep members connected after they move to a new base or deploy overseas. Today, only 40% of members use brick-and-mortar branches, causing Marine Federal to close two branches in recent years.
Next: Reconnecting with the core