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A Challenge Is A Chance To Do Our Best - Volume 3

Derrick Buckspan

A graduate of the University of Vermont, Derrick Buckspan originally came to Maine to work as a wilderness instructor and course director at the Hurri...

A graduate of the University of Vermont, Derrick Buckspan originally came to Maine to work as a wilderness instructor and course director at the Hurri...

May 5 5 minutes read

Celebrating the Organizations in our Community who are Going Above and Beyond To Take on the Challenges of COVID-19

An Ongoing Series - Volume 3

TruChoice Federal Credit Union: People Helping People

When businesses began shuttering in March due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Ken Acker’s first thought was, “How can we help?” 

Acker is the CEO of TruChoice, a local credit union based in Portland, Maine, with deep roots in the medical, trucking, and service industries.

As not-for-profit institutions, credit unions are free to make sure their membership comes first.

“Unlike banks, credit unions are member-owned, which means that everything is done for the benefit of the entire organization,” explains Acker.  Whether that’s in the form of additional services, low loan rates, or less fees, the credit union approach revolves around making sure its membership has the tools it needs to succeed.

It’s a cooperative spirit that drives us. One person’s deposit becomes another person’s loan.  We don’t have stockholders looking for profit, we have members looking to help each other.  The CU philosophy is ‘People helping People’, and every decision we make uses that filter.” 

So, when it became clear that COVID-19 was going to have a widespread impact on the community, TruChoice was able to quickly move to provide resources for their membership.  

“Our members are essential workers in so many industries – we wanted to make sure they knew we were here for them,” said Acker.

TruChoice began with its own employees. As COVID-19 began to spread through the community, the first priority was to make sure TruChoice staff were safe, and that they knew the Credit Union had their back. Every member of the TruCrew was told that, if they stay home due to illness, quarantine, loss of childcare as schools closed, or for care of a loved one, “no one misses a paycheck.” As Acker explains, “Our team at TruChoice has been busy helping members through these challenges, while many of them are facing the same issues. We can only provide our team with the tools they need to provide assistance for our members, but we cannot ask someone to truly care about it – that comes from the heart. We wanted to make sure they knew that they could continue to provide that level of care without needing to worry about their own jobs or income.” 

In order to protect the staff and membership, TruChoice also moved to allow as many staff as possible to work from home. “Because we’ve spent the last few years building up our remote services and infrastructure, we were able to quickly go down to a skeleton staff on site, with most employees working from home,” says Acker. That includes the contact center, as well as vital back office positions. “Our IT department has done a great job of getting almost the whole team to be able to remote in without loss of quality or service levels.” Employees in front-facing roles are being protected by closing off the lobby, as well as having sanitizer and wipes on hand, being educated about safety measures, and moving to reduced hours to minimize stress and exposure.

TruChoice also began member outreach early, in order to ensure people knew that the team was ready to help. “The first thing we did was make sure members knew that we had options, and they could reach out to us.  We know that in tough times, people can struggle silently with their finances, and we wanted to make sure our membership knew they could talk to us.  We understand that bad things happen to good people, and we want to work with them.”

TruChoice immediately began waiving fees for skipped payments, offered loan modifications as needed, and created a low-interest Relief Loan product to help get folks through this difficult time. Reaction from members has been overwhelmingly positive. “It’s an incredible feeling to see the emails coming in thanking us for helping, for taking a burden off. It’s times like this that remind us that the most important thing we can do is to be here for one another.”

 As the situation continues to evolve, TruChoice remains dedicated to finding different ways to help members manage. As Acker puts it, “Our management team and board of directors are constantly looking at options. It’s our mission that drives us, and the commitment to putting the members first is what makes the credit union movement different. The goal is to help as many people as possible. The success of the credit union really is the success of our members. When we say we’re here to help, it’s not just a slogan – it’s the heart of who we are.”

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