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Two CEOs Share Insights on Adjusting to the Pandemic and Approaching the Future

At the outset of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, credit union leaders embraced the qualities of collaboration, empathy, and dedication to member service to shift into emergency mode. They’ll carry forward many lessons learned during this time.


CUNA News

Two credit union CEOs share their pandemic experiences and how they’re moving ahead:
  • Lynette Smith, president/CEO of $130 million asset TruEnergy Federal Credit Union, Springfield, Va. TruEnergy leveraged a largely remote workforce to serve 9,000 members during the pandemic with a blend of technology and appointment-only, face-to-face member service.

  • Max Villaronga, president/CEO of TFCU - El Paso (Texas). The $740 million asset credit union serves 65,000 members largely through remote services.

Credit Union Magazine: What has been your biggest challenge with the pandemic?


  • Lynette Smith: Our initial challenge and our top priority was the health, well-being, and safety of our members and employees. Without them, our industry would not exist. Like all credit unions, we made a lot of changes in a short amount of time. But our biggest challenge will be planning strategically for the anticipated second wave of COVID-19. Credit unions need to review and update pandemic policies and procedures to include contingency plans for staffing, backup, and service alternatives. Another challenge is that with so much economic uncertainty, we have never experienced a financial market quite like this. I call it “our new financial world.”


  • Max Villaronga: We didn’t know the virus would spread so fast throughout the U.S., but we activated our COVID response team quickly. We looked at it as a way to practice our disaster recovery and business resumption plan. We anticipated an 18-month event, which was an unpopular view even within our ranks. But my explanation to our team was it’s better to prepare for a marathon and run a sprint than prepare for a sprint and have to run a marathon because you’re just going to be demoralized. You won’t be properly prepared for that sort of distance. Even with all that, we’ve had difficulty recruiting for senior-level executive positions. It’s taken about twice as long as expected. We have also experienced a certain level of fatigue that sets in with employee who must be quarantined and isolated for extended periods.

Q: It’s an anxious time for members and employees. How do you provide comfort for stakeholders at your credit union?

  • Villaronga: Communication is our priority. During an emergency you need to increase your communication by three. We communicate at least once a week from my office. One commitment we make is to speak the truth, and our employees trust the information we provide them. That’s important because there’s a ton of misinformation out there. We provide catering every Friday for all of our team members. It supports our local restaurants and keeps our employees happy with a good meal. In El Paso, we like our food. It’s a way to celebrate each week of our lives. We also remind our team that we have free mental health resources available to them during this time so if anxiety or depression touch them, they can reach out and get help.

  • Smith: We have a COVID Task Force Team that meets daily. We wanted to make sure we continue our synergy with operations, member experience, and human resources. By the end of March, 90% of our staff worked remotely. We’re always looking for ways to keep our employees engaged.

Q: It’s an anxious time for members and employees. How do you provide comfort for stakeholders at your credit union?

  • Villaronga: Communication is our priority. During an emergency you need to increase your communication by three. We communicate at least once a week from my office. One commitment we make is to speak the truth, and our employees trust the information we provide them. That’s important because there’s a ton of misinformation out there. We provide catering every Friday for all of our team members. It supports our local restaurants and keeps our employees happy with a good meal. In El Paso, we like our food. It’s a way to celebrate each week of our lives. We also remind our team that we have free mental health resources available to them during this time so if anxiety or depression touch them, they can reach out and get help.

  • Smith: We have a COVID Task Force Team that meets daily. We wanted to make sure we continue our synergy with operations, member experience, and human resources. By the end of March, 90% of our staff worked remotely. We’re always looking for ways to keep our employees engaged.

Published article available here.