The safety and health of credit union employees and members during the COVID-19 pandemic was a priority for all of us at the National Association of Cooperative Savings and Credit Unions (NACSCU).
That is why we recommended a maximum limitation of direct contacts between employees and credit union members. This situation also created an opportunity for credit unions to reduce the level of digital exclusion and bridge the technological gap.
"Stay at home” and social distancing measures gave us a chance to strengthen credit unions' transactional product leg. It increased the importance of having a current credit union account with complete transaction services. NACSCU intensified and accelerated works on its technological projects. We worked with our credit unions to also educate members, concentrating on the popularization of remote account services through internet channels and mobile applications. NACSCU, together with our credit unions, were recommending members use contactless and non-cash forms of settlements, as well as payment cards as safe ways to make payments and settlements during the pandemic.
Customers who decided to utilize these services were able to:
- have direct access to accounts, balances and operation history without leaving home.
- make any payments or other financial operations from home.
- make contactless and cashless payments in stores.
- make payments in online stores that deliver ordered purchases to their home.
- be independent from the availability/opening of credit union branches.
NACSCU also prepared procedures to enable remote contracting through mobile phones and internet channels. In the next step, NACSCU prepared ready-to-use model contracts for main transaction services. Credit unions received effective tools to provide services remotely, giving them a chance to operate at full capacity during the hardest time of pandemic, when many branches were closed.
March and April were the most critical months during the pandemic. We observed a high amount of interest from our credit unions in issuing payment cards, as well as providing internet and mobile transaction systems. Credit unions issued more payment cards during those two months than in all of 2019. As a result, we noticed an increasing number of payment transactions.
In the case of payment cards, the Polish credit union system was one of the first to implement a higher amount of contactless transactions without requiring a PIN authorization. At the same time, credit unions carried out actions to encourage our members to have and use payment cards. We also encouraged members who had payment cards, but didn't actively use them, to activate them and carry out transactions.
At the same time, we completed two important projects. The first was to develop a multi-currency payment card. Those cards have been offered to credit union members since June 1. The multi-currency payment cards have the same functionality of debit cards, but with competitive exchange rates for payments in foreign currency. Our multi-currency payment cards are also environmentally-friendly, because they are made from natural, recyclable components.
The second project concerned the implementation of fast, simple and safe tax, administration and internet shopping payments. NACSCU developed a service called "Paybynet.” Credit union members now have the same ability to make fast and safe transfers as clients of any other Polish financial institution. Paybynet helps further reduce the technological gap between banks and credit unions in Poland and gives credit union members an additional opportunity to make safe transfers during the pandemic.
Piotr Palka is the Chief Compliance Officer at NACSCU, World Council of Credit Unions' direct member organization in Poland.