CREDIT UNION CHANGEOVER: CUSTOMERS LINE UP TO GET ANSWERS

By Jessica Cejnar, The Triplicate January 03, 2013 10:22 am

Former Chetco Federal Credit Union customers waited in long lines all day Wednesday at the Crescent City branch office.
Former Chetco Federal Credit Union customers waited in long lines all day Wednesday at the Crescent City branch office. Del Norte Triplicate / Bryant Anderson
Many patrons said they couldn’t access their money over the holiday weekend 

Chris Lanum should have been selling radiators and renting U-Haul trailers to his customers Wednesday. Instead, he and his wife spent much of the morning and a good chunk of the afternoon waiting in line at the new Coast Central Credit Union branch.

Lanum, owner of Crescent City Radiator, Northcrest U-Haul and West Coast Metal Buildings, has been a Chetco Federal Credit Union member for 10 years. But following the Harbor, Ore.-based credit union’s liquidation Monday, Lanum said he couldn’t access his accounts. 

Lanum said he was forced to borrow a friend’s debit card to pay for the radiators he ordered for his business because his own card didn’t work. He said his weekly payment to U-Haul was also in jeopardy because the funds from his account weren’t available.

But after spending roughly six hours in line at the new Coast Central Credit Union branch, questioning whether he was going to remain with the Eureka-based credit union, Lanum said he was satisfied with the customer service he received from the branch’s manager

“Kris Griffin the manager helped us get through everything,” he said. “We’re staying with Coast Central. I’m really unhappy with the way the whole thing was done. It boils down to customer service and Kris did a beautiful job there.”

The National Credit Union Administration liquidated CFCU almost a year after it placed the struggling credit union in conservatorship in September 2011. The NCUA determined the credit union was insolvent with no prospect for restoring viable operations on its own, according to an administration press release.

Coast Central Credit Union assumed control of the CFCU branch in Crescent City, as well as its California memberships, on Wednesday. Medford-based Rogue Federal Credit Union assumed control of CFCU’s memberships and five branches in Oregon.

Lanum wasn’t the only former CFCU customer who had trouble accessing money over the New Year holiday. Coast Central reopened CFCU’s former L Street branch to a line of members that stretched out the door and around the building Wednesday.

Many customers said they had trouble paying bills and purchasing groceries because their CFCU debit cards were no longer valid. Some were angry at the short notice they received about the change. Coast Central employees tried pacifying their new customers by offering cookies, coffee and potential answers to their questions on Wednesday, but some patrons stated they were there to close out their accounts and change banks.

“They did not inform us,” said Lewis “Stretch” Mann, who has been a CFCU member for about a year. “If they knew well in advance, why couldn’t they send a letter two weeks in advance?”

Mann said he and his wife were sick over the weekend with 102-degree fevers, but were unable to seek medical care or buy medication because their debit cards didn’t work. He and his wife found out about CFCU’s liquidation and Coast Central’s takeover on Friday.

The National Credit Union Administration told Coast Central Credit Union officials that they couldn’t inform the public or their employees about the credit union’s take over of CFCU until the NCUA made it public, said Dennis Hunter, Coast Central’s vice president of marketing. The NCUA didn’t announce CFCU’s liquidation and Coast Central’s subsequent takeover of CFCU memberships until 6 p.m. Friday.

Coast Central mailed new debit cards to former CFCU members Saturday, but some people didn’t receive them until Monday, Hunter said. Coast Central didn’t assume control of CFCU accounts until Wednesday.

“People want to know where their money went all of a sudden and why they weren’t notified earlier,” Hunter said, adding that NCUA’s gag order put Coast Central in a bind. “We’re normally very good at communicating with our members, but when you can’t until the last minute ... A lot of our staff didn’t even know it. Staff members in Eureka and some of the other branches had no idea until they came to work on Monday.”

Hunter said he wanted to issue a press release and take out a full-page ad in the Triplicate, informing people about the changes, but couldn’t because of the NCUA.

According to NCUA spokesman John Fairbanks, when credit unions are liquidated the NCUA doesn’t make that public until the liquidation takes effect. Because former CFCU members were getting their new debit cards and letters notifying them of the change in the mail on Saturday, the NCUA decided to make its announcement Friday, Fairbanks said.

“There was at least an effort to give members some notice,” he said. “My understanding is every effort was made to make the transition as seamless as possible.”

Triplicate employee Emily Reed said Wednesday even though she has her new debit card, she still can’t use it because Coast Central has yet to send her a PIN (personal identification number). She received a packet in the mail notifying her of the change and activated her debit card Monday. But when Reed went into the bank that day to withdraw funds, Coast Central employees were unable to help her, saying they wouldn’t be able to facilitate any transactions until Wednesday.

Reed added that she was unable to make her mortgage payment on time because she didn’t have access to her funds. She was able to get the person who owns the mortgage to forgive the late fee, but added that she could have had to pay 20 percent of her monthly payment.

“I was just in (CFCU) making a deposit on the 20th or the 21st, a week before all this happened, no one mentioned anything to me,” Reed said.

Fairbanks said credit union members’ accounts are insured by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund up to $250,000. Credit union members can contact the NCUA’s consumer assistance line at 800-755-1030.

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