Keady O’leary and Donna Stubbs watch the banking container arrive through the pneumatic tube at Community Credit Union on  Pine Street in downtown Lewiston on Friday. A drive-thru lane has been dedicated to walk-up traffic only. O’leary and Stubbs said they usually go inside to do their banking, but the credit union lobby is closed due to the coronavirus. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — For two days next week, Community Credit Union, in the heart of downtown, is opening 90 minutes earlier, hiring Lewiston police for extra security and President and CEO Jennifer Hogan is borrowing her daughter’s chalk to draw lines 6 feet apart leading to a new walk-up lane.

It’s wrestling with how to keep customers at its branches on Pine Street in Lewiston and Stanley Street in  Auburn safe in the days of COVID-19 as Social Security and disability checks hit accounts on April 1 and 3, days when traffic doubles or triples.

“We’re personally calling every single (customer) that receives a deposit on those days trying to schedule times,” Hogan said. “We’re making 1,400 phone calls right now. . . I have nightmares about everybody showing up at 9 o’clock and the line being down the street and that’s certainly not what we want because that wouldn’t be the safest thing for our community.”

At Dirigo Federal Credit Union, they’ve let police know about potential traffic congestion those two days.

“We will also have an employee at each location helping to direct traffic in our parking lots — at a safe 6-foot distance, of course — to direct members to the best suited drive-up or ATM lane,” Chief Business Officer Nicole Mailhot said.

Jen Burke, spokeswoman for the Maine Credit Union League, said many credit unions are extending the hours of their drive-up teller lines, adding additional lanes where possible and increasing their cash on hand.

“Some are experimenting with other creative ways to ensure they are meeting their members’ needs,” she said. “There’s really no one-size fits all approach.”

It’s clearly an issue that varies by region and institution. Christopher Pinkham, CEO of the Maine Bankers Association, said he touched base with several banks who reported they traditionally don’t see activity spikes on those days.

Melissa Rock at Norway Savings Bank said that bank used to see lines before the government converted checks to direct deposit several years ago and now “we do see a slight increase in visits with customers who may choose to come to the bank to withdraw funds.”

Androscoggin Bank President and CEO Neil Kiely said his Lisbon Street branch in downtown Lewiston would be closed starting Monday. The bank was reaching out to customers to help them plan to use other branches.

“Androscoggin Bank appreciates the particular hardship this crisis has imposed on our senior citizen clients and those receiving disability payments who may not have availed themselves of our online banking tools,” he said. “We may allow them to call ahead for an appointment to come into the branch subject to prescreening, social distancing and other procedures to safeguard them and our employees.”

Hogan at Community Credit Union said since the coronavirus brought business as usual to a halt, she’s been on a twice-weekly conference call with credit union CEOs around Maine and a weekly call with all of the Lewiston-Auburn CEOs.

Jen Hogan, president and CEO of Community Credit Union, said she dedicated one drive-thru lane on Pine Street in Lewiston for walk-up traffic only after the credit union closed its lobby to the public on March 17. She’s gearing up for the bank’s two busiest days of the month next week. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“I brought up the first and the third on the first CEO call I had been on,” she said. “Some people, this is their only source of income.”

Her Lewiston branch typically processes between 500 and 800 transactions on the first of the month and between 700 and 1,000 on the third. In Auburn, it’s between 500 and 700 and then 600 to 850.

Roughly two-thirds of that traffic is on foot.

“To put it in perspective, this is two-three times more transactions than we see any other average day,” Hogan said. “And the third of the month in April also falls on a Friday so we’ll have additional payday traffic.”

The branches are opening at 6 a.m. Customers will use a drive-thru lane now converted to a walk-up lane. The credit union is placing hand sanitizer next to the drive-thru tubes since those will be touched frequently.

Member representatives are wearing gloves to handle money and it’s their choice whether they’d like to wear a mask or not, Hogan said.

Financial institutions regularly train for what-if scenarios around tornadoes, floods and even pandemics, she said. “Never in a million years did I think we would actually be making” some of those hypothetical decisions.

“I guess I’m feeling the best that we can,” Hogan said about heading into next week. “It’s going to be a very stressful day for our staff so that’s why we are taking these extra precautions, one, to put our staff at ease, but also to try to make sure that we’re doing our part in the business community to make sure we’re keeping our members safe, that we’re keeping our community safe.”


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