It’s Christmas Eve. For those of us of a certain age, the only banker that could ever come to mind on this day is George Bailey. But in 2010, you’ll be forgiven if that’s not the first banker’s name that comes to mind, and if “warm and fuzzy” is not the feeling that wells up in your heart.
Wall Street, of course, is still much on our minds this year, especially as Main Street sees more and more distressed properties on the real estate market. Many homeowners are trying to do the right thing and hold on to their homes, and they’re asking the banks for help. But red tape seems to be the fashion trend at the banks this season, rather than red holiday gift bows.
Unless you know where to look…
In the film It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey was the banker who got it right. He understood that if you took care of your customers, you’re customers would take care of you. It’s a business philosophy that’s in short supply these days. And that’s why my recent interaction with Community First Credit Union of Florida was so refreshing.
A few years ago, I was able to help a wonderful young family find a home here in the Jacksonville area. They had three young children, as well as family overseas that they were helping out financially as best they could. Dad had a good job, but it was contract-based and it kept him away from home for months at a time. So he was thrilled to be able to get his family settled in a nice home in a nice neighborhood at last.
Fast-forward a few years, to the present day, and you can probably guess where this story is going. Like all of us, my customer has seen the value of his home drop dramatically. At the same time, the job market has tightened up, and good contracts in his field are harder to come by. He’ll be back at work soon, (January, most likely), but in the meantime, he needs a little help in holding on to his house.
The HAMP loan modification programs were designed specifically to help customers just like him. So he applied, along with thousands of other homeowners, and somewhere along the way, he got lost in that sea of red tape. His paperwork was lost and had to be re-filed. Phone calls with various customer service reps led to conflicting information with regard to the status of the loan. Or, even worse, calls were simply never returned. Eventually, the file was closed without any resolution. Huh?
It’s a frustrating position for anyone, much less someone faced with leaving his family again in January to ship out with a new job. If he couldn’t get his mortgage situation sorted out, what would he do? What would you do?
To be honest, I was at a loss myself as to how I could help. So, I decided to do the only thing I could do. I sent an email to John Hirabayashi, CEO of Community First Credit Union of Florida. I asked if he could help one of the credit union’s members not necessarily get his loan modification approved, but at least get a straight answer and some valid options.
I got an email back from Mr. Hirabayashi’s staff that same day! And copied on my email response was a member of the leadership team at the credit union who has pledged to help get my customer some real answers.
The next day, in fact, I discussed the situation with her and she’s setting up a time to speak with my customer in person to go over his options. It’s exactly the sort of response we all wish we could get from our bank, or whomever we’re doing business with, every day.
Ultimately, I don’t know whether or not any bank will be able to help my customer hold on to his home. But I’m grateful that there are people and companies out there that are willing to try. So this Christmas, I’m giving my first annual George Bailey Award to CEO John Hirabayashi and the rest of his team at Community First Credit Union of Florida.
I think I hear a bell ringing somewhere…