Local bank gets creative to serve clients during pandemic

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Banks are considered an essential service in Vermont during the pandemic and some had to get creative to continue serving clients.

Opportunities Credit Union helps low-income families, immigrants and people who can't get an account anywhere else.

The Winooski location is closed completely, but staff members say they knew they had to keep their Burlington location running somehow to make sure their clients had access to their money, like stimulus checks.

"This is as convenient as it's going to get, I would say," said Michael Morril, a customer from South Burlington.

After shutting the doors to the Burlington lobby to cut down contact between staff and members, they came up with a plan.

"We don't have a lot of the amenities that some of the larger financial institutions offer," said Linda Gottfried, Opportunities' manager. Amenities like a drive-thru or walk-up.

After a brainstorming session, the staff unscrewed one of the windows looking out at North Avenue, pushed out the screen and opened a three to four-inch space for business.

While it's not ideal, Gottfried says it's the best they could do for their customers.

"We've explained to them that if one of us gets sick, the branch is closed, and then there is no opportunity for you to get your money," she said.

And getting their money is more important now than ever. Opportunities Credit Union works with the underserved and unbankable population, including many immigrants and low-income individuals who can't get an account anywhere else. Here, people can safely deposit money and not worry about carrying cash.

"We try to work around the problems and come up with solutions for what individuals have," said Gottfried.

Unlike some more traditional financial institutions, the credit union offers counseling to help clients improve their credit and budgeting. Right now, it's also the only place where many can get their stimulus checks directly deposited into an account.

"It's rewarding to know that you can make a difference like that," said Gottfried.

And it makes all the difference for clients like Morrill.

"I can't see what else they could possibly do. It's a spur of the moment situation, so it's not like you can prepare," said Morrill.