COVID-19, calls for social justice, and an economic crisis all left a mark on the credit union industry in 2020.
Credit union employees embraced the role of financial first responders, solidifying the important role they play in the lives of members.
COVID-19 started making headlines as a domestic concern in March 2020, kicking off what would become a challenging-but-important year for credit unions.
Shutdowns in the spring triggered an economic downturn that continues to torment many segments of the U.S. population. Although government aid programs buoyed credit union share portfolios, demand for consumer loans declined. A low interest rate environment sparked a spike in mortgage loans and refinance activity, but many credit unions also granted forbearances and extensions for borrowers in financial need.
Still, credit unions shouldered on and posted strong financial performance — partly because of their steadfast dedication to helping members survive a worldwide emergency.
“Winston Churchill famously said, ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste,’” says Jon Jeffreys, CEO of Callahan & Associates. “Credit unions did many things to ease the stress of members. From waiving fees to deferring loans, with some PPP in the middle, credit union employees became financial first responders. In the future, when ‘life happens,’ members will call their credit unions.”
Beyond the balance sheet, national calls for social justice reform mixed with efforts to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace forced much-needed conversations about the future of business practices as the movement enters its ninth decade. Already, credit unions have shared stories of formalizing a dialog among all staff members, establishing DEI councils, and funding charities that address inequity.
For many, the promise of a new year brings forth a fresh start and big opportunity. And no opportunity is more important, Jeffreys says, than establishing long-term relevance among members in need.
“Credit unions will be successful in 2021 if members and communities look back and realize they would not be where they are if their credit union didn’t have their backs,” he says. “Credit unions and cooperative solutions are needed now more than ever. They can make tomorrow better.”
Three credit unions, in particular, are taking action today to ensure a better tomorrow. Click the links below to read Q&As with leaders about lessons learned from 2020 and expectations for 2021.
Steve Bugg, CEO, Great Lakes Credit Union ($1.0B, Bannockburn, IL)
Kathy Duvall, CEO, SF Fire Credit Union ($1.6B, San Francisco, CA)
Dave Larson, CEO, Affinity Plus FCU ($3.2B, Saint Paul, MN)
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