Lessons Learned From A Challenging Year — Part 2

Credit union chief executives share key takeaways from 2020 and talk about how they’ll turn challenge into opportunity in the year ahead.

 
 

Credit unions quickly responded to COVID-19 by sending staff home and extending financial help to members in ways that tested the movement’s operational and financial resilience, each cooperative in its own way.

Now, while the movement and the nation await a wave of vaccinations to beat back a tsunami of infections, credit union leadership teams position their technology and people to turn challenge into opportunity in 2021.

As a uniquely challenging year yields to a new trip around the sun, CreditUnions.com turned to the senior leaders at cooperatives around the country for their major takeaways from 2020 and what they see coming in the year ahead.

Here’s what they said.

This is the second in a three-part series.

  • Read Part 1 for replies from Brandon Riechers of Royal Credit Union, Steve Swofford of Alabama Credit Union, Tom Gryp of Notre Dame FCU, Kate Laud of Opportunities Credit Union, and Gordon Howe of UNIFY Financial FCU.

  • Read Part 3 for replies from Paul Baudin of Express Credit Union, Steve Bugg of Great Lakes Credit Union, Joe Christian of Nusenda FCU, Jim Morrell of Peninsula Community FCU, George Rudolph of Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union, and Brad Calhoun of Teachers FCU.

American 1 Credit Union

Martha Fuerstenau, President & CEO, American 1 Credit Union

Martha Fuerstenau is the president and CEO of American 1 Credit Union ($493.2M, Jackson, MI) and has been with the Michigan cooperative since 1984.

What is the biggest lesson your cooperative learned this year from the pandemic?

Martha Fuerstenau: In 2019 American 1 embarked on a two-year initiative, implementing the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS). At that time, we were interested in changing our operational structure to gain efficiency, agility, and focus as we considered long-term goals for the company. What we learned because of the pandemic, is that EOS provides a structure to make quicker decisions about people, strategy, systems, and processes. Key to our success in navigating the pandemic is the agility that EOS provides. We have an astonishing number of employees working remotely and productivity has never been higher.

What is your biggest opportunity for the year ahead? What are you doing to respond to it?

MF: We discovered many silver linings in our experiences during the pandemic, most around the virtual member experience. One example is transforming our conventional on-site car sales into a virtual car sale. We've had increasing success with this new model and look forward to enhancing the virtual car sale member experience in 2021. We built our business model on encouraging in-branch visits because our sales are more successful in face-to-face transactions. In 2021 we’ll be working on the virtual sales transaction, training our team in new techniques for successful virtual sales.

At this point next year, what would you like to be able to say of your credit union’s performance in 2021?

MF: Financially, our forecast for 2021 is quite pessimistic as we predict our ROA and net worth outcomes. So, at this point next year, I'd like to say we were wrong and our financial performance exceeds expectations. Operationally, I hope our branches are safely full of employees and members conducting everyday banking transactions.

Element Federal Credit Union

Linda Bodie, President & CEO, Element Federal Credit Union

Linda Bodie has been president and CEO of Element Federal Credit Union ($52.2M, Charleston, WV) since 1998.

What is the biggest lesson your cooperative learned this year from the pandemic?

Linda Bodie: Agility matters when crazy things happen. Element’s culture and philosophy includes constant innovation. We’ve developed all kinds of unconventional products, services, and processes over the years. At the onset of the pandemic, our staff, management, and board were decisive and acted quickly to shift gears into different modes of operations. We were well prepared to work remotely and to find new and old ways to serve members. It’s what we do in other situations, and this one was no different.

What is your biggest opportunity for the year ahead? What are you doing to respond to it?

LB: To become even more credit union cheerleaders and evangelists. We need to really get in people’s faces about who we are and what we do and why it matters. We’re more than just banking services; we’re integral to our local communities, and those communities need us now more than ever. Our products and services are designed for them, and sometimes by them. It’s time to take some new approaches to education and engagement.

At this point next year, what would you like to be able to say of your credit union’s performance in 2021?

LB: We’ve grown membership because people get it; they get what a credit union is and how we’re there for them through the good times and the bad. And they are advocating for us and bringing their family, friends, and co-workers into the Element family.

PCM Credit Union

Dan Wollin, President, PCM Credit Union

Dan Wollin has been president of PCM Credit Union ($308.6M, Green Bay, WI) for more than 30 years.

What is the biggest lesson your cooperative learned this year from the pandemic?

Dan Wollin: Members and staff can adapt to significant changes more than you think they can. Given trust, members and staff will create solutions that will ensure the success of the credit union.

What is your biggest opportunity for the year ahead? What are you doing to respond to it?

DW: 2021 can be the year we lock down the credit union difference and caring culture in our members’ eyes.

At this point next year, what would you like to be able to say of your credit union’s performance in 2021?

DW: Here’s hoping to say we had our most successful year ever and that the credit union has never been stronger, despite whatever economic malady is thrown our way.

State Employees’ Credit Union

Mike Lord, President & CEO, State Employees’ Credit Union

Mike Lord has been with State Employees’ Credit Union ($45.9B, Raleigh, NC) for 45 years, the past four as president and CEO.

What is the biggest lesson your cooperative learned this year from the pandemic?

Mike Lord: Our biggest lesson is that our employees are exceptionally resilient and can adapt to major disruptions in their personal lives while continuing to look after and serve our members. That’s no surprise! And it goes directly to the heart of the “People Helping People” philosophy by which credit unions live. I’m very proud of our employees and members for how they’ve risen to the challenges we face today.

What is your biggest opportunity for the year ahead? What are you doing to respond to it?

ML: Our biggest opportunity is meeting the needs of our members during this stressful time and delivering service by whatever mode of service delivery they choose to use. We’ve improved our mobile app to provide access and convenience while improving the member experience to help our members.

At this point next year, what would you like to be able to say of your credit union’s performance in 2021?

ML: I’d like to say that we met our members’ expectations and helped them to a better place through the most traumatic time we’ve seen in our lifetimes.

Trailhead Federal Credit Union

Jim McCarthy, President & CEO, Trailhead Federal Credit Union

Jim McCarthy is president and CEO of Trailhead Federal Credit Union ($140.1M, Portland, OR).

What is the biggest lesson your cooperative learned this year from the pandemic?

Jim McCarthy: We learned a lot about ourselves as a team. We were able to move quickly and make the needed changes to protect our staff and our members. The member services area has gone above and beyond to serve our members and make them feel secure. We did many “COVID loans” to help our members out, and they’ve been very appreciative.

Most of the back-office staff is working remotely and they have not missed a beat. They adapted quickly to their new situation and have helped us continue to move forward on our initiatives to move the credit union forward. I do miss seeing all of them on a daily basis.

What is your biggest opportunity for the year ahead? What are you doing to respond to it?

JM: It seems like things continue to change on a daily basis: new safety requirements, new regulations, new expectations. As with other credit unions our members have thrived in using digital access to their credit union. We want to continue to offer them the functionality and features they would like. We’re planning to offer many more channels to contact and work with us. Those include a new mobile app, new home banking platform, text messaging service, and other items. It’ll be a challenge having so many key players working remotely but I have complete confidence in their skills and teamwork abilities to make it succeed.

At this point next year, what would you like to be able to say of your credit union’s performance in 2021?

JM: Through hard work and caring about the staff and membership we exceeded our expectations in earnings, service, and new products/services launched.

These interviews have been edited and condensed.

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