This Article appeared in the April 2001 issue of the Callahan
No one needs
to tell you that we are living through an uncertain economic time.
The dot-com bubble has burst in a big way. This had to happen. The
climate of a year and more ago was unrealistic, pervaded by the
notion that people could make money not by earning it but out of
the thin air of ideas alone.
last, and Federal Chairman Alan Greenspan was correct in trying
to cool down the economy when he did. We are now experiencing a
reality check, and we needed one. It will take some time to work
through this trouble; there is oversupply that needs to be absorbed
and so on, but we’ll see our way through it, maybe in a kind
of rolling recession like the one of some years back when certain
parts of the country were in trouble while others weren’t and
the whole effect was a kind of oozing forward. Despite some really
wretched segments of the economy, the overall fundamentals are solid.
The great engine of the last few years propelling new advances in
the economy - namely the Internet - itself is not a bubble that
has burst; it is not going away, and it will continue to help improve
productivity and prosperity.
in the credit union world is mixed. People seem to be more conservative
in their purchasing and borrowing. On the other hand, there seems
to be an increasing flight to quality that could serve us well.
We cannot know
the future. But we should not fear the present. Instead we should
be looking for opportunities in the present climate for improving
our credit unions and our credit union system. We should be looking
beneath the hype about crashes and bubbles and try to understand
what is going on in our system and where we might make constructive
strides. The last thing we should be doing is resting on our laurels,
saying, “See, I told you so - it was all hype, and let’s
get back to doing business the way we know it.”
times have sparked several phenomena I have witnessed personally.
One is that the Internet continues to have a strong impact on operations.
Recently, at our credit union we posted a spring special on the
Internet in order to bring in savings from our members. Brokers
saw the posting online and, knowing what a good deal it was, notified
their clients and had them join the credit union. As a result, vast
amounts of money flowed in. Thus for little effort, the Internet
brought in a good deal of new money.
But the Internet
can have unsettling consequences as well. I have also perceived
among credit unions I’ve visited an uneasiness among employees
who wonder if there will be a place for them in an Internet-intensive
credit union. If they feel that there might not be, then they might
work against management’s efforts at making the credit union
Internet-efficient. I believe there is a place for each employee,
but if they themselves do not believe it, they may attempt to blunt
In these disquieting
times we have to recognize the undercurrents and work at solutions.
We have to work with employees to seize the future. They can make
their future, but they have to understand the present climate and
find their best course to constructive change.
The Internet has sparked yet another uncertainty, namely how people
are going to use it. All we can be sure of right now is that they
are not using it quite the way gurus were predicting two years ago.
There was a lot of talk then about researching a purchase online
and then making the purchase online - gurus were predicting a direct
line from desire to purchase. The reality is turning out to be more
complicated. People are tending to do research on the Internet but
backing off from buying online. Rather they are buying locally.
Thus it seems
that people are still struggling with how they are going to use
our economy’s new electronic infrastructure. They are still
“assembling their path” to purchases and services. We
don’t know where this is going to lead.
from Each Other
But we do know
this: all credit unions are struggling with these uncertainties,
and all are attempting their own solutions. Some, no doubt, are
faring better than others. What we should not be doing is struggling
blind and alone. There is far too much to be learned from the hard-knocks
and experiences of others. What we should be doing is sharing our
experiences. We can thus leapfrog over obstacles and all the more
quickly reach methods that will advance all of us.
Credit unions are sophisticated. But we need to make a giant leap
forward and stake out a new sophistication in credit unions that
far surpasses the average citizen’s notion of our capabilities.
We have to be united in going forward and really showing Americans
what we can do for them. Staying ahead of the curve, and showing
how sophisticated and helpful we can be will draw in people as never
Uncertain times? Yes. But opportunities? Undoubtedly. A better future?
Yes, but only if we find the means of working cooperatively and
for the good of average Americans. If we can, everyone wins.