Northwest Credit Union Leaders Share Lessons Learned in 2020

As credit unions reflect on the various obstacles and accomplishments of 2020, their leadership teams are positioning their technology and staff to transform challenge into opportunity in 2021. recently 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.

Below, three Northwest credit union CEOs weigh in.

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

Jim McCarthy, Trailhead Federal Credit Union, Portland: 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.

Paul Baudin, Express Credit Union, Seattle: One of the biggest lessons we learned was how resilient our team and our membership is. We learned we can be flexible and adapt to evolving situations in a short period of time. The year taught us the importance of handling each member request with empathy because that’s what people need during times of isolation and financial uncertainty.

Jim Morrell, Peninsula Credit Union, Shelton, Washington: Flexibility enabled us to better serve our members, and pivoting to a work-from-home environment and limiting branch access considerably deepened the remote service tools we use to support members. The adaptability of own team plus the cooperation among cooperatives — locally and regionally as credit unions shared many best practices and ideas — helped us improve our member service, too.

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

McCarthy: 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.

Baudin: Express serves some of the people in our community most negatively impacted by the pandemic. 2021 is our moment as a CDFI to step up and provide creative solutions to fit their needs. One of the biggest opportunities for us is connecting with those who need our services but don’t know places like Express exist. We will work closely with our community partners to reach their clients with financial education and access to affordable, equitable financial services. Our job is to help our members recover and improve their financial situation — a multiyear effort.

Morrell: A full online and mobile banking conversion took place in November 2020. We now have a huge opportunity to support our members through new digital tools to track credit scores, build budgets, and help provide financial education remotely.

Consumer trends are the wind behind these new digital banking sails we just put in place. Furthermore, we have deployed digital wallets and will be implementing contactless cards during the next six months.

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

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

Baudin: I want to be able to say Express was consistently reliable for our members and we were an anchor for them to get through a tough year of recovery, that we went above and beyond the goals we set to serve our members, and that we reached communities and people who would’ve gone unbanked had it not been for Express.

Morrell: I hope to be able to say our members and the credit union are faring better than the unemployment, interest rate, and recessionary impacts predicted. And the credit union is a much stronger organization, with financial results stronger than plan, that’s even better able to serve members.

Editor’s Note: This article appeared originally on Click here to read the full three-part series.

Posted in Around the NW.