The savings in paper and postage often outweighs the cost for the board portal software or technology required to make the switch to an electronic board environment.
► Greater ﬂexibility for meetings. Because the packet is on the portal and meetings are conducted via an online meeting system, board members can be actively involved even when not physically present. “It allows us to engage remote board members without [meeting in person] every month,” Schafer says.
► Improved compliance. Some credit unions have policies in place requiring board members to retain copies of board packets for a specific amount of time. A portal erases the storage issue that paper packets present.
“Copies of these documents have a set destruction time, so when that time is reached, we need to destroy them,” Schafer says. “Ensuring that level of compliance was awfully cumbersome because 10 individuals were gathering paper over a series of months and years.”
In addition, a portal provides the ability to protect the confidentiality of certain information by controlling who sees it.
► Upgraded information-sharing. Not only is it easier to provide board members with meeting information, it’s easier for third parties to share information with the board without having to assemble and ship paper packets.
“The board and the credit union need to set the example that there’s nothing to be gained by printing out board packets anymore,” Mogensen says.
With directors scattered across the globe, Alliant uses a voice conferencing system to allow board members to attend meetings remotely.
While remote attendance isn’t always quite as effective and the meeting dynamic changes somewhat, the option to attend meetings remotely works best for the credit union’s board, says Dave Mooney, Alliant’s president/CEO and board treasurer.
“Given the nature of our board and their schedules, that trade-off is worthwhile,” Mooney says. “We encourage our board members to attend in person when possible, particularly our twice-a-year, full-day planning meetings.”
While Purdue Federal’s boardroom offers video conferencing, most board members live in the area and attend meetings in person, Falk says.
Having board members in the same room provides the opportunity to see whether a board member understands a concept or someone’s stance on an issue—which is harder to determine for board members attending meetings remotely.
“If you don’t have a chance to read people’s facial expressions, you miss a lot,” Falk says. “You can tell pretty quickly if someone’s struggling with a concept or struggling with a response to a question. If they’re in the room you can feel it, you can see it in their face, and you can follow up.”
Attending meetings in person also allows board members and the management team to interact and establish camaraderie, Mogensen says.
“It allows you to have conversations and build relationships,” he says. “You don’t have that when you join the meetings via video conferencing.”
‘You have to be willing to go all in.’
Credit unions looking to shift their boards to a more technological environment should consider the following advice:
► Start slow. At Alliant, the rollout of an electronic board packet was a two-year process. “A more incremental approach will pay dividends so long as there’s an expectation that the end game is to be in a totally online or virtual environment,” Schafer says. Transitioning from a paper board packet to an electronic portal, he says, may mean changing board members’ lifelong habits.
► Identify a point person. Select an employee at the credit union who’s comfortable with technology to assemble the packets for the portal, set up the hardware needed for remote meetings, and troubleshoot problems.
“If you don’t have somebody who is willing and able to step into that role, you’re going to end up with a lot of board members and senior leadership sitting around a table in a board meeting not knowing what to do when something goes wrong,” Schafer says.
► Go all in. Making the transition to a paperless or remote board requires the board and senior leadership to be on the same page in terms of strategy.
“You have to be willing to go all in and say we’re not going to print the packet for half of you and have half of you use technology,” Falk says. “That’s a baby step, but it’s the kind of thing you do without having to invest in a huge system.”