When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic struck the nation, credit union boards sprang into action with their leadership teams, not only envisioning how to continue service to members but how the board would function in an era of social distancing.
“Our board of directors moved quickly to evaluate and take board action regarding the rapidly moving developments related to the COVID-19 outbreak to ensure the health and safety of our staff, membership, and communities,” says Tara Leer, board vice chair at $1.3 billion asset Potlatch No. 1 Financial Credit Union in Lewistown, Idaho.
But to make those decisions, boards needed to meet. With social distancing guidelines in place, in-person board meetings weren’t possible. Most boards have switched to virtual meetings, using video conferencing or conference calls to conduct board business.
Adopting virtual meetings involved not only making sure the technology was available and board members knew how to use it, but also that it was an option allowed by the credit union’s bylaws, Leer says.
“Although the board is equipped and knows how to use the technology, we have always been an in-person board as everyone lives relatively close to the credit union,” says Gary Chizmadia, board chair at $345 million asset Credit Union of New Jersey in Ewing and vice chair of CUNA’s Volunteer Leadership Committee. “A certain shift needs to happen to be effective in a virtual environment. The challenge will be to keep the same level of engagement virtually as we have in person.”
The COVID-19 crisis also means boards have had to re-evaluate their strategic plans and priorities in addition to the credit union’s financial health and forecasts.
“We are working with our CEO to develop new forecasts using several scenarios of varying degrees of severity—worst case, most likely case, and best case—in terms of loan losses, loss of revenue, liquidity, growth, and costs related to COVID-19,” Chizmadia says.
Boards are also discussing the future of the credit union beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Credit Union of New Jersey is exploring future service delivery models as forced remote service delivery may have created opportunities for new ways of doing business. Members who previously didn’t use remote services may now be more willing to use them, especially if the need for social distancing continues, Chizmadia says.
In addition to COVID-19, board members need to examine several emerging trends to get a picture of members’ needs and credit union challenges.
Rapidly changing digital products and services are resetting members’ expectations and making it essential for credit unions to “move at the speed of members” when introducing new products, says Jeff Rendel, president of Rising Above Enterprises.
Boards should acknowledge members’ experiences with services like Amazon Prime, which offers one-click convenience and next-day delivery—and how those experiences are raising expectations for all organizations.
Other key topics boards need to watch, Rendel says:
Partnerships can allow credit unions to reserve their resources for what they do best: deliver products and services to members.
Understanding what’s being forecast will lead to better board decisions, Leer says.
“Being well-versed in trends allows for the board’s engagement to transform beyond a rubber stamp,” says Leer, who serves on CUNA’s Volunteer Leadership Committee. “No matter how capable your executive team is, a range of external perspectives will help ensure the strategy is robust.”
Among Leer’s top concerns are applications for artificial intelligence, the development of future credit union leaders, and cybersecurity threats. She notes that protecting members’ data is the board’s legal, ethical, and fiduciary responsibility.
“Member loyalty and trust become eroded with cyber-related incidents,” Leer says. “There’s a strong reputation risk if members believe the credit union isn’t making every effort to protect members’ information and assets.”
Leer expects to gain more insights from a new think tank comprised of cross-generational management and staff charged with identifying fintech and “out-of-the-box” products the credit union could test-market with certain member groups or at specific branches.
“The better we’re able to recognize these trends, the more relevant we’ll remain in members’ lives,” she says.
NEXT: Beyond strategic planning