Despite the coronavirus pandemic, credit unions forged ahead with rebranding efforts, charter changes, lending initiatives, and branch openings. At the same time, credit unions changed how they serve members, increasing their digital offerings or conducting business via the drive-thru instead of in branches.
Likewise, board members adjusted how they govern.
“We’ve had a busy year,” says Kent Wipf, senior marketing specialist at $1.6 billion asset Hiway Credit Union in St. Paul, Minn. “Our board remained very active during the pandemic.”
Just as members had to adapt to using a mobile phone app to deposit checks or signing loan documents at a drive-thru window, board members and management had to transition to new ways of ensuring the credit union could safely meet members’ financial needs.
Boards met virtually, and many managers adjusted to a largely remote workforce. “You’re on mute” and “You’ve frozen up” became part of the language of getting things done.
“Leading and managing remotely requires a different skill set than the traditional in-person environment,” says Gary Chizmadia, board chair at $421 million asset Credit Union of New Jersey in Ewing. “It’s critical to find effective ways to maintain relationships via a computer screen.”
While boards had to navigate the initial bumps as they learned new technologies and processes that enabled them to meet remotely, they adapted quickly and understood why this needed to be done.
“The board remained pretty well engaged throughout our virtual experience,” says Debie Keesee, CEO of $14.6 million asset Spokane (Wash.) Media Federal Credit Union. “There didn’t seem to be any aversion to participation via Zoom.”
Leading a small credit union with no information technology (IT) staff, Keesee says board members had to adopt a “learn as you go” attitude when technology problems arose. “Not being able to assist [board members] personally was tough,” she says. “You can’t teach if you can’t reach. With our lobby open, we’re now able to help in person, and that has mitigated the issue.”
Although meeting virtually was challenging at first, as people grew accustomed to using video conferencing technology, board members could have strategic discussions, says Patrick McGinnis, Hiway’s board chair.
To ensure participation from all directors, McGinnis mandated feedback by requesting comments from everyone and by using strategic pauses.
“It became easier as everyone became more familiar with the technology and used more features, such as chat and ‘raise hand,’” he says.
At Credit Union of New Jersey, Chizmadia called on each board member to speak on issues and sought to prevent directors from talking over each other.
NEXT: Lessons learned