Stronger together

Stronger together

A common enemy, this one microscopic, has united us.

May 20, 2020

Humor is in short supply today. Not in as short of supply as toilet paper at Costco mind you, but short.

Like many other credit unions, O Bee Credit Union had to do something we’d never done before due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. We decided to close our branches (except for drive-thru lanes) and send as many staff home as practical.

Employees are scared. Board members are scared and, of course, members are, too. But we are a vital part of many people’s worlds, and members still need access to their money. So on we go.

As they say, never waste a crisis. Learn from it.

Eventually we will get out of this mode and onto more normal pursuits, such as debating the merits of a pandemic policy we didn’t think we’d ever use.

But I see a great deal of change this event will have on our country, the financial system, and credit unions everywhere. Some of those changes:

We need to think differently. While we can say this was a “black swan” event, people have been warning about a global pandemic for years. Remember SARS? MERS?

For some reason we let unlikely but catastrophic events fade from our worry list. In hindsight we could have handled things much better and created less stress and worry on everyone.

This isn’t a failure of planning, but of prioritization. We need to think differently so we act differently.

Electronic services will dominate the future. When it comes to delivery channels, members didn’t choose brick and mortar over electronic services, they asked for both.

Some members quickly adapted to technology while others complained to whomever would answer their landline about the “good old days.”

That’s over. We will have a generation of members who hated technology but now need to use those tools.

But one thing is for sure: the time when members could choose legacy over technology is rapidly ending. Bringing them forward will be our quest.

We think logically but behave emotionally. Humans, we’ve seen, do not do well under stress. By this time, we’ve all seen the run on gloves, bread, hand sanitizer, and, the one that gets me, enough toilet paper to keep us all happy until 2050.

Social media is not your friend in a crisis. As Winston Churchill said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

In today’s world, “A lie gets all the way around the world, 496 reposts, and 20,000 likes before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

As hard as fighting the virus is, the spread of misinformation is just as damaging.

We’re much stronger together than apart. A common enemy, this one microscopic, brought us together.

From regulators to legislators, a common enemy was all we needed for all sides to decide to do the right thing—not the easy thing. While this feeling will eventually fade, I will remember that we all shared a foxhole in this battle.

For all of the readers out there, keep your heads up. Like almost everything, this will eventually pass.

We’ll look back, take stock of our mistakes, our losses, and our successes, and move on.

I just hope those days are soon.

JAMES COLLINS is president/CEO of O Bee Credit Union, Tumwater, Wash.

This article appeared in the summer issue of Credit Union Magazine. Interested in subscribing? Visit