Member value: We're listening

Member value: We're listening

Jim Nussle discusses credit union response to pandemic in Q&A.

August 10, 2020

As the country continues to grapple with the health and economic effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, credit unions have been working diligently to balance the financial well-being of their members with the safety of their staff. Credit Union Magazine recently sat down with CUNA President/CEO Jim Nussle to discuss how feedback from credit union leaders has shaped CUNA’s response to the pandemic, and how the association has shifted its service to meet the needs of credit unions in this unique and challenging moment.

Credit Union Magazine: How has your day-to-day role changed because of COVID-19?

Jim Nussle: Well, like most people the abrupt stop to work as we knew it was a shock. You know, I’m used to talking to people face-to-face most of the day. The CUNA Washington office is open concept and I’m in a cube like the rest of the staff, and we freely meet informally to exchange thoughts and collaborate on work. And I’m also generally on the road a lot of the time, meeting with credit unions and Leagues and doing a lot of speaking engagements.

So, it’s been very different to just be at my home office day in, day out. But I’ll tell you, I talk to folks all day long — just virtually or on the phone. In that regard, I’ve been more plugged in than ever before and I’ve had more one-off conversations with credit union CEOs, our regulators, and other stakeholders than I would have in “normal” times.

Q: What are you hearing from credit unions right now?

A: There’s so much that I’m grateful for in the credit union movement, but one aspect is the honest, open, important conversations that everyone is willing to have to ensure that we’re working together to do the right thing for credit union members. So, the first thing I’m hearing is: we. There’s a clear commitment to "we" as a movement. What are we going to do? How do we fix this? How are we doing? I haven’t had a single conversation with a CEO where he or she said, "No thanks, my credit union is fine on our own."

As the leader at CUNA, that’s incredibly motivating to know that our members want to work with us and with each other. So, we’ve ramped up our efforts to facilitate more connections in our communities, via regular calls, and throughout our communications channels. I hear over and over again that folks need resources and guidance, and it’s our job at CUNA and the Leagues to respond to the call and provide help. That’s how our COVID-19 Resource Center was born as well as a number of different member benefit eSchools on COVID-19, DEI, and other pressing issues, and why we convened up the CUNA/League COVID-19 Restart and Recovery Task Force.

And that feedback has shifted how we’re supporting credit unions of all sizes. Just this week, we launched a free webinar series that focuses on the needs that small credit unions face in meeting keeping their communities resilient in times like these. There’s no shortage of content, either—there's already content planned clear into Q2 of 2021!

All that’s really to say that this has been a collaborative process, and our team is working hard to support credit unions as they support folks all across the country who are facing their own individual effects of this pandemic.

Q: Has anything surprised you about how credit unions responded to COVID-19 and the economic fallout?

A: I’m not surprised by the credit union response. I believe in this movement and I know that when we say we’re "people helping people" we really mean it. I will say, when I step back and try to quantify all the conversations I’ve had with different folks across our movement, learning about their individual responses, it’s a pretty stunning tally the number of people credit unions have assisted in this moment.

I’m truly humbled by the dedication to mission and values that we all saw from our essential financial first responders—those that staffed our branches to continue serving members. I don’t think any loan officer or teller ever expected to be put into a position where they would need to work through a global pandemic, but it’s clear to me that so many responded with bravery and dedication to get these essential jobs done. Then, on top of that, I’ve heard so many examples of how credit union staff went above and beyond to especially help those impacted by the financial fallout of COVID-19. Emergency loans, waived fees, SBA PPP Loan support—you name it, a credit union did it. To make sure that more people recognize the meaningful, tireless work credit unions are putting in, we re-launched to get that word out there. So, I’m not surprised, but I’m very proud.

Q: You’ve been outspoken on anti-racism and social justice. Why?

A: This is difficult. A better question may be why haven’t I been more outspoken before all the headlines and social media focus on systemic racism in this country? The fact is, as a white man with a certain economic and social standing, I didn’t have to confront these issues. It’s easy to be oblivious or to push something away when it’s not directly affecting you.

I’ve learned over time that my silence is hurtful. I’ve had so many conversations, both personally and professionally, that have made it clear to me that racism and injustice is my problem as much as anyone else’s problem.

I also believe that the credit union movement has a real role to play in building positive change. We support the financial well-being of millions of Americans and I think to fulfill that mission we should be vocal and take action to break down the barriers that unfairly hold some of our members back. This is all the more important at a moment when we’re seeing the outsized health and economic effects this pandemic is having on Black and brown communities.

Q: What’s top of your mind for the rest of 2020?

A: I don’t want to make any predictions for the second half of 2020. If there’s one thing we’ve all learned this year, it’s that we can’t predict the future. What I’m focused on for the rest of the year is continuing my dialogue with Leagues and credit unions. I’ve had the great privilege to join many League-organized calls to talk to credit unions in specific parts of the country. I’ve also participated and listened to credit unions through our regular CUNA/League advocacy calls and a number of other formats like going live on Twitter and encouraging direct engagement with CEOs that have any feedback or concerns. All told, I can safely say I’ve connected on calls with well over 3,400 credit union leaders.

We all know this pandemic isn’t going away easily or soon. That goes for our economic challenges too. We’re going to need to fight these challenges together, and my focus for the rest of the year will be to continue to engage with credit unions to listen, learn, and respond to credit unions’ needs as they deliver on their mission to their members.