Leading into the future

Credit union movement responds quickly to pandemic, social unrest, and economic chaos.

August 19, 2020

In March, CUNA had recently completed a record-breaking Governmental Affairs Conference with nearly 6,000 attendees advocating on behalf of credit unions.

Then came a global pandemic, social unrest, and economic chaos.

But the credit union movement responded quickly to the benefit of members and staff, says CUNA President/CEO Jim Nussle.

“We turned our attention quickly to advocacy to address not only the health crisis but the economic crisis facing consumers, small businesses, and communities across the country,” says Nussle, who participated on an Industry Leader Panel during CUNA Mutual Group’s Discovery 2020 Conference last week.

CUNA’s initial advocacy centered around the first stimulus package, Paycheck Protection Program loans, and securing a temporary exemption for member business loans, he says.

But legislators and policymakers also need to hear about the credit union difference and how credit unions are serving members during the pandemic.

“This will help us preserve our model,” Nussle says, “which is what we need to make the hairpin turn our economy, our health, and our country is on during the coming years.”

Panel participants stressed the need to take care of staff first.

“We told our employees, ‘get somewhere safe, take care of your family, and take a deep breath,’” says Bob Trunzo, president/CEO of CUNA Mutual Group and panel moderator. “Then we’ll talk about taking care of our customers.”

“We have to figure out how to put in new boundaries and implement new ways to operate in this environment so we don’t burn people out,” Nussle says. “We want them to be there to be able to serve the next member who needs our help.”

On May 25, the murder of George Floyd “broke us emotionally,” says Lucy Ito, president/CEO of the National Association of State Credit Union Supervisors. “We’re at a tipping point in the country in terms of awareness of racial inequities. We need to focus on social injustice against the Black community. I hope we address our racial challenges and that we also extend that empathy to other groups as well.”

“George Floyd’s murder rocked not only me to the core, it rocked the country and our world,” says NCUA Chairman Rodney Hood. “For me, as the first man of color to oversee a banking regulatory agency, it meant I need to say something and do something.”

This event, coupled with COVID-19, revealed and amplified many inequities around health and financial services among communities of color, he says.

“Financial inclusion is the civil rights issue of our generation,” Hood says. “We as a nation need to come together for healing, and a lot of healing can come about by calling on credit unions to be part of the solution.”

Also, “pale white guys” need to take a stand, Nussle says. “It’s time to say, ‘enough is enough.’ But we also need to walk the walk. It starts with boards thinking about this with succession planning, and choosing the executives and middle management of the future.

“We have to work on diversity in the way we hire, the way we promote, and the way we lead our credit union industry into the future.”