Rebuild for 2021

Rebuild for 2021

‘If you’re going through hell, keep going.’

November 19, 2020

First, we had the pandemic. Then social unrest. Then murder hornets. And as I write, wildfires.

Basically, we are at the point most of us would like to curl up in a warm bed and set the alarm for “2021.”

That seems suitable to my two cats and three dogs but not to my wife who seems to think having her husband home every day is a bad thing. So let’s focus on rebuilding. What to rebuild, when to start, how to go about it, and, above all, why it should be our focus.

We’ll start with the easy part.


Whether you saw wildfires take out homes in your community, social injustice separate neighbors, or COVID-19 ruin families, we have been through a series of natural (and unnatural) disasters. It’s like being in our own season of “Black Mirror.”

Like all setbacks, we need to get past them. As Winston Churchill is purported to have said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

While we all want to return to “normal,” it won’t happen unless we act. To paraphrase the second law of thermodynamics, life becomes more chaotic naturally, and only by injecting action and energy into a system can you make it less disordered.

While I doubt the creators of this physical law thought much about credit unions, the analogy works. Simply put, things will not get better on their own. We need to work on it.


This is the hardest part. Most of us are flush with cash and our inclination is to lend it out. But we all know cash can disappear faster than a teenager when there is work to do. Plus, finding qualified borrowers is challenging, too. The economy is so fractured it is hard to predict where members are financially.

Are their jobs coming back? Will they find something else? Did we really need to buy so many Costco paper products?

This is where taking some risk comes in. Credit unions have the ability to understand members and what they are capable of.

We need to factor in that, not their current FICO score. What have they proven to do?


Many want to wait until life calms down. I hate to break this to you, but 2020 is like being in a kindergarten class full of kids who have consumed Pop-Tarts and Red Bull for three hours. We need to deal with the hand we are given. I don’t think naptime will happen until late 2021.

So, start now. Go slow but start. Rolling Stones gather no moss, but they somehow manage to do concerts when they are 100 years old. Get the ball going. Now.


This situation is unlike any other. The economic issues created due to COVID-19 were not the normal gradual reduction in the economy.

Rather, the decline was sudden and inexplicable, not unlike our sudden penchant for staying home and moping about the pandemic while simultaneously eating enough food to become a nation of sumo wrestlers. Certain industries and groups were ravaged while others have gotten away (thus far) with relatively little damage.

To help, you first need to know who was impacted, who wasn’t, and, most importantly, who may be. You can start first with businesses that received Paycheck Protection Program loans, people who began collecting unemployment, and other triggers. These are the people we most need to help.

There also are opportunities. Rapid change in the economy elevated some businesses and occupations to be critical and growing. These people also need you, albeit for a different reason.

We can’t wait for 2021. At least I can’t. The dogs are tired of walks.

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

This article appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Credit Union Magazine. Subscribe here.