Banking

3 lessons for credit unions to carry into 2021

A year ago, I was reflecting on 2019 and eagerly looking forward to 2020 with excitement and optimism. I thought about the lessons learned, and I had great expectations for opportunities in the new year.

And then, like everyone, less than three months into the year, all my expectations were blown out of the water. Everything we knew changed over the course of a few weeks.

By now, we’ve learned there is no playbook for times like these. But we’ve also all learned an incredible amount this year that I believe we can apply in 2021 and far beyond.

Here are my top learnings for the year. For me, every lesson is interrelated and reminds me that our strategy needs to be holistic.

1. People first

No matter what’s going on around us, our No. 1 focus must be on our people, starting with our own employees.

The principle of “people first” took many forms this year. For us, it meant more communication to a workforce that is managing stress and uncertainty, and changes in recruitment and hiring practices in a whole new world of work.

We’ve learned to pause often to take stock of all that is impacting our employees’ capacity and well-being. We’ve also learned the importance of adjusting accordingly to support them, whether through greater communication, flexible time off to recharge, or providing support mechanisms, such as engagement resource groups or the Employee Assistance Program.

The credit union movement is built on serving others; it’s who we are and what we do. In fact, we found that many of our employees were so diligent about caring for those they serve that we had to remind them of the importance of self-care.

Taking care of our employees first enables us to then pivot to ensure we are there for our customers and our communities when they need us the most. Care for your employees holistically, and they’ll be better prepared to serve others.

2. Standing for justice

We’ve been on our diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) journey here at CUNA Mutual Group for years, but 2020 has brought that work into even sharper focus.

After witnessing more violence against Black Americans, prejudice and oppression of marginalized communities and striking disparities in the impact of the pandemic, we – white leaders in particular – have had to pause, reflect, learn more and do better.

What’s the lesson to apply going forward? For me, it’s knowing DEI cannot be separate from our everyday work. It’s not a stand-alone initiative or something we can just check off a list.

It’s part of our DNA. It’s part of the principles we were founded on, and part of what will move us forward. DEI needs to be an intentional part of how we serve members, support our employees, develop new products and services, and how we shape this industry going forward.

We have a unique opportunity in the credit union space to serve more people who have been traditionally underserved and create a more just financial system. Don’t leave your DEI work on the shelf – make it present in all you do.

3. Agility and resilience

Finally, it became even clearer this year that we must lead with agility. Our founding principle of “people helping people” hasn’t changed, and it won’t change. But, as we have learned since this time last year, everything around us can shift drastically and in an instant. The only way we can fulfill our mission is to remain agile amid evolving circumstances and pivot our attention when needed.

Let me give you an example. Many times, before the pandemic, you could have heard me say, “Digital is the way of the future.” Within the course of a few days, that mantra changed to “Digital is the way of today.”

We had to accelerate our efforts quickly. But that couldn’t mean just layering this work on top of everything else that was planned – it meant clearing the way to focus on user-centric digital experiences

Since then, we’ve invested in digital through our partnerships with fintechs, digital solution design through our innovation center, acquisition of CuneXus and ForeverCar, improved digital accessibility for our employees and more. This will continue to be a focus for us for the foreseeable future.

By recognizing the needs of those we serve – including our employees – and keeping a pulse on how those needs change, our priorities become clearer. Agility and resilience are essential as we live through a pandemic, and they’re skills we need to continually hone and practice for today, tomorrow and into the future.

Our mission doesn’t change, but the way we get there looks different and will continue to evolve.

I could have never predicted the lessons we’d learn this year or the challenging circumstances in which we’d be taught. But, when looking ahead to a new year, I’m hopeful for a brighter future. And, as we apply the lessons learned, we will not just make it through, but we will come out stronger together.


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