Consumers are anxious. Credit unions can be a calming force.

Credit unions recognized long ago that close, trusted relationships are critical to long-term success. Those strong connections and high levels of trust have never been more important, because your members are struggling.

The Labor Department reported in early October that 2.4 million Americans are out of work and projects that nearly 5 million people are approaching long-term joblessness over the next two months. Small businesses are also experiencing difficulty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with nearly a quarter of all small businesses remaining closed since the lock downs in March.

And it’s not just the global pandemic and poor economy. Our country is also experiencing political unrest and racial injustice issues. All of this has resulted in unprecedented levels of anxiety, stress and uncertainty.

Now is the time to maintain, strengthen and deepen member relationships. Not only is it the right thing to do as a trusted financial partner; it also will help build the type of relationship that directly translates into a distinct competitive advantage for long-term success. Proactive and empathetic communication, along with clear values alignment provide the strategic foundation needed to continue building that trust — especially now.

Credit unions can leverage the power of communication to lead members through the uncertainty and confusion of this time. The key role of strategic communication during any type of crisis is to provide stability and inspire confidence by creating a meaningful connection between organizations and their stakeholders. Organizations that share authentic, transparent and consistent messages are more likely to gain trust, maintain their brand perception and retain loyal members, employees and partners.

The sustained and growing nature of crises in 2020 make it critical to stay in close contact and communication with your customers. Take the time to listen and learn about how these issues are changing members’ lives, finances and expectations.

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that that one-in-four adults have had trouble paying their bills since the coronavirus outbreak started, a third have dipped into savings or retirement accounts to make ends meet, and about one-in-six have borrowed money from friends or family or gotten food from a food bank.

So if it’s been a few months since you last connected, take the time to reach out to your members to understand their experiences and how they’re feeling about their personal and financial circumstances. The wave of the pandemic will impact each member in different ways and at different times.

Listen to their needs and challenges, and demonstrate empathy and understanding. Address concerns with practical, helpful advice and answer questions patiently and clearly. Proactively communicating, listening and helping solve problems when times are hardest builds trust and rapport with members, who will remember you when times are better again. Offer to be a resource and sounding board for their ongoing financial needs.

It’s no secret that competition in the financial market is tight, especially from online providers. While helping customers make smart financial decisions may be a more universal offering, it’s the connection to integrity and values that will continue setting you and your institution apart.

Remember that many of your members joined your credit union because of shared purpose and values — whether it’s the community, industry, ethics or something else. Keep finding opportunities to connect with members around those shared values and your credit union’s mission or purpose. People want to do business with partners they trust and those expectations continue to rise. Invest in the trust you’ve already built. Act with clarity, transparency and accountability and keep providing a consistent, high-level customer experience.

This year has compelled credit union leaders to work differently, think in new ways and creatively solve challenges. It has shown us that a crisis can quickly and dramatically shift the environment in which we operate — and also quickly and dramatically impact customer’s financial realities.

The best leaders don’t allow crises to define them. They effectively communicate, make genuine connections and serve their customers in a way that continually earns trust. Credit unions have a unique opportunity right now to listen, learn, innovate — and communicate — to ensure they emerge strong and ready to serve a changed marketplace.

And leaning into and elevating the trusted member relationships already at the heart of credit unions is the key to that success.

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