FOCUSREPORT/Leadership in 2021
In 2020, COVID- 19 presented a significant challenge to de- livering essential financial services to people in a widevariety of, and often volatile, economic positions. Credit unionsacross the United States answeredthat call, and by relying on theirstrengths, they were able to keeptheir focus on the member. Demonstrating a remarkable ability tostay flexible and nimble, creditunions put their communicationskills, policies and disaster plansto the test. Being agile and makingon-the-fly changes to core operating principles and processes allowed credit unions to succeed,and even grow, during times whenthe large national banks struggledto serve the most in-need members and communities.
The ability to keep doors open
both figuratively, and at times liter-
ally, is a testament to the respon-
siveness and sound decision mak-
ing of agile leaders in the credit
union space. Leaders who made
a habit of embracing innovation,
data-driven decision making and
digital transformation have paved
clear pathways to success for others
to follow. By embracing more effi-
cient decision-making protocols
and testing new tech-
nologies, credit union
leaders have become
pioneers – pioneers
who have been able to
brush off dusty repu-
tations of conserva-
tism, reluctance and
gies when it came to
zation of information
and federated deci-
sion making. As the
hope for more reliable
operating conditions is brightened
by the arrival of a vaccine, the next
question becomes: Can this new
agile mentality survive the return
Credit unions are uniquely po-
sitioned to be at the top of their
members’ wallets and long-term
financial plans in 2021 and be-
yond. To make the move to top-of-
mind for the average card holder
and continue to take wallet share
away from their competition (the
big national banks), credit unions
must take one step past the abil-
ity to deliver on their promises of
better service. They must leverage
technology and data to minimize
friction and effortless-
ly deliver the right ser-
vices at the right time.
Credit unions quietlymade up ground inmost deposit as wellas some lending categories during the firsthalf of 2020 thanks tourgent calls to actionby credit union leaders during the pandemic. To continuethis growth and trajectory once the U.S.
economic outlook stabilizes, credit union leaders shouldseek to permanently adopt theagile-centric strategies and renewtheir commitment to technologyand innovation post-COVID.
The commitment to being agile,however, does not come withoutnotable challenges. The five keychallenges a credit union leaderwill face in the march toward agility and modernization are regulation, technology, data, talent andexecution.
Regulation, and existing poli-
cies, present the first series of chal-
lenges for leaders looking to stay
agile in 2021 and beyond. The big-
gest hurdle to staying agile amid
regulation is ensuring systems
and data management policies
are compliant with all changes.
Upgrading systems in response toregulatory obligations can be evenmore intensive than implementingnew internal policies in response tothe same shifts in regulation. Comprehensive data governance andmaster data management strategies, while resource-intensive, arethe most effective tools for mitigating risk from regulation changes asit pertains to managing technologyin an agile organization.
Technology “must-haves” and
priorities may also look very dif-
ferent than the status quo for any
institution embracing agility and
modernization. A diverse offering
of cloud-based solutions that pri-
oritize efficiency, data quality, se-
curity and integration capabilities
tend to win out for more agile orga-
nizations versus more dedicated,
single-use or specialized on-prem-
ise solutions. System integration
can be especially difficult within
outdated systems, where data for-
matting and delivery methods can
be extremely rigid. Data, and most
importantly widespread access to
clean data, is one of the most vital
components of remaining agile
and keeping risk exposure low. Of-
ten referred to as a “single source of
truth,” clean data is much easier to
manage. Clean data breaks down
silos, improves communication
and ultimately results in an in-
creased capacity to service a mem-
ber’s needs on first contact.
Talent, from both a skillset andculture point-of-view, is also apoint of consideration for creditunion leaders who have begun tocraft visions of a more agile andmember-focused organization.Credit unions that often tend tostaff lean do not have to be at a disadvantage when it comes to finding the right talent to run an agileand technology-driven organization. They should focus on optingfor technology platforms with themost intuitive user interfaces, anddata governance and managementpractices that can support fewersystems. This approach will allow acredit union to hire staff who excelin member service instead of narrow or more specific technologydisciplines. A focus on people withpeople skills and a passion for service will help the credit union overcome the next major challenge,which is execution.
Execution, which looks like acontinual improvement of member service, can only be done withthe right people and technology inplace. The barriers to being agileare the same barriers to exceptional member service: Process frictionand disjointed systems, communication efficacy, and alignmentof strategy and resources acrossthe institution. Prioritizing peoplewho prioritize the member will result in the ability to carry forwardall the lessons learned in 2020 into2021. A successful organization isnot agile for agile’s sake – a creditunion must strive to be agile forthe express purpose of serving themember.
COVID taught credit unionsmany important lessons in 2020.The institutions that will be successful post-pandemic will be theones that carry forward the commitment to serving their membersthrough innovation, clean data,agility and a continual push forprogress. n
Can Agility Survive Post-COVID?
Timothy “Buck”StrasserFounderClear CoreTucson, Ariz.