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Feast and Famine: The Historical Mission of the CU and Imperative of Relevance

There’s no doubt that the economy has served up a feast of growth, development, and productivity in recent years. At the tail end of 2019 experts were debating whether 2020 would be the year of the next recession or not. The popular opinion landed on the “probably not” and “if so, it won’t be much of one” end of the spectrum.

Now, experts are beginning to indicate that a recession is indeed on the horizon, possibly deeper than recessions of recent history (read here and here). Unemployment is projected to reach nearly 15%. Will the stimulus package keep the small businesses and abruptly unemployed consumers afloat for long enough, or will it be a helpful bump before a longer fall?

I certainly hope not. But, with daily new statistics streaming in on the status of COVID and the downstream impacts on our country and world, I anticipate that the picture will continue to become more bleak before the silver linings start to emerge.

A lot is happening, fast, and it’s hard to keep up with. My memory of a foundational conversation with a friend of mine is coming to the surface, a conversation that forged a lifelong passion for the CU movement. The summary of that conversation was that CU’s came into existence so when farmers in one region of a country (in this case Germany) experienced a famine, the resources of farmers from another region were mobilized to keep the famined farmers afloat until the following year of sowing and harvesting.

Cooperative. Shared risk and benefits. A very different model and focus than what I see predominating the financial services industry today.

I think we can all agree that today, as compared to yesterday’s economic trend, is different. We’re seeing famine encroaching and clouding the sunny days of feasting we’ve been accustomed to. I’ve been asking myself the question, inside and outside of work, “what am I, what are we, to do?”

It’s daunting. Will I be stuck in my house until the end of April? May? June?!? How should I support my credit union clients in devising and deploying solutions that safeguard their business continuity during times of social distancing and economic hardship?

I’d like to be wrong in my assessment. I’d like to think that, despite a bleaker picture rolling in, that the silver linings are already appearing. The historical mission of the CU gives me hope. What also gives me hope is that there is a clear analog between the crop sharing history of CUs’ origins and the technologically oriented, data forward FI. What will position the CU to stay afloat during this season of famine, and keep the small businesses, unemployed persons, and other folks hit by the bleak times ahead, is a data forward technology strategy that is relentlessly devoted to finding and sustaining relevance.

The kind of relevance that extends to members an automated portal to quickly schedule in branch, in person appointments during times of social distancing, and as an alternative to merely handling interactions through long lines in drive ups or just shutting the CU doors.

The kind of relevance that extends to members an automated portal to request loan extensions (need press release for Nutmeg) or short term loans because hardship fell upon them and they need some relief to get by.

The kind of relevance that extends to members the ability to pay each other through a P2P digital wallet to further alleviate financial distress, pay for goods or services exchanged, and so on, in a manner where the CORE retains the data and the costs for moving the money are minimal (as compared to other expensive, data-sapping P2P programs).

The kind of relevance that extends to small business owners the ability to distribute their own digital wallets, with rewards and order ahead programs, so they can enlist members of their local economy and reward them for cooperating with them during what are otherwise uncertain times.

The kind of relevance that blurs the conventionally black and white lines that distance home banking, mobile banking, ATM banking, and the like from the CU’s core, allowing the CU to extend core data and functionality to membership to ease their ability to manage their money via a consistent digital experience, despite the device and location.

The kind of relevance the blurs the line between the traditional FI and other vital, local services consumers rely on, like renewing your driver’s license with the DMV.

This kind of routine devotion to relevance, by way of a relentless directing of FI technology and member data toward the core, will be what keeps the modern FI afloat and buoy their local economies and consumers. It will capture, retain, and mobilize a surplus (surplus of data, money, resources, etc.) to be made available as support to neighbors experiencing famine.

Despite times of famine, the local CU survived and thrived in the past, and will survive and thrive today, by again becoming a central source of cooperative abundance. Reach out to us so we can chat about how to cultivate relevance during this time of famine.


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