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Coronavirus: How Your Credit Union Can Make A Difference [Video]

Update 4/3/20: More videos focused on CUs “Living Your Why” of the mission. Edits at end.

I have a lightsaber. Which automatically makes it awesome.

COVID-19! Coronavirus! Pandemic! Bear (and now back to bull) market!

Breathe. In a well-ventilated and cleaned area. Away from everyone else. Now wash your hands.

Whew. You’re exhausted from it all. I get it. We all get it. And yet, staying informed is essential.

For the safety of your staff, their families, and those of your members. What a burden to carry!

No wonder so many companies are implementing work-from-home policies. As someone who’s always lived that way, can I just say, “welcome to the club?”

Ok, there’s nothing I can share which you won’t find literally everywhere else, from your LinkedIn feed to every alert on your phone. Plus, I’m not a doctor. I’m not an expert in any aspect of public health. I just listen to those who are.

Get Latest Info Here

If you want up-to-date info on coronavirus, Ars Technica (my favorite news site) has a daily updated article you can reference at any time. They’re trustworthy and committed to details that matter.

So why am I even writing this post? And, even better question, why are you still reading? Thanks, by the way!

Serving When It’s Most Needed

Because I do know credit unions. At least, strategies to help them run at their best, which includes serving your members and community.

By now, your team has discussed the direct and immediate effects from the pandemic. You’re doing your best to keep the virus out of offices and branches. That’s an important first step. Perhaps you’re even thinking of ways to offer short-term personal loans to members.

It’s about “Living Your Why” of the CU Mission.

Programs to Help Members

Short-term loans are great. I recall during the most recent government shutdown, many credit unions offered 0% loans matching paychecks. Do it again. Or as close to 0% as able. What else? Well, let’s think. Every industry and field will be impacted.

As always, the poor and financially vulnerable will suffer the most. How can you extend a hand to help them today and prevent future challenges (the long-tail effects of the pandemic will be massive)?

Remember, most people live paycheck-to-paycheck. For many, that cycle will get interrupted. Which is bad for them and your loan repayments. This is a great time to bring out that skip-a-payment option. Also, if able, extend grace periods for delinquencies.

What about normal spending practices? Encourage top-of-wallet use by suspending debit card fees during the crisis period (or offer fee forgiveness). Just because you can’t work doesn’t mean your necessities get cheaper. Most people aren’t stockpiling toilet paper.

You may be canceling your in-person events, but that doesn’t mean members can’t still get the same great deals. Look to your car buying service in lieu of car sales. Make some videos to show how members can do most or all of their banking in your awesome app!

Most important, dive into your data. In the same way you identify “most likelies” for buying a car, opening a credit card, or applying for a mortgage, do the same for risk factors. See if you can find members at the highest risk from the economic effects. Then proactively offer your support with specific programs.

Ensure Business Continuity

I should mention, these policies may also extend to your own staff. Most likely, they’ll also miss work at some point. Are you equipped to let them work from home (when they feel well)? Stress test your main systems today to see what the minimum “skeleton crew” is for your institution.

It’s time to skip the events. The league gatherings can wait. Industry conferences are fun, but not when everyone’s terrified of coming within 6 feet of the poor chap allergic to pollen. Besides, you’re all on the email list, anyway.

Innovate in a Crisis

The companies which emerge from this outbreak the strongest will fall into one of a few categories:

  1. “Too big to get hurt” – What they do and offer is so widespread nothing can hurt them for long.
  2. “Government helped us out” – You just know some industries are going to get bailed out by taxpayers; think airlines and cruise ship operators. In the case of credit unions, it might be beneficial, as it could enable you to directly assist more people.
  3. “Necessity is the mother of invention” – When things got tough, you put on the old thinking cap and went to town. I’m sure the results of that brainstorming would be more impressive than anything I could write here.

Your lobbyists will be hard at work on #2. The section we care most about right now is #3. I know it sounds crazy, but my suggestion is to ask your members. Seriously, use your social media, website, and other channels to find out what’s worrying them the most.

I see it as a credit union-wide effort, with a single campaign unifying video posts from staff, members, and a landing page to bring it all together. On that page, share links to trusted sources, feature members and staff, update it daily, and present how you think you can help.

Then, ask them to share their thoughts and fears. From these responses, you’ll have a better picture on how to make a difference than any of us could solely through our Slack channels.

As an aside, I’m not the only one to come up with these exact ideas. PwC advised financial institutions on their coronavirus response. Basically, it’s a prettier version of this post.

We’ll Get Through This. Together.

Ok, not literally together. More like, “together in spirit and mission”. Your goals haven’t changed. And this is actually when credit unions can shine. You exist to provide a better choice for people in their financial lives. Here’s the time to step up.

This is when the leagues, national organizations, individual credit unions, and you, yes, you, must come together. I’m not the smartest person in the room. But I guarantee that you, in some specific way, are. So let your idea be heard!

You can bet the fintechs, Big Tech, and Big Banks are thinking of ways to profit from this outbreak. Maybe their motivations are good. Maybe they’re not. We can’t know. However, what gets attention and succeeds will have effects for years from now.

So grab your hand sanitizer, bales of toilet paper (really?), and start your quest to help your members…and change the world!

Update History

Update 3/31/20: That other video update was fine. This one is better. And in this post! It congratulates credit unions and their staff, as well as poses some challenges to create new opportunities in the future.

Update 3/27/20: I shared a video discussing how a return to normal simply won’t happen, but that you can implement “digital transformation” today to meet the new normal.

Making Change With Your Change

Unless you were in cryogenic storage on your way to Pandora, you’re likely aware of the Apple event held Tuesday (September 9).  Among the wonderful surprises they had for us was Pay (properly written as shown with the Apple logo…Mac users, that’s Option-Shift-K).

Tim Cook explained that their goal was to make the lowly leather wallet a thing of the past.  Pay is their first step in that direction (though I would say the iPhone began the journey, carrying photos, cards, and more, but, stay on topic here, Joe).  Is it as revolutionary as implied?


Apple is unique amongst technology companies.  They are rarely first to announce/release anything.  In fact, they are often last.  Music players?  Archos had decent-enough MP3 players long before the iPod.  Phones?  Palm, Microsoft, and RIM (Blackberry) made smartphones for years prior to the iPhone announcement.  Tablets?  You could buy a Windows tablet way back in the 90s.  Was it terrible?  Only if you wanted to use it like in Star Trek.

Waiting is a tough pill to swallow.  You’re watching potential market share pass you by, and shareholders see profits missed in every competitor’s sale.  But, if done strategically, it can make you great. More about waiting in the future.

Google has had a mobile payment system for a few years now, called Google Wallet.  It integrates with Android (and iOS) devices, and on certain phones, can support touch-to-pay at merchants using compatible terminals.  No credit cards to carry or swipe.

Sound familiar?

In principle, Pay is no different than efforts made before.  It imagines a future where we pay for things easily and securely by waving our phone (or wrist) in front of sensors or tapping a button on a website.  Money is transferred.  We get our coffee.  The universe is happy.

What makes their platform unique is scale, trust, and integration.  At launch, over 80% of cardholders will be supported by large banks and Navy Federal.  I’m certain the second line of launches is not far behind.  Where can you use the system?  Well, launching with over 200,000 places ready to go is nice.  Knowing every Whole Foods you enter will accept your phone to pay is reassuring.  Then there’s trust.  I won’t delve into what makes the system so secure, only the most visible: a fingerprint.  To pay, you “sign” by validating your fingerprint.  Can’t fake that one.  Finally, the concept is integrated into places both in the real world and online.  Sites/apps will have a “Buy with Pay” button, eliminating the need to enter your name, address, card number, expiration date, or anything.  Again, verify with a finger, and you’re done.

Does Apple make money from it?  Sure.  Does it make our lives just a bit easier?  Definitely.  I realized yesterday that Apple obsesses over the things we consider minor annoyances. What bothers you is a critical flaw for them.  Frustrated you left the light on in the living room before leaving for a trip?  Properly equipped, you can get a notice when your phone detects you’ve left the house, asking you if it should be turned off.  Did you leave the credit card you wanted to use for shopping at home?  That’s ok, you can just tap it in your phone.

Integration of our lives digitally is happening.  Claiming each improvement is only a small change with no revolutionary impact is being short-sighted.  Seldom do we realize we’re living a new chapter in the next generation’s history books.  This was another turn of the page (or screen, on the hovering-holo-e-book-reader).  If you’re not already preparing for this and what will evolve from it, you’re falling behind.

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