POST FALLS, Idaho (7/9/09)--Credit unions have managed through 20 recessions in their 100 years of existence and are flush with opportunities to help them through this one, an industry economist told a gathering of the Mountain Regional Credit Union Roundtable Wednesday.
“A down economy should be viewed as an opportunity, not an excuse," Dave Colby, chief economist at CUNA Mutual Group, told 100 attendees. "Credit unions possess so many strengths that can be leveraged in showing members the value they bring them. What we do now will define us going forward.” Colby advised focusing on existing members first. “Use uncertainty as an advantage. Many consumers have been hurt during the recession" and are looking for someone local, they can trust. "Credit unions’ key differentiators over at least the next couple of years will be trust and community.” From a lending standpoint, members are looking for guidance and credit with reasonable terms, Colby said. He advocated a number of ways to leverage those needs by re-writing consumer loans from other institutions, helping members identify great bargains on homes or vehicles and providing an alternative for members struggling with onerous terms from other lenders. “Another strategy to employ with existing members is to promote thrift as a debt alternative,” Colby added. “Some members need to learn how to save, while others are looking for asset preservation. Sell the benefits of saving – from achieving a dream through a down payment to the value of having rainy-day funds versus being forced into bad credit terms in an emergency.” Even existing members don’t know all their credit union can do for them, Colby said. “You have the financial expertise to benefit members. Provide things like financial literacy assistance, or simplify consumer finance through direct deposit or auto bill pay. Then, elevate your credit union’s status in the community by promoting member and employee successes.” Colby cautioned credit union leaders not to focus too much on the current challenges and ignore the future. “Don’t neglect strategic planning. You need to prepare now for the path you will pursue in serving your future membership. “By focusing on your members and their needs during difficult times, they will become your biggest ambassadors. They won’t forget who was there for them when the going was tough. Not only will they become more ‘sticky,’ you’ll find them to be the best marketing tool you could possibly have.”