Putting it mildly, 2020 was one year, unlike any other. But it is well known that if you have the right leadership team at the helm, difficult times can provide a stiff wind that can give that team the wings to soar. Such is the case with the leadership team at Genisys Credit Union. Led by president and CEO Jackie Buchanan, the COVID-19 experience helped to give them a new meaning and purpose.
The challenges that came knocking gave the president/CEO and her leadership team the vision to see several silver linings for Genisys Credit Union and its’ 32 branches.
One of the first challenges they had to deal with was the task of building communication and culture within their organization due to the obstacles COVID-19 presented.
Immediately the leadership team began meeting in mid-February to discuss the ramifications of the pandemic. Their first communication to the full team went out via e-mail in late February. When they realized in mid-March, the way they would be doing business would change, and employees would need to be sent home to work, they tried hard to make it an orderly transition. They did their best to communicate the many steps it would take to get there.
Buchanan stated, “When things were somewhat settled and people were working in their “new normal”, we provided at least weekly communications regarding PPE, what we were doing to protect the branch employees, how we were helping our members, how we were helping the community, and what all areas of the credit union were going through, so people weren’t left wondering. I personally communicated with the full team often, either by group or individual phone calls, video meetings, e-mails to the full team, video, and later on, personal visits to the branches, which I am still doing often. “
She went on to say that, “Communication is key to keeping the culture together, but I also understand that no matter how hard we try, not everyone will feel we communicated enough, and some will feel we communicated too much. It’s a balancing act for sure, but we are trying to err on the side of too much communication. We are also fully aware that our culture will continue to evolve throughout this pandemic, and we are doing our best to ensure it remains a positive one, where everyone feels they belong, and where they feel comfortable, valued, and safe.”
Like most organizations, their eyes were opened to remote working and they learned that for the most part, their teams could be productive, and, in some cases, even more productive than while in the office.
Buchanan said that, “In general, one major positive of this entire situation is that we learned we can be extremely agile and we can move quickly when we need to. We hope to see this sense of urgency continue long after COVID-19 is gone.” She added, “We’ve also been able to help thousands of members refinance their mortgages into lower rates, which has not only increased our non-interest income, but has also helped grow our membership and brought brand awareness to Genisys.”
Another positive thing the Genisys leadership team discovered was that members who traditionally avoided their remote channels needed to learn how to use them, while their branches were moved to “by appointment only”, and many of those members are continuing to use these channels, even though the branches have fully reopened again.
Buchanan reported that, “We saw channels like mobile banking, remote deposit, electronic signature and online account opening increase about 50%. This is a great thing for our members, as it saves them valuable time and keeps them from needing to come into contact with people during this time. The slightly reduced traffic in the branches has also given our team the opportunity to learn new things and spend more time looking for additional opportunities to help our members. The team is also excited to be enhancing their skill sets, as they are better positioned to move up in the organization when those opportunities arise.”
The president/CEO went on to say that, “another positive outcome of COVID-19 was, in some cases, their support teams were able to catch up on or work on projects that we’ve always wanted to do, but couldn’t make the time for. One pretty large effort was to take advantage of the many tools that come with Google Suite and to build a new Intranet with a fresh products & services section, new online training tools, new communication methods and the like.”
Genisys Credit Union processed hundreds of PPP loans for their existing and new members. From a business growth standpoint, it was an opportunity to gain new business members and show them that credit unions can be more agile than the larger banks. Members who waited for weeks to hear from their banks were able to get their PPP loan from Genisys within hours. That kind of nimble action no doubt served as an excellent example of goodwill for the community.
However, there are no silver linings without challenges. Buchanan went on to say that COVID-19 brought many challenges, but nothing they couldn’t overcome. She underscored the fact that her team had been extremely resilient and had worked very hard to serve their members well and keep Genisys strong.
But, at the time of this writing this special report, it is a waiting game to see if the economy will improve and when everyone will go back to work. They are planning for the worst and continue to set aside dollars for potential loan losses.
Buchanan stated that, “There are also potential long-term effects on team culture when an organization has a workforce where some work from home and some still need to be onsite and/or working with the public; especially when such a new concept is implemented as quickly as we needed to do it. It was extremely important that every team member know the value they bring to the organization, how important what they do is, and how they are making a difference in our members’ lives. That said, we are always concerned about our employees’ physical and mental well-being. We are providing the team with resources to help support their many needs, such as mental, physical, work-related and the like.”
Like many other businesses and organizations that have served the public during COVID-19, Genisys encountered ongoing resistance to mask-wearing coming from some of its’ members. The president/CEO stated that it has been unfortunate that her team has had to deal with these situations, but she reiterated the fact that they are at zero tolerance for this and continue to support their team 100%.
As with most credit unions, when it came to the overall decline in net interest margin, it was a concern as they put new loans on the balance sheet at lower rates. Genisys also reported that it has seen a spike in attempted fraud as card usage increases and as people find more ways to take advantage of people through various systems. One example of this is the massive unemployment fraud that is taking place.
Buchanan reported that “Genisys is best known for what we do in our communities, and we typically volunteer or in some way support over 900 events a year. This year has been extremely challenging to do this, as events have been cancelled or moved to virtual venues. We have transitioned well for the organizations we support, but our team is more than ready to get back out there to volunteer, help our community, and team build.”
In the months to come, Buchanan feels that their communication will continue to evolve and they will do what is necessary to ensure every remote employee has the ability to be on camera during meetings. She and her leadership team feel being able to see everyone is extremely important. Their leadership team continues to touch base on a daily basis, with one-on-one meetings with their teams. Their senior leadership team is attending branch and support team meetings often.
She says,” Many times we go in with no agenda and are just there to listen and answer questions they may have. We are keeping the team apprised of our financial situation, as well as what we are doing in our communities and for our members via e-mail and webcasts.”
Buchanan, states, as for culture, they are always looking for ways to keep the team together and provide them the resources they need. They are currently using on-demand exercise classes that they provide to them, during the winter months, where some of their team may be less active. She said that, “It is also very important that we make sure each and every one of them knows the important role they and their peers play in the organization. Lastly, we are trying to keep many things the same, such as ensuring we are recognizing those that go above and beyond, and those that reach and exceed their goals.
As they look toward the next 12-24 months, and the impact COVID-19 will have on their 32 branches, Buchanan and her team remain positive that they will be able to continue to make a positive impact.
She cautiously adds that, “We were hoping to be able to bring our support teams back and then roll out a formal “flexible work arrangement” soon, but since cases have been ramping up, we have been sending more people home again. We are being very watchful and mindful of the impact having 40% of our team at home is having on the team at large. Many who are working from home want to come back to the office, many want to work from home forever, some haven’t been able to, and will never be able to work from home, and some are simply not productive at home. This has been and continues to be among the most challenging issues we are dealing with, but we have a great team and we remain optimistic that our culture will not only outlast this pandemic, but it will be even better in the long run.”
Tom Borg is a business consultant who works credit unions at the intersection of leadership, communication and culture. To ask him a question please call (734) 404-5909 or email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at: www.tomborgconsulting.com. Tom Borg © All Rights Reserved