In the course of a normal workweek, I end up communicating with several folks at credit unions-most of who are in a managerial or leadership position within their organizations. Recently, I've been checking in with many of them who placed projects on the back burner last fall or early this year because of the uncertainty of our economy. In many ways this was a very appropriate reaction. There's uncertainty. We need to batten down the hatches and ride this thing out.
I must admit, though, the current perspective of a good portion of these folks is somewhat surprising when it comes to implementing new technology to improve operations or increase member services. In general, the response is something like, "It's been a tough year. We've closed a couple of branches, loan volume is down, collections are up, and I've had to reduce staff to trim our expenses. We just are not going to be able to look at any of these projects until business picks up."
Are we missing the boat?
Now is the perfect time to analyze your in-house operations and incorporate new processes or workflows complemented by new technology to become a more effective and valued financial institution for your members in the long run when the economy finally does turnaround. You don't want to be reassessing this stuff during the upturn. You want to be fully prepared ready to hit the ground running when the time is right. Now is the time to be proactive.
Fewer people can accomplish more-if they have better tools. Yes, you've had to reduce staffing to a point that you can afford while still keeping the boat afloat. In some situations there is less volume or activity, so you really do need fewer staff. In other situations, just having less business doesn't mean there are fewer things to do. The point is that you now have fewer people doing the work that more used to do-and they can only keep up if you give them better tools to do the job more efficiently.
It's easier to implement projects while things are a bit slower. This is one of those dual-edged sword phenomena. In boom times the mantra is, "We can't afford to spend the time to implement that project," while in tough times the mantra is, "We can't afford to spend the time to implement that project." The fact of the matter is that it will be much easier to implement a project now when times are a bit slow than it is later while you are trying to ramp up. Not only that, you'll get a better implementation because staff can afford to pay more attention to details now than they will a year from now.
As business returns you want to be more effective on the way up. Oddly enough, operational problems are usually discovered and addressed at the very height of frenzy. If you think about it, however, right now you have the opportunity to retool and refine operations while you are lean and mean. And putting in place the right tools can help you keep that operational effectiveness as your organization grows again. When you get to the top of the curve this time. you will be better prepared, and it will take fewer resources to do the same amount of work it did the last time.
You know our big-budgeted banking friends are doing all they can to get ahead. Why shouldn't credit unions also use this time wisely? Now is not the time to become complacent and disappear. Now is the time to take an honest assessment at what's working and what's not working and make the appropriate adjustments for better operations and better service. Again, be proactive. It will pay off in the long run.
So, what do you think? Should we head out to the machine shed and get the equipment all greased up and ready to go? Retooling our products and refining our processes to be even more efficient as the ?business climate returns is the proper plan of attack right now. Let's not miss the boat. Together we can make more hay with a bigger audience this time around if we are prepared and ready to roll at the first hint of sunlight.
Mike Winter is president of?
fiVISION. He can be reached at