2017: A Time to Search for the Silver Lining
A new year. Time to hit the gym at 6 a.m. every morning along with half of America to work off that pie and eggnog, purge your home of all the junk you’ve accumulated and make a list of those side projects you’re finally going to get to this year (yeah, right!), like volunteering and taking a cooking class.
Most Januarys are a time for a fresh start. A chance to start over, set a new precedent for yourself and try something new. A productive month that will hopefully get you on track for a year of smooth sailing. But I think we can all agree that this January is different, because 2016 left us with a looming emotion: uncertainty.
What's going to happen to Obamacare, Medicare and Social Security? Will there be a major economic meltdown that puts the Great Recession to shame? Will racism and sexism get worse, or was 2016 the wake-up call we needed to make a move in the right direction? How many more mass shootings will we have to endure? Is World War III around the corner? Is Walter White going to head the DEA? When are the Kardashians going to disappear?
The series of events in 2016 that made us ask, “Is this really happening?” left us feeling drained. This year isn't about setting lofty goals – it's about controlling the things we can and hoping for stability.
One way to stay afloat in stormy waters is to work a negative situation to your advantage instead of trying to fight it. Someone recently told me a story about how their family friend, a Muslim from India, who had become an American citizen soon after 9/11. The friend owned two motels in a small Midwestern town, where at the time, racism was an issue. Everyone knew the owner was Muslim, and he was hurting for business.
So, at one of his motels, he hired a local white guy to man the front desk, put up a sign that said “Under American Ownership,” and doubled the room prices. Guess what? Business began to boom at the “American-owned” motel, and now, the guy is rich. Instead of taking the situation personally and giving up, he worked it to his benefit – and he essentially screwed over the bad guys without having to tell a single lie.
While it's an extreme example, the takeaway is that complaining isn't going to get you anywhere when it feels like the world is working against you. If you look hard enough, you can find a silver lining – a move to make that will bring good to you or someone you consider to be on your team.
You can bet that if the Trump administration's moves somehow lead to a housing market meltdown, I’ll be taking advantage of it by buying a condo or two when the prices drop. For credit unions, the key silver lining in this tumultuous political climate appears to be the likely lifting of regulations. If it becomes easier to make loans, credit unions will have an excellent opportunity to grow their business and help people in their communities, from families suffering from financial hardship to aspiring small business owners who are just one loan away from achieving their dreams.
Even if the big picture starts to look bleak for America – something that no one wants – focus your efforts on what you can control and what really matters. That is, do as much good as you can for your credit union, your credit union industry friends, and the members and communities you serve.
Now that we’ve lived through a year in which the unexpected became the norm, 2017 may also be a good time to start thinking differently. Ask any credit union industry expert what credit unions must do to thrive in the future, and these two things are often on their list: attract millennials and develop cutting-edge technology. But everyone already knows that.
In a recent CU Times panel discussion with payments and technology experts on what credit unions can expect in 2017, one participant, Infusion Chief Strategy Officer Tim Keith, said something that struck me: Since credit union technology will never match the biggest banks’ technology, it's more important to focus on credit union differentiators, such as the value of financial products. And, don't focus so much on millennials – other demographics, like retirees, need your help too.
“Technology is not going to save credit unions,” he said. “It's a necessary component of strategy, but what differentiators are still there? You can see they make auto loans in a profitable way. Another competitive advantage is offering better value in savings yields. So if you invest in all the technology but don't offer the value, it doesn't matter.” His comments were a reminder that switching your focus from the obvious to something new can lead to surprisingly beneficial results.
As we begin a year in which uncertainty is certain, the best way to cope is to take control of the things we can. So go ahead, start that new marketing project or charitable giving initiative. If the regulatory climate warrants it and it makes sense for your credit union, be bold in the lending space. And if taking control also means sticking to your diet/exercise/apartment-purging New Year's resolutions, more power to you. Being one of the few motivated souls left in the gym at 6 a.m. come February is always something to be proud of.
Natasha Chilingerian is managing editor for CU Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.