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SAVANNAH, Ga. – When it comes to strategic planning, a credit union’s plan is only as good as the process used to develop it. That was one of the sentiments coming from a morning session at NACUC’s Roundtable Forum. The trend now has become shortening planning cycles in the hopes of the credit union having the ability to react to change and keep pace with competition. Charles Smith, NACUC chairman and chairman of $180 million First New York FCU, was the facilitator of one of several sessions on strategic planning and raised the question of how the process can or should be changed if it’s not working and how the change will be made. Most of the roundtable participants cited a number of areas that have impacted their planning including community charter changes; serving the underserved; bringing in more SEGs and mergers. Some said the use of an outside facilitator to help with the planning process may not always be the way to go. As with planning, boards also pinpoint successes and areas that need revisiting. “We looked at doing a community charter but it wasn’t something we had really planned on doing,” Smith said, adding First New York expanded in January to add three more counties to its field of membership after serving primarily teachers for years. “It has actually worked out for us.” One credit union’s strategic plan included expanding to a community charter but after several failed attempts, it remains “flat” even though it’s in a position to serve more potential members. “But in new market areas, it sometimes looked like we weren’t looking far enough,” said the chairman from Iowa. The need for a shorter time frame for strategic planning kicked in for one credit union when it began adding new SEGs and brought in credit unions through mergers, which “changed (its) financials overnight.” “Long-range planning is a waste of time,” he admonished. Attendees were asked how critical is the credit union’s mission statement to strategic planning. “Were not spending a lot of time on it. It has not hampered our planning,” said one chairman while most agreed that it drives all of the credit union’s goals. So that the process doesn’t get stale, some credit unions switch facilitators every few years to get a fresh perspective on planning. Roundtable participants were asked if making the switch is critical. “This year, we’re doing it ourselves. No one knows us better than we do,” said one chairman, while another said the first year of the relationship with the facilitator is a “getting to know you” process. The process can typically last up to three days at an off-site location but how are the topics of discussion determined, attendees were asked. Looking at last year’s financials are a good starting point, most agreed, followed by recommendations from the CEO and senior management. How can credit unions gauge what’s working and what’s not? One vice chairman from a Texas credit union touted the use of a balance scorecard while others looked to improvements in loan ratios and return on assets. Expanded membership including reaching out to the underserved, were also a strong indicator that a strategic plan was meeting its target, some agreed. For “down the road” issues, some cited non-interest income to help fund benefits; serving the underserved; branch locations; and helping small credit unions stay afloat as inclusions in planning. [email protected]

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