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Let’s be honest-most of the time during the current recession, most credit unions have been able to stand on the sidelines without being too directly impacted. In fact, all the years of flying under the radar, coupled with smart business practices, have put us in a pretty nice position to sustain tough economic times. Until now.Now all that capital retail credit unions so diligently built-up has eroded, and the NCUA has a big target on its back. I’m not going to act like I have a strong opinion about the NCUA’s decision regarding the recapitalization of the corporate credit union system. I couldn’t even imagine having to make such a decision. In fact, I’m going to leave all the economic, bailout and stimulus plan discussions to people who know, or at least do a good job acting like they know, what they are talking about. I’m going to focus on something we all know will happen and something we can have some sense of control over-the ultimate recovery.My biggest fear is that many credit unions won’t be ready for it. It’s the guest we invited for dinner but didn’t think would actually show. We want a recovery to happen, and we know one will happen, but we get caught up spending most of our time and energy focusing on the pains of today versus the joys of tomorrow. Although I am not an economist, I am a realist, and I do know we will get through these tough times-a recovery will happen. The eroding capital and ROA ratios we are now facing will, at some point, be a point on a bar graph we will revisit during better times. Like you, I can’t wait.What concerns me the most are the decisions we are making (or failing to make) today that will have a huge impact on our business in the future. There has been so much bad news to absorb and real pain credit unions have suffered that it makes it easy to be paralyzed by fear. Please know I am not taking our current situation lightly or overly criticizing tough decisions we have all had to make. I simply want to shed a different light on our situation; a light that has been extinguished by the darkness of the times.Due to fear, many credit unions have all but slashed “unnecessary” expenses, like staff development programs, member service initiatives and even strategic planning. It is interesting how fear makes us redefine what is necessary for our business. While it is understandable to alter budgets during this extreme and unpredictable economic environment, we can’t lose sight of what has guided and protected us for so long-our purpose and vision.Companies that are flexible in their operations while maintaining focus on their long-term strategy will survive the recession and will most likely have a competitive upper-hand in the inevitable recovery. While subtle changes to business strategy are likely, these forwarding-thinking organizations realize the time is right during downturns to assess their business and reposition for the long-term. Why wait until an upturn in business, when things are busier, to focus on operational efficiencies, member service and strategic initiatives? Now is the time.While many didn’t predict the dramatic and extreme downturn of this recession, it seems most now know what they are talking about and are predicting a slow-paced recovery. But what if they are wrong, yet again? Are you prepared for a re-energized membership base ready to brush off the funk of the recession and start living again? Are you ready to serve a consumer who may now view you on a level playing field with your competition? What about the unemployed or underemployed? What will happen when their situations change and they need new or different financial services? What about the competition? Are they one of those forwarding-thinking organizations who used this quiet period to identify a “recovery mission” and are ready to implement strategies designed to steal business away from you?I will be the first to admit that I do not know how the remainder of this recession will play out, but I do know that it will play out and a recovery will happen. While we can’t control much of what is happening today, we can control how we react to it and plan for the one thing we know will happen. Let’s remain focused on our purpose and re-energized by our vision. Let’s use this time to review our existing strategies while implementing new strategies for a new tomorrow. You likely have heard it before, but it is more applicable than ever: what we do today will define our future. While we can’t control the recession, we might as well control the recovery. I look forward to seeing you there.

Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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