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This last year has been nothing short of a hair-raising roller coaster ride of emotions for the U.S. investor. As the nation makes the first tentative steps towards recovery, investors are cautiously opening their eyes to see if recent indicators really do signal the end of this wild ride. Most institutions don’t reflect on a situation’s potential until after it has passed and only then try to determine whether they had taken the right course. Instead, given that we are in the beginning stages of what could be a weak upturn, now is an opportune time to assess what we have done as an industry to support our members. We have all observed over the course of the past year several significant hits to our industry with the corporate credit union crisis and watching unprecedented numbers of credit unions struggling to simply survive. We have also seen some credit unions admirably rise to the occasion and continue to support their members through high-touch communication and relationship management. At the end of the day, even in good economic times, the major distinguishing factor between a credit union and a bank is the relationship you build with the member. In these challenging times, where members are being financially and personally affected through job losses and foreclosures, those institutions that succeed in deepening the relationship with their members are those that are working at helping them get through their tough times. Credit unions offering programs for loan modifications, debt management and credit counseling are sending a clear message to their members that they won’t abandon them when the chips are down. Financial advisers should be regularly calling their members to check in with them and set up appointments to review their financial positions. If it doesn’t make sense for members to make significant changes to their portfolios, the very least advisers should be doing is making personal calls to ensure that any uneasiness members have is being addressed and mitigated quickly. Communication that is honest and open is critical. Baby boomers close to retirement should be proactively contacted to ensure that the impact on their portfolios hasn’t affected their target age for retirement. For many, the downturn has dramatically changed those plans and having the conversation with members about it is tough, but it’s our duty to look out for their best interests and offer them realistic scenarios. With Gen X and Y members, advisers should be touching base with them to ensure they are positioned to take advantage of the anticipated upturn in the market. Gen X and Y members still have enough time before retirement for their portfolios to recover, grow and experience significant long-term return The worst thing for any of us to do for our members is to do nothing. Will conversations with members be challenging and difficult? Will members be skeptical and perhaps leery of your advice? The answer to both questions is very possibly yes, and yet it is very important to recognize that this should not be the reason to sit and wait for your members to come to you. Even though our members may be fearful and hesitant to act, they are seeking a sound and comforting voice of reason. You can be that voice of reason for your members. You should be the person members want to have sat beside them ensuring the safety bar on the roller coaster is securely in place the next time they have to ride out another life-changing event. The good news is that they will remember how you helped them once the ride is over. That kind of loyalty can’t be built just during good times, so be sure you reach out to them now. One thing that is certain, however, is that if you’re not talking to them, someone else surely is. Take this opportunity to make them a member for life by being their trusted adviser right now.

Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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