“We are helping credit unions to survive during tough times. That is why we have begun offering strategic planning workshops to credit union management and are bringing in top outside experts,” said Amy Rapp, a senior manager at Western Bridge Corporate Federal Credit Union. She is spearheading a new Western Bridge workshop program that, so far, has reached over 100 credit union executives in Hawaii, Washington, Idaho and, on Jan. 28, southern California, at Western Bridge’s corporate offices in San Dimas.

Rapp acknowledged that there is an irony in Western Bridge (formerly Western Corporate Federal Credit Union), which serves as the poster boy for all that went wrong with credit unions in the past few years, offering pointers on credit union success. But she insisted that this nonetheless is a time when credit unions must dig deep into their balance sheets to better manage assets and minimize risks. The full-day Western Bridge seminars are just the ticket for small and mid-sized market credit unions, she added. The program is open both to Western Bridge customers and noncustomers. “This isn’t about Western Bridge. It’s about presenting ideas credit unions need to hear,” said Rapp.

Key to the program is that it is built around top experts.

Dietmar Huesch, a Western Bridge vice president, and a seminar presenter who covers asset-liability management and macroeconomic trends, stressed, “It’s time for credit unions to get back to basics. That’s what I talk about. The last year served as a wake-up call for many credit unions. They recognized they needed to change how they do business. This workshop is designed to help them get there.”

Randy Thompson, president of Thompson Consulting and Training, is another presenter, and he brings a stern message. Most small credit unions have no clue as to whether they are making or losing money on loans, and they similarly have no idea if they are paying the right rates on deposits. Thompson’s counsel is that there are tools that swiftly and easily let credit union management drill down and assess each loan and each deposit rate.

Jamie Chase, a principal in Credit Union Strategic Planning, continues the workshop with a program that revolves around “teaching credit unions how to be accountable to their target market and to do the research about what is needed. That’s how to create loans that are actually in demand.” A key Chase focus is the U.S. Treasury Dept.’s CDFI Fund, which potentially can put millions of dollars on the balance sheets of credit unions serving low-income urban and rural areas. “We work with credit unions that ought to file CDFI applications,” said Chase, who elaborated that in 2009 only 3% of CDFI grants went to credit unions. She insisted that the potential for growth of credit union representation in CDFI is immense.

Pablo DeFillipi, an executive with the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, brings yet another message to the workshop. His contention is that many more credit unions should seek designation from NCUA as serving a low-income population because this gives credit unions considerable flexibility. Benefits that come with the designation include greater abilities to make business loans and also the ability to accept nonmember deposits. By DeFillipi’s estimate, one-third of credit unions could qualify. Only one in five now do. “Our job is to educate credit union management about options they may not have thought of,” said DeFillipi.

Several other experts typically join the workshops, bringing expertise in credit union management, growth and the how-to of getting back to the industry’s roots.

Not every tactic presented at the workshop will work for every credit union, acknowledged Rapp. The larger objective is to present a range of approaches that are designed to help each credit union find its own way.

Added Huesch: “Many credit unions are struggling. But they realize there is no magic bullet. It’s going to take hard work. Our goal is to get them thinking, and I believe we are succeeding.”