in a Post-covid World
credit unions and other businesses are still on the trajectory of crisis mode from two years ago. Most likely, your credit union was forced to respond to a series of variables just to stay in business, surrounded by members and employees panicked about branch closures, job loss, and not the least of which – fears of getting infected by a virus. Today, most everyone has relaxed a little, so we can stop thinking about survival and start planning for recovery. Now is the time to consider rebuilding and in some cases, rebranding. Here are three ways your credit union can encourage growth and maintain perseverance.
A SWOT analysis is something you don't need a lot of outside help to accomplish, and if you haven't completed one in the last two years, it is recommended that you revisit this practice with the current economic climate in mind. As you probably already know, S.W.O.T. stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. The main purpose of a swot analysis is to generate an understanding of all areas of your credit union so that you can devise efficient strategies for project planning or a larger venture. This should be done before any major decision – and after any big changes to the financial and retail landscape (like a pandemic). When you evaluate each area of your credit union during this effort, you will be identifying your Strengths and Opportunities and using them to combat the Weaknesses and Threats that you encounter.
The SWOT technique was framed in 1965 by a Stanford Research Institute team, via a technical report describing a method of gathering information for assessing and strategizing operational problem-solving, although it wasn't labeled as such. In the same year, another team from the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration published a textbook on strategic management which contained the components of what we now know as SWOT. Since that time, the acronym has become a well-known matrix for making important strategic decisions.
The process for determining these four factors starts with a brainstorming session. What are your goals? How does each of these components affect your objectives? Could the strengths apply to multiple elements, or does strength become a weakness in another area? You will want to spend some time on each area, then summarize your findings, identify overlaps, and prepare for contingencies. This may pertain to financial resources, personnel, marketing outreach, physical limitations, or any aspect of your credit union's operations, really. It's best to organize these thoughts in a 2-column grid (SWOT templates are available for download by any number of sources) to compare your CU's internal strengths and external opportunities vs. internal weaknesses and external threats. Rank and prioritize your ideas using your favorite organizational system (spreadsheet, color coding, vision board, PowerPoint or Google slides, etc.).
Strengths: This is recognized as an “internally controlled” factor. You will need to determine your competitive advantages, resources, and assets, what tools you are currently using or have available, what you will need to procure if you don't have them, and how much time and effort you are willing to put in toward these areas.
Weaknesses: This factor is also “internally controlled.” Pinpoint areas that could be improved, like equipment or software that needs updating. You could look at how easily your members can find you online, or at your physical location. Is your customer service suffering as a result of staffing issues? Also, consider how you could be a stronger competitor in your field.
Opportunities: This factor is “externally controlled,” but that doesn't mean you can't influence its impact on your credit union. This could mean taking advantage of trends, adjusting to regulatory or zoning changes, participating in events that may be happening in the industry, and focusing on better marketing tactics for brand relatability.
Threats: To conquer these “externally controlled” factors you must either plan around them or be prepared to receive the impact. It is important to have a contingency plan for each threat you identify. Threats could include supply chain problems, expensive technology, a shortage of materials, negative media coverage, economic downturn, certain market trends, (a pandemic!), or new competition.
As mentioned above, begin by identifying your strengths and see how many can interact with the opportunities around you, and how many can overcome the external threats. From this effort, you will be able to create an action plan. Once your goals are set, then you can start to strategize.
CONDUCT MARKET RESEARCH
Knowing how you are perceived by the outside world is essential to growth. One research tool to accomplish this goal would be to conduct a market survey for your branch(es). This could be expanded to include an employee survey as well as one you would give to members, and compare the results to see if there are any correlations. For instance, if your credit union was particularly affected by the pandemic and the member survey shows that people are unhappy with reduced hours, less-than-stellar greetings, and limited access to services; an employee survey may illuminate the reasons why.
- If staffing has been reduced, employees may feel overworked. If hours are limited, perhaps new part-time staffers haven't had time to fully access training tools. These factors could contribute to lackluster customer-service experiences.
- Perhaps the branch is undergoing a new technology surge due to more frequent remote activity, and that is putting a strain on the system. This could account for frustrating lags or interruptions while using an online banking tool.
- If a change in lobby hours (temporary or otherwise) isn't communicated well in signage or on the CU website, members may be caught unaware when visiting a branch, and complain about disorganization. If employees bear the responsibility of informing the public of these changes, they will also receive the backlash, which can contribute to low morale.
These are occurrences that can only be observed by someone who is actually on-premises and facing them on a daily basis. Member and employee surveys can show both sides of the situation, so appropriate steps can be taken to repair and prevent negative experiences.
On the other hand, employee and member surveys can also show you what is working, and what sets your credit union apart from your competition. This is handy knowledge for due diligence, and for continuing to provide the great service they have come to expect and enjoy.
MAKE SHORT- AND LONG-TERM PLANS
Two years after the start of a global pandemic, it is safe to assume we are operating a little differently than we were a few years ago. Yet, as we agree that some of the changes will remain, we also anticipate veering back to something a little closer to what we had before. It's important now to make a short-term plan to continue navigating the current landscape, and a second, long-term plan for what we can expect to happen in years to come. When you start to strategize, keep in mind the issues that are ongoing. Which ones will pass? Which ones will stay?
Post-Covid-19 changes include remote services, work-from-home concessions, contactless transactions, enhanced home delivery options, fewer cars on the road, higher-level technology to accommodate heavier use of digital systems, vaccine and mask mandates, ever-changing laws concerning outdoor dining and recreation, and a higher staff turnover.
Enduring changes may include Overall pay increases and less-strict workplace rules to facilitate better employee retention, lengthier or permanent work-from-home and hybrid workplace requirements, upgrading technology to accommodate WFH or hybrid workers, and permanent contactless transaction options.
Bear in mind how you have been affected by each of these changes and how you have handled them thus far. How successful was your solution to these problems? Are your members and staff still struggling with some of the changes, or have they acclimated well? A sturdy operational structure can help build and maintain a sustainable future for your credit union. Employees will feel more secure in a stable and predictable environment, and members will appreciate a happier staff.
Chances are, you've already adjusted to a slightly different environment at your credit union. Over the last two years, so many changes have already been implemented, discarded, re-implemented, accepted, loathed, and celebrated. Now is the time to look ahead to what your financial institution will look like on a daily basis. You could regard it as an opportunity to shape the future! At any rate, we can be grateful for a resilient credit union community.