Building Inclusive Organizations, Fostering a Member Lifeline, and More

Jill Nowacki, President/CEO, Humanidei + O'Rourke
Jill Nowacki, President/CEO, Humanidei + O'Rourke

On the third day of REACH 2020, breakout sessions touched on “Building an Inclusive Organization in a Divided World” and “Building a Liquidity Lifeline as the Pandemic Stretches On” — two of several discussions. Others included REACHtalks and Spark Sessions on generating revenue, preparing for what’s next in 2021, CECL issues (current expected credit loss), payment trends, real estate, and leveraging the digital landscape.

Humanidei + O’Rourke President and CEO Jill Nowacki acknowledged that strong opinions behind social unrest, cultural upheaval, economic panic, a worldwide pandemic, and political issues have made their way into the credit union industry’s everyday work world over the past eight months. A level of disagreement between staff can sometimes lead to “disengagement” in the industry’s everyday mission.

“But it’s okay — credit union leaders are bipartisan, right?,” Nowacki said, humorously. “A global pandemic changed us, driving us back into a survival and scarcity mindset. In a place of scarcity, we make very defensive decisions. Scarcity drives 'us versus them’ thinking. And if staff worries about needing to be protected and surviving, it makes complete sense that individuals don’t always respond well to each other with everything that’s going on in the world.”

It's the reason employees “aren’t connected” with others in today’s world at times, and why conversations and issues “come with such a heavy weight,” she said. However, more than ever, most employees want inclusion right now, and credit unions can build a culture of “authentic inclusion” where people feel it’s a safe space for anyone to work, share their opinions, and interact meaningfully with others who don’t share the same perspective.

“We’re more tribal than at any other point in our lifetime,” Nowacki said. “But work requires sophistication of engagement that allows us to be honest, respectful, and have learning-based communication. How is this connected to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)?”

She added that it starts with building an organization that can foster candid conversations. If you move forward in diversity goals without first creating an inclusive environment, it can lead to more harm. Credit union leaders need to start having conversations that create trust.

“If everyone agrees with each other, nobody is learning from each other,” she said.

During a sideline session, Pew Charitable Trust’s Consumer Finance Project Researcher Alex Horowitz and QCash Financial CEO Ben Morales discussed building a financial lifeline for “desperate” credit union members as the COVID-19 pandemic and economic slowdown stretch into the coming months. Horowitz said 8 of 10 financial service consumers who are prone to needing fast cash would rather borrow money from a credit union or bank instead of a payday lender.

“But they aren’t doing that because their bank or credit union is not offering a small-dollar loan, or they don’t qualify for their credit union’s loan, or they can’t get the money from their financial institution fast enough,” Horowitz said. “If a credit union or bank offered these types of loans more often, this group of consumers would absolutely borrow from them.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity. Earlier this year, the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) administered regulatory guidance “greenlighting” small-dollar loans for credit unions to help provide financial relief to consumers and workers needing it the most. This fact, combined with a recent Pew survey, provide eye-opening results, Horowitz said.

“If a credit union or bank offered a $400 loan for a fee of $60 to be paid back over three months, 80 percent of Americans say this is fair,” he said. “Also, 70 percent of Americans say that such an offering would make them feel more favorable toward a credit union.”

Regarding non-credit union members, Morales said it’s about having the right products to attract them, as well as trying to understand which services those markets need the most to meet them where they’re at.

“It’s worthwhile and socially desirable to attract the unbanked and under-banked,” Morales said. “There are already a lot of low and moderate-income people who are members of credit unions who aren’t getting their financial needs met through small-dollar loans. But these loans, if offered, need to be speedy, certain, and easy and convenient to attain for borrowers to buy in. If these criteria aren’t met, members won’t follow.”

You can watch these breakout sessions, REACHtalks, Spark Sessions, and also catch the entire conference in real-time or on-demand! Click here to experience this exclusive virtual conference on Oct. 26, 28 and 29, and Nov. 4 and 5. REACH 2020 is one of the credit union industry’s premier annual events, drawing leaders and system partners from across California, Nevada and the United States.

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