This article originally appeared on cuna.org. 

When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit, unemployment skyrocketed, the economy suffered, and the strategic plans credit unions put in place at the beginning of the year were no longer relevant.

“Your strategic plan is probably in a trash can somewhere,” says Mark Arnold, president/CEO of On the Mark Strategies.

However, credit unions can still pivot, salvage their strategic plans, and focus on growth during this period of uncertainty, Arnold said during “How to Salvage Your Strategic Plan During Coronavirus,” a webinar offered as part of CUNA’s Managing Economic and Operational Challenges During COVID-19 eSchool.

The key is for leaders to focus their mindset to capitalize on the member service opportunities the pandemic presents, adjust strategy, and then pivot tactics to focus on growth.

FOCUS YOUR MINDSET

People’s attention has been scattered in many directions during the past month, Arnold says, due to constant changes.

He says there are three types of leaders: those who focus on fear, those who are unfocused, and those who focus on strategy.

Be a leader who focuses on strategy, Arnold says. These leaders talk about plans for growth and stability, and focus on shifting their offerings to meet members’ needs, both now and once the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

ADJUST YOUR STRATEGY

Typically, strategy is a well-thought-out process that involves considering multiple scenarios. But in the COVID-19 environment, leaders must make decisions quickly.

“You’re playing a different game right now,” Arnold says. “You’re no longer playing chess. You’re playing tennis.”

He suggests considering these steps:

1. Adjust your strategic plan. 

In an environment that’s constantly changing, focus on small chunks of time rather than an entire year. Have four plans within a 90-day period that address a finances business operations, messaging, and the recession.

2. Cut your deposit rates.

Members will continue to deposit funds despite low interest rates, Arnold says. Drop your rates as low as possible in case excess liquidity becomes a challenge in the future.

3. Stress test your financials.

Examine potential scenarios—such as what will happen if loan volume decreases, delinquencies increase, or interchange income falls—to determine the potential impact on the credit union.

“Stress tests provide peace of mind,” Arnold says. “Stress testing your financials will probably indicate you are in better financial shape than you realize.”

4. Balance decision making.

Don’t focus solely on the immediate future. Balance short- and long-term decisions .

5. Focus on strategy.

Strategic planning is more important than ever. How your credit union conducts strategic planning may change, such as the board holding planning sessions remotely, but it’s still a top priority.

“Strategic planning is a process, not a date on the calendar,” Arnold says.

6. Invest in marketing.

It may sound counterintuitive, but marketing and branding efforts will help lead your credit union out of the economic downturn.

Evaluate your current marketing efforts and adjust for the future. “Your brand will lead out you of the recession,” Arnold says. “That will get you through this.”

PIVOT YOUR TACTICS

Arnold offers several suggestions on how to pivot your tactics going forward:

1. Lead with refinancing loans.

Offering refinancing options will not only allow the credit union to maintain—or grow—loan volume, it will save members money through consolidation.

2. Use messaging with “We have a plan.” 

People are anxious and scared.

“If you can say, ‘We have a plan,’ that gives them peace of mind,” Arnold says. “That phrase connects with consumers today. People hate uncertainty and this alleviates that fear.”

3. Tap into members’ stress. 

Alleviate members’ stress by showing empathy and authority. Show members you care about them and that your credit union is the best place to address their financial problems.

“Be the hero and the guide of your members’ financial journey,” Arnold says.

4. Contact your members. 

Reach out to your members through phone calls, email, or video to see how they’re doing. Reach as many members as possible, but consider starting with specific segments, such as elderly or long-term members.

“It’s a simple thing ,” Arnold says, “but it has the highest impact.”

5. Be creative.

Consider running contests or scavenger hunts on social media or ask for photos from your members’ and their quarantine lifestyles.

“Your members are stuck at home and are looking for something to do,” Arnold says. “Look for ways to engage members creatively.”

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