During this year credit unions across America commemorate the 100th anniversary of the very first credit union in the United States. For many, looking back provides a sense of security. It's good to remember the principles upon which the movement was founded.
In Georgia, while we celebrate the past, we are taking the approach of looking forward. Hence, the theme of our recent annual convention, "After 100 Years ... Full Speed Ahead."
Some would question our sanity about preaching full speed ahead in the midst of the worst recession in recent memory. However, we know that looking forward has to be the focus if credit unions are to continue as a viable choice in the financial services marketplace.
As I see it, leadership matters tremendously during times of great stress. Strong deposit growth and poor earnings are pushing many credit unions' capital ratios down. Their bottom line is being hurt by low margins, rising loan losses and the corporate credit union stabilization effort. Deposits are growing because people value the safety of federally insured accounts. To all of this external activity, credit unions are reacting in various ways. Many are hunkered down; some are being opportunistic and a few are even consolidating. So what's the deal with "full speed ahead?"
Full speed ahead has to do with the message that credit union leadership communicates. This is a message that is not about comfort, but about resolve. It's a message that is not a return to normalcy, but a quest for improvement. This leadership message doesn't position credit unions as a victim of circumstance, but a source of solutions. Full speed ahead is about rededication to purpose.
Credit unions are the best at understanding, helping and serving their members. Full speed ahead means doing more of that. These are the things people want now. These are the things people need. If we do this, growth will come and earnings will return. But mostly, if we do this we will have made a difference to people. After all, isn't that what this movement is all about?
So, I challenge the leaders of the credit union movement to go full speed ahead!
Mike Mercer is President/CEO of Georgia Credit Union Affiliates.