October 20th, 2021
In June of 2021, we finalized our findings from a nation-wide industry survey on what a “post-pandemic” world will look like for credit unions. The New York Times’ announcement on May 21st, 2021, hailing that “It was a momentous day: In the United States, there is now an excellent chance that the [COVID] retreat is permanent,” was the catalyst for this intensive survey, which included 25 questions surrounding:
- The Economy
As many of our readers know, we conduct national industry surveys every quarter (see Q1 2021 here and Q4 2020 here). We hope our survey results provide insight and guidance for industry leaders during a pivotal economic and behavioral transition in our nation.
Below are the participant statistics:
- Timeframe: May to June 2021
- Sample Size: 34 credit union decision makers
- Asset Range: $5M to $6.7B
- Distance span: Portland, OR to Portland, ME
- Population/Population Density: 22,618/520 people per sq. mi. (Southeast Oklahoma) to 684,500/11,500 people per sq. mi. (Downtown Washington, DC)
- Political leanings (2018): Wyoming (46% conservative, 31% moderate, 18% liberal) to California (29% conservative, 36% moderate, 29% liberal)
As one would expect, responses were varied and reflective of location, membership demographics, and political leanings, however there were a few common threads peppered throughout the results, being concerns over (1) loans, (2) inflation and (3) staffing. Let’s dive into the full findings presented in our executive summary we’ve shared with the industry.
Aux Releases Findings from National Survey on a “Post-Pandemic World for Credit Unions”
Executive Summary distributed June 25th, 2021
Part 1: The Economy
Aux first asked how concerned participants were regarding inflation impacts on members and employees. On a scale of 0 (not concerned at all) to 100 (extremely concerned), the average number was 68. Aux asked when participants felt economic growth would return back to normal. Nearly three quarters of participants responded not until 2022 at least, and over one third responded even “beyond Q2 2022.” Aux then asked with consumer spending habits would return back to normal. Answers were split nearly across the board, ranging from Q4 2021 to beyond Q2 2022. When asked when borrowing habits would return back to normal, three quarters of participants responded not until at least 2022.
Aux asked participants an open-ended question: Are there areas you feel consumers will continue to spend more on than others? Home improvement and travel were popular answers. CUToday reported on PSCU’s consumer spending data on June 17th, 2021, quoting Brian Scott, SVP, chief growth officer at PSCU. “Fueled with extra money in savings and lower household debt balances, consumers are poised to emerge from the economic downturn far better than economists originally anticipated. Yet with this fast recovery from the pandemic-induced recession, demand is bouncing back faster than supply can keep up – causing shortages and inflationary risk. At the same time, signs of pent-up ‘revenge’ spending continue as consumers increase discretionary spending on larger purchases,” he writes.
When asked if there would be a run-off on deposits as consumers start to spend again/more, 35% said yes, and 41% said no. Lastly, Aux asked when will credit unions need to think about attracting deposits again, between now and beyond 2024, one third said 2022 and one third said 2023.
Part 2: Operations
In an open-comment question, Aux asked participants to list their top three operational concerns at this time. Staffing, including lack of talent pool and retaining staff, were common concerns, as well as loan demand, low interest rates, and inflation.
Aux asked a series of questions surrounding branches (see our pandemic branches Q4 2020 survey here). When asked what safety protocols for members/employees are you continuing to use, participants responded, common answers were CDC requirements and frequent sanitation of surfaces. Window shields were also a popular answer. Least common were mask requirements for members and temperature checks. Aux then asked how long these protocols are likely to continue. Two thirds of respondents said between Q3 and Q4 2021.
Aux asked how participants’ employees were working right now. 40% said hybrid, 35% had fully returned to work, and a smattering of unique scenarios: “86% of staff remote until September, branch staff in-person,” “Branch employees are all on-site. Roughly 1/2 back office,” “Our employees have worked in the office throughout unless ill.”
With the rise in identity fraud during the pandemic, Aux was curious to know how this trend is affecting credit union operation. They asked if member verification technology part of participants’ 2021 plan, and answers were scattered across the board; 32% were actively looking or had already implemented technology to combat it, 12% had as part of their 2021 plan, 32% had it on their radar but did not find it urgent, and 17% said they were going to address it in 2022.
With the increased usage of digital channels due to changing consumer banking patterns in COVID and post-COVID, Aux asked if participants feel their credit union is positioned to tackle technology changes. On a scale of 0 (not at all positioned) to 100 (very well positioned), the average number was 70. Secondly, Aux asked if participants felt their members as a whole are eager to adopt technology changes. Using the same 0 to 100 scale, the average number was 66. Take a look at the graph below, which shows correlation between each participant’s abilities to provide such changes and their members actually desiring them.
With regard to branch operations, Aux asked when participants think member usage of branches will return to pre-COVID levels. 60% responded that they will never return to pre-COVID levels, while 30% said they have already returned to pre-COVID levels or will this year, presenting an interesting mix of opinion.
Lastly, we asked an open-comment question regarding what new products or services participants plan implement in 2021 or 2022. Multiple participants said new branches, chat bots, and contactless credit cards.
Part 3: Industry Growth
Aux asked participants how important member loyalty is to their credit union now, on a scale of 0 (not at all important) to 100 (extremely important). The average response was 91. Aux then asked what the credit union industry member focus will be moving forward. 55% of participants selected Specific Products/Services and 47% selected Member Segments. Other comments included, “Financial Advocacy – Financial Planning for Members,” “Life stage products/services and community support,” and “Financial inclusion and DEI.”
Aux asked the big taboo question: Do you believe credit unions are in competition with each other? 64% said yes, 20% said no, and 15% said other, including, “in some areas but still cooperative in many,” and “to a degree they are–there is still the common ground.” Lastly, when asked which competitors participants are most concerned about, big banks, neo banks, and Amazon were top selections. The Financial Brand reports from June 15th, 2021, ““The pandemic has been a unique growth accelerant for neobanks,” Insider Intelligence Senior Forecasting Analyst Oscar Bruce told The Financial Brand. He speculates the financial industry can only expect further growth of the neobank trend, even as everything returns to normal. Even though neobank users are still just a small nugget of the population, it is predicted to double yet again in just another four years.”
Part 4: Branding
The last subject Aux chose to investigate was branding. Many experts say that 2021 is a critical year to change your brand, because members, the industry, and the economy has changed so drastically. Aux asked participants what they have done or plan to do to change/update their credit union’s brand. Nearly 50% have updated their websites, and a third have updated their messaging, revisited their brand strategy and positioning, and revisited their value propositions.
When asked how they felt their members’ needs and values have changed in an open-comment response, common themes were faster access to money and more digital tools. Aux then asked how participants felt their employees’ needs and values have changed in an open-comment response. common themes were a better work/home balance and flexibility.
The last question Aux asked in the survey focused on causes and support. They asked: At this time, do you feel there is more or less of a need for your credit union to publicly support causes, such as Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, LGBTQA+, women-owned and minority businesses, ethnic solidarity, conservative or liberal hot topics, etc.? The question gathered nearly two-thirds of “other” comments, such as, “we continue to address causes important to our sponsor,” “At the time it may be better to remain neutral,” “We have internal meetings for staff but did not want publicly advertise any position on political issues.”
Aux is committed to providing real primary-source data for the credit union industry to utilize. Sometimes the results are heated and opinionated and others are balanced and neutral. In both cases, they provide much-needed perspective on the current landscape of the credit union industry. We believe it is part of our mission to help create a meaningful dialogue on critical issues facing the credit union movement by surfacing insights and stimulating new ideas. Every quarter, we intend to field a survey that probes and generates responses to issues that could positively or negatively impact the industry.