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From the CEO
March 31, 2021

This month’s CEO Note features reflections from our CEO/President, Melissa Ashley, on the past year’s challenges, lessons learned, and future expectations.

It’s been a difficult year for everyone – businesses and individuals alike. How well do you feel Corporate One was positioned to respond to the impacts of COVID-19?

We were extremely well positioned, and I was so proud of our team’s ability to adapt and react quickly. Corporate One has a robust business continuity plan that includes a formal pandemic plan to ensure our organization is positioned to provide consistent, critical service levels to our member credit unions, and we were able to activate that plan quickly. Additionally, during the last several years, we had already focused on creating a resilient, reliable, updated infrastructure that could allow us to work from anywhere. This made a huge difference in our transition to a work-from-home environment, which was a fairly seamless event. After that transition, we just focused on keeping our employees safe, knowing that they would do the work needed to ensure we were serving our members well and meeting their needs. We have an agile, flexible workforce ready and willing do what it takes to help our members.

What business strategy or response did you find to be most effective while leading an organization through such a challenging time?

I believe in times of crisis you should always go back to the basics of what is most important. For me, there were three essential “basics” this past year. I knew that, first and foremost, we had to keep our employees as safe as possible. If you take care of your employees, then they will do the hard work of ensuring the members are served well. Second, we needed to ensure we maintained our critical functions for our members. Corporate One is the backbone of many of our members’ payment platforms, and it was crucial to keep these services running for them without interruption. Third, active communication and transparency were vital. Keeping both employees and members regularly informed about what was happening and why helped ease some of the uncertainty and isolation we all felt.

From a leadership/management perspective, what is one of the greatest lessons you learned during the pandemic?

The pandemic situation reinforced the fact that we need to continue to work to be as agile as possible because the world changes more quickly than ever. We saw this numerous times last year with the various lockdowns/shutdowns, the work-from-home situations, the plummeting of interest rates, and the extreme uncertainty of the future. Now, a full year later, several rounds of economic stimulus and various government programs have supported the economy fairly well, and with vaccines becoming more widespread, the U.S. looks poised to rebound somewhat quickly this year. Much happened during this time with Corporate One’s balance sheet growing by three times its size, and it has stayed at this level much longer than anyone anticipated. The question now is how these balances will roll off over the future months and/or years. We will have to anticipate, plan and manage with an agile approach.

I also learned it’s important not to abandon your long-term strategies even when things look bleak. Though financial institutions are all under pressure due to the lower-rate environment, you must keep your organization moving forward with its overall strategic goals and objectives, otherwise you will be left behind once the economy recovers.

What have you found to be a “blessing in disguise” during the pandemic?

Personally, prior to the pandemic, I traveled continually. The lockdowns forced me off the road and our daughter home from college. I thoroughly enjoyed the family time, learning that I’m not as bad a cook as I thought, and I was able to spend time working in the yard like I did many years ago. Professionally, and somewhat related, the inability of many of our staff to physically travel and meet with credit unions and participate in their events meant we were able to prioritize the execution of a few major strategic initiatives. One such project was helping credit unions gain easier entry into the real-time payments arena, specifically through The Clearing House’s RTP® network. With the help of our CUSO, Sherpa, we not only achieved this goal in 2020, but we were able to hit the ground running in the beginning of 2021 as credit unions continue to consider their options for implementing real-time payments. For more details on how we’ve been helping to enable RTP access for credit unions, you can read my previous article.

In addition to Corporate One, can you share any inspiring stores of how credit unions rose to the challenge of serving their members?

Credit unions are firmly rooted in the mission of people helping people, which is why I love this industry so much. The pandemic gave credit unions the opportunity to shine once again as they worked to help their members during an extreme time of need. I heard from many of our member credit unions how they helped their members with skip-a-pay programs, payment modifications/deferrals/forbearance, emergency loans/paycheck advances, fee waivers, PPP loans for small businesses, financial counseling, community support, and donations. Although the helpful, cooperative nature of credit unions is in our DNA, the pandemic spotlighted how extremely committed our industry is to this philosophy.

We mostly hear about the negative impacts of the pandemic. Will any positive changes result in our industry/economy from this situation?

Absolutely, there will be positives changes! I’ve been inspired during this time by seeing how ingenious Americans and American businesses can be. Many businesses, including credit unions, demonstrated that they could pivot and find new ways of meeting customer/member demands. The pandemic forced all of us to test our abilities to be creative and innovative, and our successes have helped build our confidence that we can not only survive but also thrive. Going forward, I think businesses will not only be better prepared to handle a future crisis, but they can also use what they’ve learned during the current pandemic to better manage their businesses right now.

How should Corporate One position itself for a post-pandemic environment? What key changes, if any, can or should be made? What new opportunities will there be?

We have already been positioning ourselves to help our members with digital transformation and payments modernization. So, while we are aligned with where the industry is heading, the pandemic accelerated the need/demand for both. We’re hard at work making sure we not only have both the solutions and the expertise to be leaders in this space but to also ensure our members will remain relevant and competitive themselves. For example, later this summer we’ll be rolling out our very first in-house, real-time payments solution, which will allow credit unions to easily send RTP payments to whomever they choose. Our goal with this new payment solution is to help our members eliminate the hassle that comes with checks and streamline their payments processing. I hope you all will stay tuned for an announcement coming soon.