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Practical & Actionable Ideas for Credit Unions During the COVID-19 Crisis

George Hofheimer, Filene

Credit unions, like many businesses, are currently facing a lot of unknowns. It’s not always clear what to do, or how to go about doing it. Luckily, George Hofheimer, Executive Vice President of Research and Development at Filene, is here to help.

He joins our podcast to talk about the number one thing that credit unions should be focused on right now, innovation opportunities in the current environment, and post-pandemic member service strategies.

Key takeaways:

  1. The short-term goal for credit unions should be to find creative ways to get dollars into the pockets of members in the midst of this liquidity crisis.
  2. In the longer term, credit unions should focus on stabilizing members’ finances, helping them recover, and eventually helping them thrive.
  3. Look at all the different product options to find out what’s best for your credit union: for example, skip-a-pay, small dollar loans, rapid online loans through QCash, re-amortization of mortgages, etc. Also, come up with 5-6 questions to quickly triage members’ needs and get them assistance.
  4. Instead of focusing on differentiating from banks, focus on collaboration opportunities. Now is the time for bipartisanship work.
  5. Don’t rely on innovation from the top-down. To acquire an innovation competency during these very difficult times, unleash your employees on our most intractable problems.

For more tips, register for Filene’s April 2 webinar, Maximize Your Support to Address Members’ Needs Now, led by George Hofheimer. 

Read the full transcript here:

Cameron Madill:
Hello and welcome to another episode of The Remarkable Credit Union podcast. We created our podcast to help credit union leaders think outside of the box about technology, community impact and marketing. Each episode we bring on expert guests from inside and outside of the industry for conversations about innovation. Our goal is to challenge your preconceptions about business as usual and provide you with actionable takeaways that you can use to grow your membership, improve the financial health of your cooperative, and magnify the positive impact in your community.

Cameron Madill:
Today’s big question, can credit unions do more to maximize their support and help for members while remaining financially responsible in the midst of an unprecedented crisis? Today I’m really excited to welcome George Hofheimer. George, as many of you may know, is the EVP chief research and development officer at Filene. He is the proud father of two. He is a fellow soccer player, but unlike me, he is still playing soccer in his forties. And I once attended an event where he wore a green sweater two days running so I believe he has more sweaters than Mr. Rogers. George, thanks for joining us.

George Hofheimer:
Thanks and shout out to my personal shopper for making me look good.

Cameron Madill:
You’re like Einstein, right? If you just keep all the clothes the same and you can just save your brain power for the things that really matter.

George Hofheimer:
There you go.

Cameron Madill:
All right, so I’d like to get right to it. We’re in the midst of a situation that’s just constantly changing. Today is March 26th by the way, and we hoped to have this launched on March 27th so you all at Filene have created a treasure trove of research over the years on credit unions, over 400 different reports and resources. And I know you’ve been working really hard to narrow all that down to the most critical things for a credit union to focus on right now during the COVID-19 crisis. So what should a credit union be focused on right now, George?

George Hofheimer:
Well, interestingly, just right before this call, we had a virtual happy hour with a full Filene staff and we did a celebration of our 500th report. And I would say in today’s world, a vast, vast majority in the short term of those reports that we’ve come up with over the course of 30 plus years are completely irrelevant. And now is the time to act around very, very urgent and specific needs of millions and millions of consumers in the United States. And it tends to focus in where is the credit union system most able to help in the short term? And I believe, and I think we’re taking very quick steps to encourage credit unions to help with this liquidity crisis that everyday consumers are finding themselves in either through a loss of income, job or other types of hardship.

George Hofheimer:
So I would say credit unions are extremely well positioned to help in this case. At Filene. we’ve been working really hard over the past several decades to try to shine a light on people that are maybe marginalized in society or just being largely underserved by other financial institutions and credit unions have a great track record around serving those communities. And now is the time for us to shine, to show to the rest of the world that during this type of crisis, credit unions can be a shining light in a pretty dark world.

Cameron Madill:
And what would you say are the specific critical few things for a credit union to be paying attention to right now? I’m sure there’s obviously a member financial health angle. There’s obviously the wellbeing of the institution, there’s employees. How do you recommend breaking that down into something that’s like tangible to focus on?

George Hofheimer:
Yeah, if every organization that’s listening in right now is like us. We kind of looked at three things. And you just mentioned them, the first is our people, the people in service-based industries are the most critical things. So just making sure your people, meaning your employees and your boards of directors are safe and healthy. Second is the realization and recognition that the business model has changed, most likely for a temporary amount of time and taking very, very agile and quick steps to react to the current situation, which once again is fluid. So today’s business model may be different than tomorrow’s.

George Hofheimer:
And then the third is looking at business resilience issues, really gaining an understanding of how healthy the organization is today, making the best assumptions that you can about the future and taking very, very quick confident steps for the health of the organization in the long term.

Cameron Madill:
I’m curious what you think. I know you guys have done a lot of work testing products over the years as you alluded to. And there’s a letter that the NCUA sent out to credit unions related to this that and actually multiple clients of ours wanted to highlight and they had a really good list of… I’ll just read it because it seems like not everyone has heard this. So it says the NCUA encourages credit unions to work with affected borrowers. A credit union’s efforts to work with members and communities under stress may contribute to the strength and recovery of these communities. Such efforts also serve the longterm interests of impacted credit unions and may include, and they have a list of I think 10 plus things, including waving ATM fees, increasing daily cash withdrawal limits, waving overdraft fees, availability restrictions on insurance tracks, eating restrictions on cashing out a state and non-member checks.

Cameron Madill:
And the list kind of goes on, including waiving late fees for credit cards and loan balances. How do you recommend that a credit union go about looking at some of these measures which will really move the needle in the midst of just a really incredible liquidity crisis, as you said for so many consumers, but balancing that with I guess prudence and the overall financial health of the credit union?

George Hofheimer:
Yeah, no, I mean, I think number one when I saw that letter as well, which is kind of an interagency guidance, so it’s all of the banking regulators for deposit taking institutions. And I found it to be extremely positive. And the regulators acting quickly to recognize that the world has changed and as a regulatory body they’re not going to quote unquote ding financial institutions if they do some of these really important consumer friendly things. I would say anything to, and this is short term thinking because I think we can all live in the short term and we haven’t ever lived through something like this before. In the short term, the focus should really be trying to figure out very creative ways to get money in the pockets of consumers to meet their basic necessities.

George Hofheimer:
And you mentioned some of the ideas that we’ve been working on for quite a while around short term small-dollar lending is something that’s foreign to a lot of financial institutions and credit unions as well. We have guidance that we think is quite useful for credit unions. But then again, the testing and product development that we’ve been doing in conjunction with a lot of our partners was at an environment that’s very different. So we’re very much stepping out into a new world and in some cases to avoid but I think the key area of focus is to just recognize that we need to stabilize individuals. We need to help them recover and then we need to help them thrive into the future. However, that may look.

George Hofheimer:
And I would guess in the deliberations that we’ve been having at Filene in terms of how might we best support credit unions in this journey is short-term access or access to small-dollar amounts and short term funds for individual credit unions. That can be in the form of typical personal loans. The terms will probably change from the types of products that we’ve been testing over the past. And then there’s other, some creative ways that credit unions might be able to consider putting money back into the pockets of consumers. One idea that has been floating around is just a reamortization of mortgage loans for consumers that have a long payment history. When you reamortize those loans, obviously the principal balance is down, right away you’re able to decrease the monthly payment to consumers.

George Hofheimer:
So nothing necessarily changes dramatically on the balance sheet for the credit union from a business health perspective but from a consumer’s perspective, you may be able to put a couple of hundred bucks back into their pocket by reducing payments. Skip a loan is something that we’re seeing a large number of institutions starting to institute. That’s another very simple way of saying, “Hey, we recognize that in the short term, you have some cashflow crisis Mr and Mrs Consumer and we’re going to provide you the option of skipping a loan payment for one, maybe two months, maybe a maximum of three is kind of what we’re starting to see.”

George Hofheimer:
So I think that there’s a lot of ways and the best that I can get my head around it and a lot of the people that we’ve been talking to is just trying to figure out how to get money into the pockets of consumers. And as of this recording, I haven’t checked the news yet. It looks like there’s going to be a fairly robust government response as well. But with those types of things take time. So I think everyone is kind of rowing in the same direction around these things and it’s promising to see credit unions taking very quick action on this. We’ve been tracking the top 300 or so credit unions in the United States and their reaction to this current crisis. And what we see everyday is that more and more institutions are adding those types of programs to their offerings. And that’s helping consumers in a very, very real way.

Cameron Madill:
I love the way you put that of short term, the focus is to come up with creative ways to get dollars into the pockets of consumers. I’m in a ton of Slack groups and WhatsApp groups of entrepreneurs and it’s just been breathtaking over the last two weeks to watch, poof, 70 jobs gone, poof 12 jobs gone. Like the speed has just been incredible or maybe terrifying is a better word. And I think understanding that, yeah whatever the government does, that crisis is already there and real for most Americans.

George Hofheimer:
Yeah. Very much so. And I think from the credit union side the business resiliency is absolutely a consideration and we’re not recommending, and I don’t think anyone is recommending, it’s just willy nilly lending out money to people without really thoughtful approaches to maintaining the balance sheet. And what we’re trying to come up with is really quick and dirty ways to assess, like what is a reasonable amount that credit unions can put into the market to help consumers. And by and large it’s not going to help everybody within a credit unions membership. But I think the point is to do something and by doing something you’re helping to stabilize in a small way individual consumers balance sheets and that we believe will pay back in spades in many years to come.

Cameron Madill:
Yeah. Let me piggy back on that then. So I’m really curious what you think the opportunity is for credit unions right now to really be a hero in their communities and with their membership as well as sort of conversely what are the risks given that banks are getting, they’re going to be a big part of the government action and they’re getting a lot of support to help out their communities. On some levels in 2009 the banks were just such an easy villain. At least right now the chatter that I’m hearing is and seeing is a lot more on multiple levels the banks are set up to have a much more positive narrative this time. And so there might even be a risk of credit unions being left behind if they don’t take bold action. Can you comment on that? Kind of the opportunity and risk of being a hero right now?

George Hofheimer:
Yeah, no, I think the opportunity is clear, during a crisis there are unique ways to be creative. I was sharing a kind of an email exchange with a CEO out in the Northwest saying, one of the things that he had been working on was trying to figure out how to make staff remote. And it was a project that they had contemplated and kind of put a timeline together of saying eight months. And he said, “Hey, you know what, we did this in two weeks.” So this opportunity during a crisis to think very agily, if that’s a word, in an agile manner and to take action is obvious. And in those cases, I think really channeling the credit union ethos of people helping people is one that is a guiding principle for so many institutions. And I think within the short term, when we’re airing this podcast, I think it really does focus in on the really mundane stuff of getting a few hundred extra bucks into people’s pockets so they can afford groceries, rent and other necessities in their lives.

George Hofheimer:
And that may not seem like a lot but to the individual consumers, it means everything. So when we’re talking about kind of hero stuff, those are the types of things that I think can really differentiate credit unions. And I think it’s also an opportunity for us. It’s not the right time to talk about this, but when the dust settles and compared to other crises this one has kind of a scientific end date. We don’t know what the specific scientific end date is, but if history is a guide, these types of public health things peter out after a certain amount of time for a variety of reasons that are beyond my knowledge base.

George Hofheimer:
We know somewhere down the road we’re going to be able to talk about what we did as a credit union to help members of our community. And I would say credit union should keep that in the back of their minds. Now is not the time to tout what you’re doing, now is the time to get product out into the marketplace that’s helping consumers. But the backend of that is, is hopefully something that changes the mindset of credit unions for a very long time just in terms of their role in society.

Cameron Madill:
I like what you said there. I think now is the time for action. I think as you said, obviously measured action, not reckless action, but one of the quotes we’ve been using a lot at PixelSpoke is if you’ve heard the John Wooden quote of be quick but don’t hurry. And I think if we take action, all of us right now, one of the things we’ve been talking about internally is now is a chance to kind of create those legends that lower, that builds any meaningful institution. And this might even also be like another origin story for a lot of credit unions.

George Hofheimer:
I have to say just in terms of the reaction from the banking industry, one of the interesting things that has happened within the past few hours is that a variety of philanthropy’s that are funded by large national banks have reached out to us to try and figure out how they can help. And one of the things that we are exploring right now with some of these organizations, and this is a fluid type of arrangement. But it could be tomorrow where we launch something like this, but trying to obtain some bits of capital from these large gargantuan institutions to create something like a loan loss reserve fund so that credit unions can be even more aggressive in their short term, small-dollar lending to consumers.

George Hofheimer:
I kind of see this, hey we’re all on the same boat type of thing and we don’t have the reach that credit unions have, but we want to help, it’s fairly uncharacteristic of large national banking institutions to think along those lines in such a quick manner. But to me it’s a very, very positive development and one where I hope rather than trying to compete against the banks during this time, we all collaborate.

Cameron Madill:
Yeah. I guess just like the politicians, we want bipartisanship right now not bickering. So what do you guys, I know you’ve got the ear of a lot of credit unions. What are you hearing from your member credit unions right now about their priorities and needs?

George Hofheimer:
So we are being very deliberate around not reaching out to people. We recognize and we’ve received feedback in the past through other types of either natural disasters or other types of crises situations is that we recognize that credit unions don’t need to hear from us. So we’re making resources available to them and asking them what kind of help they need. So what we are hearing from people are give us very practical, actionable ideas around how to get money into the pockets of consumers. Because that’s… One of the things that we are known for from our history is researching and doing product development around some of these types of lending products. And many credit unions don’t have that experience.

George Hofheimer:
Initially that’s what we’re starting to hear. And we are being very understanding that the last thing that people need to hear from right now is a research institute, but we know what lane we sit in and we’re doing a lot of stuff in the background, anticipating what those needs are. And we believe that those needs are really going to be around understanding and assessing financial and physical wellness in this time of uncertainty and then trying to provide liquidity into consumers. So we’re doing our best to kind of keep out of the hair of people that are trying to figure out how to take their entire staff virtual and an industry which is not used to that to try and figure out what this all means for their business proposition and the health and safety of their own employees as well.

Cameron Madill:
Makes sense. What sorts of innovations are you seeing from the community of credit unions that’s already bubbling up.

George Hofheimer:
Yeah. It goes right in line with a thing that I always like to about when people ask me, “Oh yeah, it’s so cool. You work at a think tank and you do innovation within financial services and what’s the coolest innovation?” I always say it’s usually the most boring innovation. And that’s really what we’re seeing. I mean there are not too many things that are just like absolutely mind-blowing. I mean, it is the basic blocking and tackling of the stuff that you mentioned earlier and the regulators have mentioned earlier. But what I think is particularly innovative about this is the speed at which credit unions are actually implementing this and offering it. Obviously there’s ways that credit unions could probably do a little bit better, really simple stuff like this is your field. Hey, if you have a resource guide for people that are affected by this current crisis, don’t make people go to a website and then say, “Oh, here’s a telephone number.”

George Hofheimer:
Or see a link to a page and then you have to do two or three clicks in. It’s very practical stuff just related to increasing people’s cashflow and making it super actionable today. So some of the stuff that we’re seeing is trying to figure out proxies to underwriting. So a lot of credit unions are offering emergency loans and just basically saying that the underwriting is… Number one, are you a member as of this date? Do you have a history of timely payments in the past? If so you qualify for this emergency loan, here are the terms, let’s do it.

George Hofheimer:
So we’re starting to see lots of organizations really just kind of making that trade off and saying, “Okay, we’re usually a much more careful lender but now these are unprecedented times, so we need to react accordingly.”

Cameron Madill:
That makes a lot of sense. And I think I may have mentioned this to you, but I’ve got a wall covered with sticky notes of all the different innovation ideas we’ve had. But the one that’s gotten the most traction is basically a simple way to integrate basically with your website and create like a really simple portal so people can use tools like Zoom for supporting members via video. And so now rather than a big complicated install, you can have a few $15 a month Zoom accounts and let members get that face to face experience. I agree. It is usually the simple things that are often the biggest innovations.

George Hofheimer:
I mean I heard about a credit union in California and I think that they’re in lockdown now, but before that just employees coming up with really creative ways to create a brand structure that enabled them to have fiscal health when interacting with consumers face to face. You know, by just bringing in plexiglass from home and putting them in front of the teller counters. Fairly mundane stuff, but really important as well. I think it’s probably a good lesson, like just in management and leadership and in times of crisis, acting very swiftly and confidently and at the same time recognizing that you’re probably not making all the right decisions, but we just got to keep moving forward.

Cameron Madill:
Yeah. Better to be decisive rather than waffling. I’ve done a bit of work over the years with some of your i3 teams, the innovation teams and then you guys have prototyping. You’ve got these innovation teams. I am curious, as you said, everyone wants to know for the guy who works with a think tank, are there any ideas from your research or i3 teams that maybe could be a big winner for the right credit union willing to put in the extra work right now? Something that’s not broadly scalable, but for a dozen credit unions could really move the needle on their members financial wellbeing.

George Hofheimer:
Well the first thing is probably not as relevant now, but a few years ago an i3 group encouraged credit unions to do pandemic planning so that horse has left the barn.

Cameron Madill:
I remember that. Yup.

George Hofheimer:
That horse has left the barn, but we’re actually in talks with a groups of financial technology providers, Fintechs that have really strong history of providing short term loans in a very, very quick manner to consumers through mobile channels. Groups like QCash out of Washington state employees credit union. And then also talking with folks at a organization called TruConnect, which is an employer sponsored small-dollar loan where the loan is facilitated through and funded the relationships between credit unions and employers sites.

George Hofheimer:
And we’re working with them to try and figure out how might we fast track those solutions to the largest number of credit unions possible. And I’ve probably been on the phone with each of them about three or four times this week and multiple emails back and forth to try and figure out what that might look like. At this point those are the programs that probably have the most bang for the buck in the short term, in the long term I find it really hard to think in the longterm right now. A lot of the work that the i3 groups do are focused in around financial health. There’s just a bevy of ideas that have come out of there that focus in on financial health. And one of the things that we’re trying to do right now and we have been trying to do for a while is to come up with assessments that truly measure people’s financial wellness and trying to link it to physical health.

George Hofheimer:
So we’ve done some really extensive work with individual credit unions and groups of credit unions across the country on a very limited scale. And now we’re trying to right size that stuff to very quick and dirty types of assessments. So that’s one of the things that we’re working on are very rapid prototype type of approach where the scenario would be someone logs into their online banking and that five to six-question assessment allows the credit union to be able to triage people’s needs very quickly.

George Hofheimer:
So that kind of stuff I think is really important. But I would say generally Cameron that the biggest bang for the buck for credit unions into the future is to create a culture of innovation. I think what we’re finding with credit unions now and their reactions to the current crisis is that they have a lot of people that have been given jobs and responsibilities prior to this month that were probably underutilized. And there’s a lot of opportunity and a lot of talent in the industry to help solve problems in a very, very creative way. So I would say like unleashing your employees on really intractable problems. This experience is showing that, that’s a longer term opportunity for credit unions.

Cameron Madill:
I have a colleague who he made this comment, I just loved it, which was that right now what he is seeing is that teams, employees just have an incredible opportunity to be brave and creative and the things that are bubbling up just across the country, across the world, that, that is the opportunity at a time like this is we are willing to move a lot faster and try things that we never would in kind of a steady state environment.

George Hofheimer:
Yeah. At Filene we’ve had the whole Microsoft suite for the past few years and teams was under utilized by a vast majority of people, which is just like a platform to share data and information. And we think one of our greatest accomplishments is that our CEO, Mark Meyer is like a team’s themed now. We’re trying to find the bright spots but the level of collaboration that we have, I would say the first few days of trying to figure out like, how do we work remotely, we’re met with a lot of frustration amongst people for a variety of just technical, logistical and personal reasons. We haven’t kind of hit stride yet, but the level of collaboration is pretty amazing within a short amount of time.

Cameron Madill:
Yeah, I would agree. We’ve always had a fairly location flexible culture, but it was interesting going all remote a couple of weeks ago and definitely some hiccups, but it’s raised all kinds of fascinating opportunities. I would love to know, and I think this ties in, so I guess first of all, just as you know I’m a big fan of the Small-Dollar Loans program, which oddly enough I had heard about through Ted Castle. You’ve worked with a lot and Vermont, It’s a Vermont federal.

George Hofheimer:
NorthCountry Federal Credit Union.

Cameron Madill:
NorthCountry. There’s so many good credit unions in Vermont, I get them mixed up unfortunately. Yeah, so NorthCountry and I remember hearing about and kind of thinking like that’s really cool, we have white collar workers. That’s not really something that we would need. And then it was only because I did the DE program and I did the site visits for payday lenders and the like that I realized several months later we got a call and it was unemployment verification from, I think it was one main financial or whatever it is. And I remember just going, “Holy cow, this is one of our team who’s gone to a payday lender.” And I think it was at their tax refund came in much lower than expected. And so we since put that program into place. What do you think this environment is going to do to payday lenders, check cashers and the like?

George Hofheimer:
Yeah. That’s a really good question. I’m not sure. I mean, I would imagine that the demand for their services is going to increase dramatically. In a time of crisis, the regulatory environment may be fairly kind to them. So I would imagine that they would grow and here’s that opportunity for credit unions to say, okay, we have lots of capital, we have lots of connections in the local community and now we have the will to make these types of lending products available. And I would hope, and I would imagine that after this experience, and I’m a fairly optimistic person and maybe that’s not the right perspective, you need to… When you’re a chief lending officer, you probably have to look skew at people.

George Hofheimer:
But I’m trying to remain positive around the opportunities here is that after this experience, I believe that the human spirit, if you raise a hand down to someone that’s in trouble and in during times of trouble, you help them recover that it pays back many times over. So this could be an opportunity for credit unions to… Looking far down the line to replace the payday lending industry with a real clear understanding of how to do these types of cashflow loans for people in a more humane and sustainable way. I don’t know the answer to that but that would be my hope is that as more people get this type of experience in the lending arena, credit unions had a lot of experience doing this in the twenties and thirties and forties and now history repeats itself, or at least it rhymes.

George Hofheimer:
And maybe we find that this is a product category that hey, it’s never going to create the next big thing on your balance sheet but it’s a really critical product for people. And when you look at the macro economic situation, yes this is going to be a temporary hit to many millions of consumers. But it’s not going to likely come back to where it was before. I would imagine that the proportion of people that are financially challenged after this crisis becomes more normal in our society is going to be a higher proportion of people. You just think about what we’re living through is going to do to people’s balance sheets. So that’s my thought is that the need will be there even after this crisis and now credit unions have experience in figuring out how to solve that need.

Cameron Madill:
Yep. That sort of matches my hope. And I’ve been thinking that a business that doesn’t have small-dollar lending in place probably wouldn’t put it into place right now. This is where it’s basically guaranteed by the company. But I wonder if there’s a big opportunity for credit unions to go partner with these companies that have just been gutted, restaurants or people who serve those sorts of industries and they’ve had to furlough a bunch of folks or do immediate pay cuts and basically say, “Hey, we are like the ethical alternative to payday loans. We know that everyone’s hurting. And I agree it would be a huge opportunity to, in a sense get back to their roots and as a category that’s obviously been tarnished by the regulatory environment, letting payday lenders do so many unethical things, but the need is real. That’s obviously why it flourishes. I’d love to know, what kind of resources are you guys offering to filing members as well as maybe anything to a credit union that’s not a filing member.

George Hofheimer:
Yeah. We’re making all of our resources available for the foreseeable future to anyone that wants them. The entire research library is probably not relevant now. So we’re going to be identifying pieces within our research library, information such as from the last financial crisis. What were some of the characteristics of high-performing institutions. We just recently did a few months ago, we did a piece on credit unions during recessionary times, all of our Small-Dollar Lending programs. So my colleague Taylor Nelms and his team and a bunch of other folks at Filene are coalescing our existing resources and going out and tapping into our network both inside and outside the credit union system to make valuable resources available to people ranging from issues that are directly related to the financial services situation that we’re finding. But then also other issues that we’re finding pop up within our organizations during this crisis.

George Hofheimer:
We’re taking the lead… We’re kind of using our own knowledge and feedback from the industry to figure out what those resources are. But then we’re also looking at… Kind of hearing from the industry and on our website we have a very simple form, says what do you need from us? And utilizing that as a key input mechanism to figure out how to respond and recognizing that not everyone or even a minority of people are going to be able to take the time and tell us what they need, but utilizing that as a way to collect the right information sources.

George Hofheimer:
And then the second thing that we are offering is real practical and actionable guidance and connection to talent and resources to make small-dollar lending a reality in the very, very short term. We’ll be talking a lot more about this. We’re hosting a very quick webinar on April 2nd to kind of talk about some of these initiatives that we’re about to launch to the industry.

Cameron Madill:
Well, that is awesome. Thank you very much for all that you guys are doing to move so fast. So I’ve really enjoyed the podcast. And these are very serious times, but I also feel like we still have to laugh. We still have to have a little bit of joy. So I want to go to some rapid fire questions. And we’re going to learn a little more about the man behind the legend. So I’d love to start out with what is the best advice you’ve ever received?

George Hofheimer:
The best advice I’ve ever received. The best advice I’ve ever received. Well, it’s kind of an anti-answer. I have, one of my college roommates, he’s the most careful person in the world. And any advice he gives me I usually do the opposite.

Cameron Madill:
That’s very good.

George Hofheimer:
I love the guy, I love the guy, but he’s very careful. But on a serious note, the best advice that I’ve ever received was from a guy that I served in the Peace Corps with who had a full career before he joined the Peace Corps and he was kind of in his retirement age and he always encouraged me to leave work where work is and have two lives and he was a guy that really burnt himself out, made a lot of money, but at the end of the day it really wasn’t fulfilling and really encouraged you to have two, three, even four lives. You got your hobbies, you got your family, you got your work, you’ve got other interests and really to make the most of all of those.

Cameron Madill:
I like it. What’s your favorite meal?

George Hofheimer:
My favorite meal. I would say anything with Indian spices in it. My wife and I traveled extensively and we still travel extensively. And one of our most memorable times was in the early to mid nineties. We spent a good amount of time in Northern India and went to places that most tourists don’t go to and went to restaurants and food vendors on the street that mostly spoke Hindi or had menus in Hindi and whatever we chose was great. And anything with Indian spices just absolutely love it.

Cameron Madill:
What is the song you’re most embarrassed to admit that you like?

George Hofheimer:
Oh geez. Christina Aguilera. Just do your thing. You know that song?

Cameron Madill:
Probably, I know a few of her songs.

George Hofheimer:
Just do your thing, baby.

Cameron Madill:
You’ll be the first one to sing it. No one’s ever sang on the podcast before. All right. Getting down to the end. Boxers or briefs.

George Hofheimer:
We don’t live in a binary world anymore.

Cameron Madill:
That’s true. That’s true.

George Hofheimer:
So I’ve got my MeUndies.

Cameron Madill:
Is that one of the hybrid boxers?

George Hofheimer:
Yeah their hybrid. It’s a hybrid. So the answer is yes.

Cameron Madill:
All right. And George what would we find in the trunk of your car right now?

George Hofheimer:
Well, we only have one car and my wife is a neat freak, so absolutely nothing.

Cameron Madill:
That’s really nothing.

George Hofheimer:
But usually if it was my car, we went to a one car family about five years ago. If it was in my car it’d be a bag of soccer balls and yeah, it’d be bag of soccer balls.

Cameron Madill:
That’s pretty good. And then my last rapid fire question, you are one of the few people I knew who has a unique ability. Can you tell us what it is and how you figured it out?

George Hofheimer:
My unique ability, geez, I don’t know what that would be. Do you have something in mind? Is there-

Cameron Madill:
I thought you did a survey on what your unique ability was and it was-

George Hofheimer:
Yeah but that’s kind of boring. Here’s one of my unique abilities. I can speak Uzbek. I can get around with taxi drivers and people at the Bazaar and all of that kind of stuff because I lived there for about four years during my early twenties, early to mid twenties as a Peace Corps volunteer and then got jobs over there. So yes, probably one of the few people in the US that that can speak and understand the Uzbek language, which is kind of like Turkish.

Cameron Madill:
Well as you know, I spent six days there and my Uzbek was nonexistent. So you’re not going to spill the beans is your unique ability, is it a secret? Is it private?

George Hofheimer:
No, I don’t know what it is. [crosstalk 00:36:10]. I see what you’re saying. It’s to take complex topics and make them clear and actionable. That was kind of the basis of that.

Cameron Madill:
And how’d you find it… I think this is really cool. Maybe you think it’s boring, but how did you figure out this whole concept of knowing what your zone of genius or your unique ability is, is a really powerful thing to kind of guide us in our careers. How did you figure yours out?

George Hofheimer:
Well, at Filene we’re doing individual… We have been doing individual professional development planning for a while and about 70% of it is just kind of self-directed types of initiatives. And I read a book called the business of expertise which we were talking about before this by a guy named David C. Baker. And he recommended coalescing 30 to 40 people that you know personally and professionally and asking them a really simple question is what’s my unique ability, which is, I don’t know as introverted person, I don’t like to talk about myself that much. So it was kind of a weird kind of frame the questions like, here’s why I’m asking it, here’s what I want you to do. And you just basically don’t give people much guidance. And that’s kind of the themes that came back. So it was a cool exercise to kind of see how other people view you.

Cameron Madill:
Well, and I remember that absolutely nothing I said in my response made it into your unique ability. So clearly perceptiveness is not my unique ability. George, I’d love to know, just final take, is there anything you didn’t get to or anything you want to reiterate for our audience in these, I guess very topsy-turvy times.

George Hofheimer:
Yeah. Topsy-turvy indeed. Well, I want to thank you for making yourselves available as an organization to push out information that’s useful for people. And I think we’re all trying to figure out how we can be the most helpful as we all kind of deal with all our own disappointments and losses during this strange time. In the very short term for people that are listening to this podcast, in the short term Filene is hosting a webinar on the 2nd of April, talking a little bit more specifically about some of our responses. Then I would encourage people to also go to the Filene website to, if you do have time and you’re kind of flummoxed on something and fill out a very, very simple form to say, how can we help you? And it’s right on our homepage that allows you to answer those questions. So Filene is a support organization for the credit union industry and we want to help support you during these times.

Cameron Madill:
All right, great. George, thanks so much for joining us.

George Hofheimer:
Great. Thank you Cameron.

Cameron Madill:
All right folks. Thanks for joining us today. I really enjoyed chatting with George as always. Few of my key takeaways, I really like George’s concise statement that the goal for a credit union right now should be to find creative ways to get dollars into the pockets of consumers in the midst of this liquidity crisis. Then once we start to move through this, help them to stabilize their finances, help them to recover and help them to thrive. I was just really struck by that. That could almost become a mantra if that was something that the CEO or the leadership and a credit union was just saying every day, how powerful that would be. Helping us all to realign around what really matters right now.

Cameron Madill:
I appreciated George’s perspective on creative solutions and just all the different options out there and going through all of them to evaluate what’s the best fit for your credit union. Skip a pay option, small-dollar loans, adding something like QCash to do rapid online, small-dollar loans, reamortization and mortgages and so on. I also thought it was exciting to hear that there might be some opportunities to collaborate with the banks. Just like the politicians now is definitely the time for bipartisanship work.

Cameron Madill:
I was really intrigued by George’s comment as well about having five or six questions that could just quickly triage member’s financial and physical health and using that as a way to get them assistance and if that’s something that can be rapidly done in online banking or through the website or another tool.

Cameron Madill:
Then I was just lastly really struck by George’s framing, which I’m a big believer in as well, that in every crisis, in every challenge there’s also the kernel of an opportunity of future hope and that right now there’s an incredible opportunity for credit unions to acquire a greater innovation competency in these very difficult times. Let’s unleash our entire teams on our most intractable problems and use that to really make a difference in the lives of our members both today and in the future.

Cameron Madill:
And then lastly, just a reminder that there’s lots of resources available on filene.org including the webinar George referenced on April 2nd and that they’re free and open and available to all credit unions and they’re heavily focused on real, practical, actionable guidance right now. All right. Thanks for joining us today for another great episode. Until the next time, I wish you all the best of luck in making your credit union remarkable.

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