Drive down Main Street in Enterprise, Alabama, and you may be surprised to find yourself staring up at a 13-foot-tall statue of a woman in Grecian robes holding a bug. Yes, a bug. As a matter of fact, the Boll Weevil statue is the only monument in the world dedicated to an agricultural pest.
As a young boy growing up in Alabama, I learned the story of the Boll Weevil and the impact it had on Alabama agriculture. Until the early 1900s, the cash crop in Alabama was cotton. Entire economies relied on it … that is until the Boll Weevil arrived. The Boll Weevil is an ugly little bug from Mexico that moves fast and loves cotton. By 1909 the Boll Weevil had made its way into Alabama, and by 1915 into South Alabama. In one year, 60% of the cotton crop was destroyed leaving communities in turmoil. Within a few years, the Boll Weevil nearly devastated the economy of the South. What to do?
Up until the late 1800’s, most Americans gave little attention to the peanut. Only after P.T. Barnum began to sell them at his famous circus, and George Washington Carver crusaded on their behalf, did people begin to take notice. It turns out that Alabama has the perfect climate for growing peanuts. That, coupled with its desperate need for a new cash crop, catapulted South Alabama into a new prosperity as the leading peanut producer in the world. All due to a bug.
2020 has brought a new bug into our lives that has altered norms and methods of doing business. For many of us, before 2020, “Zoom” was a television show from the 1970s and Corona was just a beer. Businesses and credit unions that thrive are the ones that have recognized the opportunity to evolve during times of Crisis. Many credit unions have found unique ways to serve their members from by-appointment-only meetings, remote consultations, and extending forbearance on loans.
Although credit unions are in the business of serving members, some credit unions have opened themselves to huge losses. Because of the higher number of vehicle repossessions, Pete Hilger, CEO and President of Allied Solutions, is quoted in CUToday.info as saying “credit unions could face large collateral losses, and unwanted car sales on their lots in the coming year if their repossession processes are not in good working order and plans are weak.” Jake Aschendorf, Founder of Collateral Mitigation Services says “in addition to assisting members, credit unions need to also mitigate their own losses. Stewardship is as important as service”.
Although Covid 19 is a bug of a different name, I don’t believe we will be erecting a statue in its honor in the future. I do believe, however, that credit unions that look for innovative ways to not only serve their members, but mitigate loss will define the new normal in years to come.