Credit Unions’ Annual Meetings in a Zooming World

The digital experience as a result of Covid lockdowns is so pervasive that demographers are calling current school age children the “zoom generation.”

But all generations are learning to navigate this ever expanding medium. Zoom and all its online counterparts are becoming embedded in every traditional social, educational and entertainment activity.  Church services, weddings, funerals and all kinds of family interactions have online expressions.

Colleges offer not only virtual classes, degrees, and lectures for current students, but also reunions inviting thousands of alumni.  They can participate by submitting short video updates instead of the traditional “class notes.”

Most employers have transitioned all routine office functions to virtual –hiring, staff meetings and all aspects of customer interaction.  Firms specializing in travel now offer virtual tours, some live and others recorded.

The Annual Meeting

One required credit union activity that has gone virtual is the annual meeting.  For many credit unions the event is a mere administrative formality.  Minutes approved, reports read or referenced, and election by acclamation as the number of board openings equals the nominations.  Everything is over in minutes.  The required quorum is largely staff and board.

Last week I watched Patelco’s annual virtual meeting, it’s 84th. Most of the agenda followed the in-person format.  The primary item was  CEO Erin Mendez’s annual update lasting almost 20 minutes.  It went far beyond the Annual Report.  The presentation was comprehensive, concrete and comparative.  Patelco’s financial performance was juxtaposed with credit union and banking peers, a truly professional accounting.

Her speech is worth listening to should Patelco post the video.

The Power of the Medium Still Evolving

Zoom communications offer a much more dynamic opportunity than just translating the current process into a new media.  Rather it is an opportunity to connect with members in totally new ways.  And thereby enhance the member-owner relationship.

But for zoom to transform this member experience, we have to get the old ideas and ways of thinking about this required event out of the way.  In addition to the virtual broadcast, other new capabilities via zoom include:

  • Expanded reach into every home and geographic area with internet, far beyond local members;
  • Instant feedback from attendees via polling and chat comments;
  • Breakout rooms for members to converse with specific credit union experts;
  • Speakers from any location, live or recorded;
  • Video can be integrated into the event;
  • Recording is simultaneous so the event is available anytime and is more complete than summary minutes.

These interactive capabilities are regular features in many zoom academic sessions.  They enable a learning experience much more effective than a one-way lecture.  One professor has encouraged his students to participate actively in the chat window using hashtags: #question; #debate to bring in real diversity of thought; #aha if you have an insight to share; #onfire if you desperately want to get into the conversation right now.

The “Woodstock” of an Annual Meeting via the Internet

Last year Warren Buffett held Berkshire’s annual meeting virtually.  Normally over 40,000 attend in Omaha, NB which has earned the occasion the title of “Woodstock for Capitalists.”  In 2020 the  entire agenda was broadcast live on Yahoo finance and attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers and participants  from around the world.

This year’s meeting will be held on Saturday May 1.  The three-part event Yahoo Pre-meeting Show at 1:00, Question and Answer Period 1:30 – 5:00, and the Formal Shareholder Meeting 5:00 – 5:30 will all be live at https://finance.yahoo.com/brklivestream.

Buffet does not use the full array of digital options listed above.  However, he is an example of a CEO’s total public access and accountability that is unusual today.

The event demonstrates Buffett’s ability to pivot and leverage the power of an enhanced virtual platform for the required shareholder’s meeting.  Buffet began his leadership with Berkshire in 1962.  If this 90-year-old can master the power of this virtual evolution for his shareholders, should credit union leaders aspire to do any less?

 

 

 

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