A Reaction to Patelco’s Annual Meeting

One permanent change from Covid’s impact is that organizations now live in a hybrid world.   There is the continuing day to day in person contacts and multiple virtual options for meetings and corporate events.

For example, most churches no matter the size, continue to provide both in-person and simultaneous zoom or YouTube broadcasts.  Restaurants continue to promote takeout options in tandem with full dine in re-openings.

In some instances I have found even local persons reluctant to meet in person, preferring the remoteness of a zoom conversation.

The Digital Hybrid World

The virtual interactions are now a routine part of high school curriculum options.  I recently received a link to the InfoFlow morning news show from Montgomery County’s Blair High School.   This virtual broadcast replaces the morning home room announcement over the PA system.

The episode shows a news desk with two student anchors presenting daily updates.  About two minutes in there is an external report on a local historical project recorded by a school reporter in which I participate.  The full broadcast can be viewed here.

The next generation is living and practicing this hybrid reality as a normal part of their activities.

The Credit Union Application

This past Friday I virtually “attended”  Patelco’s Annual Meeting.  The video was primarily the Chairman and CEO talking at desks with senior staff members available.

The format was fully scripted, as are most annual meetings.  The minutes and numerous reports were referred to as being available on the website.  The CEO Erin Mendez gave a short update including graphs showing Patelco’s key trends versus its California peers and the top 30 credit unions nationally.   They showed Patelco’s  10.07% net worth and ROA of .77% for 2023, significantly stronger than the two peer groups.

The directors ”election” was a formality since there were just three candidates and three openings .

The most interesting point was the Q&A at the end of the prepared agenda.   There were perhaps ten questions posted in the chat that were answered by the CEO, staff and even the chair.  These included CEO and board succession planning, priorities for 2024, questions on investments etc.

This was the one chance for members to interact, even though under the control of the virtual operator.

My overall impression of the meeting was a feeling of “formal awkwardness.”  Opening comments were read.  There were motions to move and accept minutes and reports, but no visuals of the members doing so, just head shots of officials leading the meeting.

Patelco now has over 500,000 member-owners.  Several decades ago, the credit union made an attempt to connect with members by holding 50 “town hall” meetings, or one a week, at branch and other locations in their market area.   These conversations with members were led by senior staff. In at least once case the meeting was recorded on video.  The goal was to update members and to listen to their  issues or needs.   But most importantly, to be seen and be available.

Such public interactions take practice.   Once a year formal meetings with Robert’s Rules of Order are not a substitute for ongoing, open conversations with owners.

Such contacts are  the grassroots of democratic governance.   Leaders have a chance to demonstrate their skills and accountability; and most critically to earn members’ confidence for the entire leadership team.

An additional start to develop this competence might be quarterly hybrid town halls with the latest business updates and outlooks.   It is standard operating procedure for public and even private companies.  Just follow any of the quarterly reports being presented daily in this “earnings season.”

Credit unions have an even more compelling reasons for engaging in open member dialogues.  It is not about supporting the stock price or analysts’ ratings; it is a much simpler reality: “They own us.”



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