Another Tastee Diner Lesson

Readers of this blog may recall the first time I wrote about Bethesda’s oldest, continually operating restaurant. In it I asked the question how this old fashioned restaurant model, serving comfort food, open 24 hours a day could survive in the affluent, high-end dining market now dominating Bethesda. Moreover, the new 27 story international headquarters of Marriott International is going up cheek and jowl on three sides. Why didn’t they just move out? The owner’s answer was simple: “We own the land.”

Normally the diner closes only one day per year, Christmas. But when Maryland went into a state-wide stay-at-home order, the diner closed just as every other retail establishment. Two weeks ago, Maryland entered Phase 2. The diner reopened following the state’s covid guidelines.

I visited Sunday morning to see how they were doing. Was there another lesson for credit unions from this locally owned business landmark?

The Menus: Phase 2, Printed on Paper, Used Once , and Thrown Away

Construction work continues on Marriott’s new headquarters. Eleven stories done, sixteen more to come:

Covid warriors/waitstaff clean every table and benches after each customer. Every other booth is closed. Nothing on tables except napkin holder and sugar packets.

Approximately twelve employees: cooks, wait staff, clean up, owner and cashier. Only four customers at normal peak breakfast time. Covid’s seating capacity is 75 socially distanced.

Tastee Diner’s Challenge is the Country’s

When will guests return? Being open is not sufficient. Customers must feel safe to venture out. That is something Tastee cannot control, but requires consumer confidence in their public officials. Only then can the economy become self-sustaining.

Ben Franklin: Declaration Signer, Creator of Civic Enterprises and Proponent of Community Values

Benjamin Franklin (born January 17, 1706, Boston, Massachusetts, died April 17, 1790, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) was a person of extraordinary talent. He made lasting contributions to multiple areas of human endeavor including practicing the cooperative principle of Paying It Forward.

As a signer of the Declaration of Independence, he played a major role in getting the document approved and adopted by the Continental Congress. Perhaps more critical, he served as Ambassador to France from 1777 to 1785. securing France’s financial and military assistance in the Revolutionary War.

His Areas of Intellectual and Social Enterprise

One of 17 children, he went to work at age twelve in a print shop run by his older brothers. He published his insights in Poor Richard’s Almanac, many of which are still recited today: “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

As a tradesman and inventor his ambition, intellectual energy and sociable nature, made him a natural leader of public projects. His lifelong commitment to self-improvement also manifested in his civic initiatives to upgrade living conditions in mid 18th Century Philadelphia.

Beginning in 1727, Franklin and his associates enhanced community life establishing a lending library, hospital, school, fire brigade, insurance company, learned society, and militia. To advance public safety: he supervised the lighting, cleaning, and paving of Philadelphia streets and designed a fireplace that conserved fuel while avoiding house fires.

These civic endeavors were in addition to his work as an inventor (bifocals and Franklin stove), scientist (theorist about electricity), musician and author of timeless insights on human nature and society.

The Cooperative Foundation: Pay It Forward

Much of Franklin’s multifaceted contributions from his discipline and hard work, arise from a value centered life focused on the question, how can I help?

“Pay it forward” is the concept that when someone does something for you, instead of paying that person back directly, you pass the kindness on to another person.

In a letter to Benjamin Webb (April 25, 1784) who’d requested to borrow money, Franklin asked his friend to repay the debt by lending to someone else in need down the road. Instead of receiving repayment, he sought to do a world of good with what little he had to give. 

I do not pretend to give such a deed; I only lend it to you. When you meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.

One outgrowth of his “doing a deal of good with a little money” is today’s cooperative credit union movement. Another enduring legacy from the nation’s founders.

As we celebrate this 244th anniversary of the 4th of July Declaration, Franklin’s reflection on our nation’s governance remains timeless:

The U.S. Constitution doesn’t guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself.

Awards and Institutional Culture

Most credit union associations, many credit unions, CUSOs and even some vendors present periodic awards to individuals or credit unions. These honor specific contributions and reinforce values the groups want to celebrate. Internally, awards reinforce the culture an organization is trying to cultivate.

NCUA’s Awards in 1977

My first recollection of industry awards for results was in a 1977 NCUA press release. Details are now vague. But I recall two specific recognitions.

The first was for the agency employee(s) who had helped charter the most new credit unions during the year. The second was for credit unions that achieved the highest amount of savings growth.

Both awards embodied the agency’s view of its mission and results. The contrast with today’s absence of new charters, promotion of mergers and idolatry of net worth is stark.

An Insight from Police Reform

The Denver Police Department’s decade long effort at cultural reform included reviewing its award ceremonies.

Prior to this effort, every year officers were recognized for “justified use of force,” that is deadly shootings in the line of duty.

The new award, honoring efforts to deescalate encounters, was named the “perseveration of life.”

Awards Say Who We Are

Whether the action be a lifetime achievement or a one-year recognition for outstanding results, awards publicize organizational mindsets.

For many years NCUA and state regulators have viewed their primary task as a mortuary for credit unions they supervise. The announcements come on Friday evenings after reporters have gone home of another “justifiable homicide.” IBEW Local Union 712 Closes; West Penn P&P Assumes Loans, Assets, Shares

Might a new recognition change this regulatory mindset? Is now the time for the credit union community to honor the regulator, supervisor or examiner(s) whose present actions best exemplifies cooperative innovation, credit union ideals and most importantly, sustainability?

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Why Change? A Sentence from a Sermon

On Sunday June 14, 2002, Rev. William Barber III gave a 43-minute sermon to an empty Washington National Cathedral. He integrated events from American history to provide a context for his message: “America, accepting death is not an option anymore.”


One example of his literalness: In America you can find unleaded gas anywhere, but also cities where there is no unleaded water.

His use of historical facts provides a picture of America that was not part of any course I took. Be inspired.

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The Benefits of the Covid Crisis

The following are notes from the CEO’s comments and Chairman’s close at a credit unions” members’ virtual annual business meeting a week ago. The CEO summarized covid’s lessons to date:

  1. Interrupted what we were doing, gave us time to rethink priorities, reengineer the financials, and focus on strategy after coronavirus;
  2. Stay at home orders for our staff and members meant the virtual future anticipated in 2025 is here now;
  3. Our experience has given us renewed confidence we can endure in the future. Many of our younger leaders have not had to manage a crisis. This event makes them “battle-tried.”
  4. Crisis confirmed the advantages of being local. We are part of the community. We lead recovery with our example.

He concluded: This is the first national public health crisis for over a century We will document our plans to tell a winning story afterwards. More importantly, we are more prepared and empowered to confront the next unforeseen challenge .

Better Than Before

The Chairman closed the meeting by giving his future vision: Better Than Before. The pandemic required an immediate response of continuous innovation and improvement. He promised to sustain that momentum even when “we are standing on the other side” of this event.

What are your your credit union’s learnings at this phase of the crisis? Are you documenting actions to have a road map for the next disruption?

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Two Observations on Personal Relationships

A credit union CEO during the current pandemic:

I continue to be amazed at how our employees prove to be the best and brightest financial experts in the industry. Our 800-plus employees have been diligent while standing ready to serve and offer smart solutions. I can’t thank them enough and appreciate everything they are doing.

From a Data Processor Executive:

It’s far easier for a community bank to catch up on five years of technical innovation than it is for a neobank (fintech) to catch up on 50 years of hard earned customer loyalty.

Schools Out: Virtual Summer Internships

The summer job market for students out of high school and college is more uncertain than usual. Employment in traditional roles in day camps, athletic leagues, and even retail stores are much fewer.

But remote capabilities, developed to serve members, may also be a way to employ interns in value enhancing projects. Many of these students have spent not just the last semester, but much of their educational experience living in the virtual world.

An Example: The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is employing 40 undergraduate and graduate students in its 29-year Junior Fellows summer intern program.

The program’s goal is to “enable expanded access to and promote broader awareness of Library resources among members of Congress and researchers, including scholars, students, teachers and the general public.”

All work will be virtual. The ten-week program includes 27 projects across all divisions of the Library.

These range from archiving assets from 20 years of past National Book Festivals, exploring the history of African American business and entrepreneurship, visualizing and mapping collections of literary artists from the Caribbean, Latin America, Iberia and Hispanic or Lusophone cultures, and measuring how different light sources affect the visual aging of inks and papers.

The Junior Fellows also participate in virtual professional-development opportunities including assessments, tours, courses and special events intended to increase engagement with the Library.

In the final week each intern will present their most significant discoveries in a virtual display day.

Virtual Interns

This past Sunday a high school student talked about her frustration when she was unable to join the demonstrations in DC due to a summer rainstorm. The next day, Saturday, she decided to organize her own protest for three days later. Working long days and nights with friends she identified the site an empty municipal library parking lot, notified officials, arranged speakers and asked people to come. She thought several hundred might show up. Nearly one thousand did.

Over the past several weeks, many young people have participated in calls for change. Can we provide this generation opportunities to explore credit unions as one option for their energy, creativity, engagement and commitment? Ten weeks only? And perhaps enable change leaders?

Credit Union CEOs Speak Up

America is confronting three difficult problems: a health pandemic, economic downturn and systemic racism.

After George Floyd’s death many felt the call of conscience to state clearly our values–personal and institutional.

Two veteran CEOs have provided thoughtful perspectives. The first message reinforces the vital role credit unions have to ameliorate systemic inequalities and provide hope. The second is a call to action by the CEO to his partner teammates.

These have been edited with permission of the writers. Their full statements can be read at the link following each excerpt.

What Protests Teach Us –Local Government FCU/CIVIC FCU CEO Maurice Smith:

The recent protests taking place around the country over the death of George Floyd is an opportunity to learn important lessons.

Protesting is an American right.

Protests awaken in all of us a reaction that should be addressed. First, we observe and learn about the underlying issues that brought about the protests in the first place. Second, we are forced to look at our world and develop an opinion on sides, morality and messages. Finally, we must decide what action we should take. Even if we choose to not react, inaction is a decision.

What is clear about protests, nobody is happy. Everyone has a motivation to find solutions.

Credit unions were invented to address a social problem. Let’s not be dismissive to the real mission of credit unions. To reduce the role of credit unions to mere commodity peddlers is missing the point. The reason we offer financial services is to remedy social conditions.

There is a connection between social determinants of poverty and the protests we see around the nations.

Financial wellness, literacy and education empowers households to be good consumers. Community wealth draws stable neighborhoods, retail outlets, access to healthcare and better schools. These opportunities build hope and a positive outlook for the future.

Now imagine a community that lacks the basic ingredients for financial enablement. Credit unions came along to fill this gap.

Credit unions use their cooperative principles of member empowerment to supercharge community involvement. We offer viable solutions. We give members choices. The most important benefit we give a community is a sense of hope.

Social unrest is an opportunity for us to meet a real need for productive change. Let’s show the world what credit unions really stand for.

Taking Action -Wright-Patt Credit Union CEO Doug Fecher


I want to acknowledge on behalf of myself and our credit union the pain that many in our community are feeling. And I want us to do something about it. America is better than this. America must be better than this. I know America can be better than this.

To make WPCU’s position clear, earlier this week I authorized the release of a statement via social media:

Wright-Patt Credit Union was built on the fabric of people helping people. This means all people. We are committed to an inclusive environment and respect people of all backgrounds and experiences. We acknowledge the impact of racism and unequal treatment of African Americans which has gone on for far too long in our country.

We condemn all acts of racism, injustice, hatred and violence. More importantly, we recognize that it is not enough to just voice these words – we must back them with positive actions that seek to understand, heal, and grow towards an inclusive society for all. The undeniable truth is that all people are created equal and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, in a world free from injustice and hate.

We recognize that there is a long way to go in the quest for justice for all people of our community. The first step is to stand up and be counted: Injustice in all its forms must end today. Wright-Patt Credit Union is committed to promoting equity and inclusion throughout the communities we serve.

People are the strength of Wright-Patt Credit Union. We embrace the diversity of the world around us and seek justice for all. This is our promise to all.

We take very seriously the idea that “without action, words are just words.”

The only way meaningful change will happen is for good people to stand up and say “enough”.

There is a lot we can do. we have been working on a broad plan to address diversity & inclusion at WPCU. Our work in that area now takes on even greater meaning and urgency.

America is a great country, but not a perfect one. It is up to us to make it a place that serves everybody on the same terms.

We are all in this together, and together we can all make a difference. We are nothing if we are not a force for good … we help people through life.

Tracking Members in Transition in this Crisis

 Keeping an Eye Out for Our Members

 In a recent post I suggested that data analytics could be a powerful tool to identify members going through an economic transition in the pandemic.

Today’s 13.3% unemployment rate for May highlights the importance of tracking this trend at the member level.

Following is a series of graphs with commentary,  showing one credit union’s real time data. With total assets of $150 million, these graphs demonstrate both their ability to focus on the most urgent member situations, and to show regulators  competency to manage the risks, if any, from their special programs.

Credit Union’s Member Unemployment Curve

While we are tracking # of members receiving UE each week – this shows the # of unique members receiving Unemployment on a weekly & monthly trend.

The # of member numbers receiving weekly UE benefits continues to rise with a decline the last week of the May. Definitely something we will continue to monitor.

Monthly View:

Quick math showing # Members that received an Unemployment ACH vs Overall Members w/ a Direct Deposit in a month.

Mbrs w/ UE Deposit Overall Unique Depositors UE Rate
Jan 22 7281 0.30%
Feb 23 7357 0.31%
Mar 71 7391 0.96%
Apr 337 7500 4.49%
May 471 6894* 6.83%

*May is showing fewer depositors due to at time of pulling data – Soc Security had not deposited yet (we have been posting early in prev. months)

Keeping an Eye Out for our Members

We recently compiled some data to reach out to members that have made or requested loan adjustments – here is some data:

# Mbrs w/ UE Deposit UE Mbrs w/ Loan UE Mbrs w/ Loan that Skipped Payment
Apr 337 171 (50.7%) 32 (18.7%)
May 471 218 (46.3%) 41 (18.8%)

April and May were consistent. Approx. 50% of the members that received an Unemployment Benefit have a loan with us.

Further – of the 50% that have a loan, 18% of those members performed a Skip-A-Pay. (Lower than expected). This is something we will continue to monitor to see if a trend appears.

Reshaping the ACH Deposits:

We divided our ACH Deposits into 5 categories:

Tax Refunds, Govt Benefits, Unemployment, P2P Transactions, and Payroll/Other

Here is a March vs May comparison of Incoming ACH Deposits by Category

March 2020:

May 2020


Unemployment ACH has gone from nearly non-existent in March ($60,000) to 8% ($1,620,000) of our ACH deposits in May.

Average Deposit Amounts

As we know, the Government has provided additional assistance to the Unemployment Benefits. That can be reflected in the data here:

And for the Payroll category the average deposit has decreased as expected.

Plenty more where this came from:

We can use Tool 232 – Common Bonds to analyze this group further. This will give us a complete breakdown of the 471 members that received Unemployment during the month of May – it’s an excellent resource.

Where this dataset is now built we can update this information pretty easily going forward as well.