Pandemic throws credit union hiring for a loop

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The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting more than just the bottom line for credit unions – it is also be playing a role in how those institutions’ executive teams are staffed.

The coronavirus outbreak and ensuing economic downturn have led some financial executives to rethink a variety of staffing issues, including how and when to hire or promote talent, as well as what their own career paths may look like moving forward. Observers say those trends are likely to last well into next year.

As credit unions move ahead with pandemic hiring, the positions being staffed are generally all mission critical, said Carll Wilkinson, a managing partner at Smith & Wilkinson. While growth-oriented hires – including staffing up for new projects – are down, retirements have increased, he said.

“The stock market has remained at or near all-time highs, retirement portfolios are flush and lots of bankers and credit union execs are pulling the ripcord,” Wilkinson said.

Hiring is down, noted Wilkinson, but it is not a dramatic drop. Smith & Wilkinson anticipates a 10-15% decline in revenue this year due a slowdown executive-level hiring compared to the past two years.

While the credit union industry is shrinking, leading to a reduction in the number of executive-level positions available, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a broader decline in C-Suite jobs, including at the CEO level. BLS forecasts a 10% decline in the number of CEO positions between 2019 and 2029, due in part to improvements in technology and changing organizational structures.

Credit union executives are also keeping a close eye on hiring trends.

“I know a lot of the C-Suite jobs posted on the credit union recruiters’ websites disappeared, or at least decreased, from April to say about July,” said Matt Selke, CEO of $79 million-asset Pinnacle Credit Union in Atlanta.

Selke said some older CEOs in his region are holding off on retirement until things stabilize, much like leaders did during the Great Recession.

“Veteran CEOs are going to weather the storm and then reevaluate in the near future,” he said. “I wonder if we will see a wave of retirements from the C-suite in 2021 or 2022 once this has passed.”

Wilkinson said his firm has not had any issues attracting candidates for open positions and has put just one CEO search on hold. “The pandemic is now seven months old,” he said. “We are not hoarding beans and rice. Candidates are managing their careers much as they always would, with the exception of problem institutions.”

But Selke said based on his discussions with others in the industry, many executives who were considering job changes in the hopes of better positioning themselves for promotion seem to have stepped back and are now taking a wait-and see-approach.

Pinnacle needs to hire for some senior positions, he said, and so far it has seen a lot of good resumes, especially from bank employees who were laid off. “It’s a weird time, reminiscent of ‘08-‘09 where those that have a good or decent job are hunkering down to weather this storm,” Selke said.

Just as the pandemic hit some parts of the country sooner or harder than others, some suggest the hiring picture may vary by location.

Shane London, president and CEO of $793 million-asset Deseret First Credit Union in West Valley City, Utah, said he has not noticed any slowdown in executive-level hiring during the pandemic.

“I know of several CEOs who are retiring this year and are moving ahead with their plans,” he said. “I’ve heard of a few other credit unions that have replaced individuals in C-Suite positions and haven’t really noticed any slowdown.”

He said the only “strange” part of the executive hiring process now is conducting the interviews virtually. London added that the one issue he hears the most chatter about is whether C-Suite executives will continue to work remotely after the pandemic subsides.

B.J. Berrettini, a banking recruiter with AJ Consultants in Kingston, Pennsylvania, said the firm is about to launch a chief lending officer search for a credit union. He said A-players always rise to the top during a crisis, so listening intently to chatter in the talent economy has been beneficial.

The pandemic and associated pressures may have pushed some top-level management into early retirement, he said, but others have delayed their planned exit until the storm subsides.

A few CEO searches the firm was working on were initially bumped back regardless of candidate interest, but Berrettini said he is now seeing an uptick in active and forthcoming searches in other C-suite roles. Those openings materialized for a variety of reasons including retirements, revised strategic initiatives and restructuring, he said.

“In the end, the best talents keep their options open, so we are still seeing a high level of search engagement. Most of our clients have found opportunity amidst the chaos,” he said.

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Workforce management C-suite Succession planning Recruiting Career moves Career advancement Career planning Credit unions Coronavirus