By Steve Stahl
NACM Heartland Chair
Last September, when I was sworn in as the chair of NACM Heartland, I was focused on how the board could best move forward and achieve the goals that had been established at an earlier strategic planning session. We were doing quite well until March 13, 2020.
It is not lost on me that it was Friday the 13th when business as usual was turned on its head. It seemed surreal that our global economy was going to have to operate out of home offices that were more often than not kitchen tables or makeshift desks in the living room. As a banker, I witnessed first nervous customers and a lull in daily business. Then began the federal loan programs that kept us in the office for long days. And, then came the reality that some customers were in trouble.
In my many years in banking, I have always been a cash flow guy. With COVID-19, we’ve had to trust our customers more than in the past by making decisions that will assist them by deferring payments. While it’s not ideal, the only other option is to leave them past due. With cash flow being the source of repayment, things are not “normal” for a portion of the industries. And who would have ever thought that we would have a national shortage on change? Imagine going to your bank to ask them for petty cash to run your day-to-day operations and be told that we have limited availability.
My day job prepared me well to think about how we could best serve our Heartland members. It was quickly obvious that most business people just wanted to know they weren’t alone. As the board and staff discussed the variety of ways we could help, we realized the first step would be to gather information.
Obviously, we couldn’t meet in person. However, we stepped up and resolved this by having Zoom meetings. Whether it was for your respective exchange group or the Roundtables that we’ve been doing, I am proud to say that the attendance has been better than anticipated. While each of our industries has been impacted, it still remains the people of these groups that makes me proud to be part of this organization.
At the beginning of COVID, I felt that each person on the roundtable calls just wanted to hear what was happening with other businesses/industries, but it has moved beyond to an area where there is a useful exchange of information. This has been, and remains, a learning experience for all of us. And it still comes back to the members asking questions and sharing information. More than once we’ve had members say they wouldn’t have tracked something, or we wouldn’t have considered this, or these calls have really helped me.
Since April 1, we have hosted nine webinars and virtual roundtables that were specifically COVID related. Collectively, there were more than 530 participants. These numbers do not include the special supplemental meetings of our credit exchange groups, which were well attend. Our webinar lineup featuring Chad Hart, an ag economist from Iowa State; United TranzAction, our preferred payments vendor; Chris Kuehl, an economist; and the Dairy Farmers of America.
What impressed me during these webinars, and even now, is how we have stayed focused even with “all the noise around us.” We have facilitated the exchange of data, information and support just as we have always intended. I sincerely believe as an organization we haven’t missed a beat as we moved from in-person meetings to virtual meetings.
So now we are four months removed from the start of business changing pandemic. I had hoped we would be further along in recovery because I have been looking forward to seeing each of you and shaking hands again. But, the reality is we have a long way to go.
Covid has made us all think outside the box. I see us as continuing to serve the members in the same diligent manner that we have in the past – whether it continues in a virtual manner, or some hybrid. We are open to suggestions about how to better serve you. Whether it is a topic for a webinar, or a suggestion about how we are communicating, we want to know. Simply drop me or Maggie a note.
I cannot thank you again for being supportive and staying engaged as we continue to work through this pandemic. It is truly a pleasure to serve as the chair of your association.
is the current NACM Heartland Chair and has served as a Heartland board member for seven years. He is the Credit Officer for Great Western Bank.