Annual Connect User Conference Goes Virtual and Brings the Family Together

Credit union staff from across the country attended the third annual Synergent Connect User Conference, held for the first time virtually on August 26. Fondly referred to as the “Synergent Family Reunion,” nearly 160 registrants logged in for a day that provided an opportunity to connect with colleagues. Presentations included a keynote from renowned economist Dr. Stephen Happel, as well as product and service updates provided by Synergent staff.

Scott Johnsen

“We’re pleased you were able to join us virtually today,” opened Scott Johnsen, Synergent Senior Vice President of Operations and host of the Connect User Conference. “As we continue to practice social distancing, we are looking for different ways to connect while adapting to our new normal. And although we can’t gather together this summer, we’re pleased to host the third conference in this online and interactive format.”

Johnsen then reflected on Google’s “Project Aristotle,” a study that sought to determine what makes the most productive teams. It found that successful teams are not simply a combination of expertise, experience, and degrees. The differentiator is human interaction.

“I want to recognize you, our credit unions, as well as the Synergent team who is presenting today for all the dialogues we have had over the year, the trust amongst each other to share thoughts, ideas, opinions, as well as the personal relationships we’ve developed and cherished, especially the professional and personal disruptions that struck with COVID,” said Johnsen.

Todd Mason, President and CEO of Synergent, also welcomed attendees and officially kicked off the day.

Todd Mason

“We’re so thankful for you to spend a few hours with us learning, growing, and hopefully exchanging some great ideas as we go through,” stated Mason.

Mason elaborated that the day included presentations meant to elicit conversation. He noted the importance of arming credit unions with information to ensure they get the most out of their Synergent partnership and provide their members the best service possible.

He then shared a personal story about his role in a 90s dot-com startup. It started with a vision of helping credit unions serve members using the internet. The plan was to be the AOL of credit unions. But when the dot-com bubble burst shortly after it launched, Mason and his team needed to rethink the plans of the company. This required a dramatic pivot, which they did, and as a result, the organization is still alive and well today as a successful CUSO. The experience that Mason provided offers some valuable lessons that also reverberate in today’s climate.

“That experience 20 years ago, it taught me five lessons that have stuck with me today and have been very useful even now as we’ve been working through COVID and so many other things,” reflected Mason.

The five inspiring lessons Mason shared included the following key points:

  • Stay true to your larger mission and direction, but be flexible with your plans on how to achieve them.
  • Play to your strengths and aptitudes.
  • Seek input, listen, and communicate often.
  • Keep moving and iterating, and do it quickly.
  • Celebrate learning, even from the moments that did not go as planned, and in every accomplishment that helps you deliver on your mission.

Mason also acknowledged the many challenges and changes that credit unions and Synergent faced in response to COVID. Credit unions and Synergent share the goal of improving the financial lives of members. What was planned at the start of 2020 was dramatically different than what happened, which made pivoting necessary.

“You listened to your members and their needs when COVID hit and we listened to you and responded quickly,” said Mason. “Overnight, we shifted our operations, you shifted your operation to digital and we kept on moving. What we once thought was impossible now seems inevitable. The collective accomplishments we have are many.”

Dr. Stephen Happel

2020: Impacts of COVID-19 on the U.S. Economy, the Upcoming Elections, and the Next Four Years
Dr. Stephen Happel
Emeritus Professor of Economics
Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business

Keynote presenter Dr. Stephen Happel is a nationally recognized speaker on the current outlook for the U.S. and individual states’ economies, key demographic trends affecting financial institutions, Federal Reserve policy, and current tax/spending proposals. He has authored two textbooks and over 100 articles in both professional journals and popular press publications, including the Wall Street Journal.

“First of all, I’m an optimist,” shared Happel. “I buy lottery tickets, that ought to tell you something right there, I’m an optimist. And I’m especially an optimist over the years about the U.S. economy. I love capitalism. To be more precise, I love moral capitalism.”

Dr. Happel used a Dilbert cartoon to further illustrate his belief in capitalism. It read, “When one person doesn’t understand economics, we call it ignorance. When millions don’t, we call it a political movement.” He stressed that when taking action, one can’t only consider the course of action, the cost also must be considered no matter what the benefits are.

He also spoke of the importance of 3% real GDP growth. When this goes down to even 2% growth, people suffer. Dr. Happel referenced handouts that included the 2020 Real GDP Forecast. They showed the overall 2020 Real GDP Forecast as of August 10, 2020 was projected to be -5.2%.

“Since 1950, there has never been another year like this year,” stressed Dr. Happel. “Not even close to what we have going on. The last time we had anything like this was, of course, the Great Depression.”

He also reviewed GDP growth by the decades from 1950 through 2020. Breaking down the analysis based on presidential terms of office. He began with the Eisenhower administration, during which time GDP growth averaged 2.6%, which is surprising given the perceived growth associated with the 1950s. During the Kennedy and Johnson eras, growth skyrocketed, averaging 4.8%, representing one of the greatest economic booms in our country’s history. In the Nixon and Ford years, GDP dipped back down to 2.8%. For Carter, it went up to 3.3%. Ronald Reagan was said to be the only Republican president in the last 60-70 years who had significant GDP growth averaging more than 3%. The years that followed with George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton saw GDP of 2.1% and 3.8%. GDP stayed at 3% for George W. Bush but dipped to 1.5% during the Obama administration.

In looking at real GDP growth for 2020, Dr. Happel expressed concern. In looking at the Consumer Price Index, the projection is that it will be only .9%, but a great concern that will affect the outcome of the year is whether inflation hits. Industrial production was down over 8%, while personal disposal income was up 4.5%, but Dr. Happel attributed some of this to stimulus payments and unemployment checks. Personal consumption expenditures were down over 5% and corporate profits are down over 15%. Housing starts are a bright spot in the economy. The year started strong, dipped a bit with COVID concerns, but came back strong, along with home sales. Auto and light truck sales were over 17 million from 2016-2019, now they’re down to 13.8 million.

“Overall, this is a really scary forecast,” reflected Dr. Happel.

In looking at negatives and positives of the current U.S. economy, Dr. Happel highlighted the following points:

Negatives

  • 20 million people are unemployed.
  • Continued COVID outbreaks.
  • Consumer confidence is at the lowest level in six years.
  • Government stimulus packages are expiring that could spark a wave of evictions.

Positives

  • Americans are innovative – we adapt. Through COVID, we’ve adjusted how we do business.
  • New home sales have surged to a 14-year high.
  • U.S. savings rate has shot up to 25%.
  • Durable goods sales are booming.
  • Retail sales in May and June were up.
  • Improved trade talks with China.

Beyond the upcoming election, two primary concerns persist according to Dr. Happel.

  1. The Fed has been pumping money into the economy. The money supply is up 25%, which is concerning due to the potential for inflation. The Consumer Price Index has gone up to .6%.
  2. There is the potential for a global recession. Multiple economies around the world are in a downturn at this time.

There is a drastic disagreement among economists in what is projected for Real GDP growth in 2021. The average projection is 3.8%. The high is 6.5%, the low is .4%.

“I never have seen more disagreement among economists in my life than what’s going to happen next year,” stated Dr. Happel. “I think of course there’s great concern about the COVID situation. I think there’s also great concern about what’s going to happen after the election, whether it’s going to be Biden or Trump and what that will mean for the economy.”

Further diving into current economic trends, Dr. Happel shared a job growth chart showing state rankings for all states. All percentages of change were negative, with the average percent of change for the U.S. as a whole at -8.72%. He also took a detailed look at generational numbers and traits. With a significant number of young adults comprising the current U.S. population, the demographics for a consumption-driven economy are “highly favorable.”

In terms of the upcoming presidential election, Dr. Happel articulated that Joe Biden has a “very good chance” of winning the election. He provided a comparative analysis of the platforms and proposed polices of both platforms and what the economic effects could be for each.

U.S. relations with China were discussed by Dr. Happel. He opined that the tariffs in place ultimately hurt the Chinese economy more than it hurts ours. Their GDP is about 70% of that of the U.S. GDP. However, according to China’s statistics, they may be the only major country in the world that will have positive economic growth this year. To continue on a path of growth and to work through the tariffs, Dr. Happel thinks China is a positive for the U.S. economy.

Is a recession on the horizon? The Blue Chip Forecasters predict a 35% chance of a major recession, but Dr. Happel disagrees.

“I am much more optimistic,” commented Dr. Happel. “I think particularly if a vaccine comes along, the American consumer will rebound sitting on this high savings rate. So, I remain relatively optimistic about next year. And then beyond that, I don’t know with Biden vs. Trump. I do think the demographics are very favorable, all things considered.”

Synergent Product and Service Updates

The afternoon provided many updates from Synergent’s in-house subject matter experts.

My Synergent and Service Update

Michelle McLean, Salesforce Administrator, and Mallory Farrell, Assistant Vice President of Operations, shared a year-in-review look at the phased migration of all Synergent credit unions from CUTRAC to the new ticketing system, My Synergent. They also covered the following key points:

  • My Synergent Product Review
  • My Synergent Service & Reporting
  • Workflow Improvements
  • Security
  • COVID-19 Impact and Response
  • Roadmap

Marketing Product Update
Doug MacDonald, Vice President of Marketing Services, reviewed the ever-evolving marketing landscape. Martech alone has experienced 5,233% growth since 2011!  He reinforced the importance of having predictive, proactive, and personalized member marketing and communications and highlighted what new products are available. Key elements presented included:

  • Consultation/Planning Services
  • Synergent Rewards Platform
  • Data-Driven Marketing Automations
  • Marketer’s Toolkits
  • Interactive Digital Publications
  • Virtual Meetings
  • COVID-19 Impact and Response
  • Roadmap

Payments Product Update
Karen Martin, Product Owner – Payments, and Rebekah Higgins, Payment and Fraud Consultant, provided insight into payments products delivered by Synergent and the primary focus they have on growth strategies, digital transactions, and risk management. In providing payment solutions to members, penetration, activation, and usage are key goals. Other topics they discussed included:

  • SWBC Partnership for Loan Payments
  • Contactless Debit
  • MagTek Integration
  • CardValet SSO
  • Risk Management Solutions
  • Payment and Fraud Consulting
  • COVID-19 Impact and Response
  • Roadmap

Technology Product Update
Amy Keaten, Product Owner – Technology, and Sam Madgey, Assistant Vice President of Development, provided an overview that focused on delivered solutions, existing partnerships, workflow efficiencies, and digital channels. Some key areas covered in their presentation included:

  • XAccount Change
  • Synergent Rewards
  • Digital Banking Solutions
  • Task Forces
  • COVID-19 Impact and Response
  • Roadmap

The Synergent Difference

The Connect User Conference is one more way that Synergent serves its credit union users. Finding the right partner to manage integrations, software solutions, conduct system maintenance, and to keep credit unions informed of the latest innovations helps credit unions remain competitive and agile in the financial services space. Synergent takes a holistic approach to meet these challenges, providing strategic consultation, support, and education as the premier managed services provider. This complimentary event for Synergent users fostered virtual interactions and provided valuable information and insights to assist credit unions with their day-to-day operations.