When I joined GOLD in 2003 and took the reins as CEO in 2009, I never anticipated that I’d be leading GOLD through a merger where we aren’t the continuing credit union. But here we are in 2024, the year I’ll oversee the sunsetting of the GOLD name. And, while it took some time to embrace the idea, I’m excited for what this year has in store for GOLD, our members, our staff, and our local community.

Change is Unavoidable, and That’s a Good Thing 

If nothing ever changed, there would be no progress. We knew back in 2016 that evolution was necessary for GOLD, and we framed up a plan for how we wanted GOLD to grow and the strategies we’d follow to accomplish our goal. That’s the kind of change most of us don’t mind, the kind with a clearly defined path, timeline, and destination. And we’ve shared that plan with you in our Annual Meetings each year since we first set out to grow GOLD to a size that would support the products, services, technology, and member care that you deserve and want.

After making significant progress, those carefully laid plans were knocked off course beginning in March 2020 with COVID, and uncertainty showed up to the party. That’s the kind of change people resist. We hate not knowing what’s coming next or what the final outcome will be. COVID was just the beginning of the unexpected, with inflation, recession, and rapidly rising Fed Funds increases following closely behind. Individually, any of these items would have been a major obstacle to GOLD completing the strategies we’d originally charted, and together they created an insurmountable wall. By late 2022, it was clear that GOLD wouldn’t be able to return to positive income as we had forecasted. Our plan was no longer feasible, and we needed to adjust for the betterment of the GOLD members, employees, and the communities we serve.

When Facing Failure, Look for Opportunity Instead 

When plans don’t come to fruition as expected, it’s very tempting to invoke the f-word: failure. But that’s not the best mindset to put yourself in. Instead, look for the new opportunities presented by being forced to change plans. Often people resist those new opportunities because they are grieving the loss of what is or what they hoped would be.

That’s a very natural reaction. As it became clear at the end of 2022 that a merger with a larger credit union was in the best interests of GOLD and our membership, it was a difficult realization. Our team, Board, and volunteers have poured so much of ourselves into GOLD and pivoting to pursue a merger felt like giving up on GOLD. To come through change successfully, you have to be willing to let go of what you’d hoped would be and embrace the possibilities that actually are.
 
Once we’d successfully shifted our mindsets from failure to opportunity, our leadership team began to get excited about the potential of a merger. A question you should ask yourself when facing unplanned change is, “How can this help me grow?”

The answer to that question was clear for GOLD. Through the proposed merger, we’ll be able to offer our members the more robust products and services you’ve been asking for. You’ll get top of the line digital banking products and the best personalized digital solutions possible. Member service will be improved with the ability to serve more members, offer extended service center hours, and a branch network in six states. The Lehigh Valley will benefit from plans for a growing local branch network and a strong corporate commitment to helping local organizations and individuals with programs and partnerships for financial empowerment.

Embracing Change Empowers You 

One of the most important reasons to embrace change rather than resist it is that when you commit to the change you gain more control. GOLD could have fought against the merger option longer, but to do so would have jeopardized our control over the situation.
 
Leaning in early gave us time to make the best decision possible for our members, staff, and community. While we didn’t publicly announce our intent to merge with United FCU until November 2023, we began the process a year before in order to evaluate our options and find the best possible fit for GOLD.
 
Some of you were surprised to learn that United is based in Michigan, and wondered why we didn’t find a local credit union or at least one in the state of Pennsylvania as a merger partner. The reasoning is simple. We didn’t want to eliminate choice for our members. A local partner would have resulted in consolidation of branches, staff, and options for the Lehigh Valley. United’s Michigan headquarters are an advantage because they are committed to growing our presence in the Lehigh Valley. They see the tremendous opportunity in our area and are able to invest more into our community and members than GOLD has been able to.

Remember What’s Not Changing 

One very important thing not to lose sight of when grappling with change is that no matter how big it feels, your entire world isn’t flipping upside down. Take time to identify the things in your life that are staying the same.
 
There’s lots of newness coming GOLD’s way with the merger, but the essentials will be the same as they’ve always been. Your everyday banking will be the same, just better and with more options and opportunities. The highly personal member service our team provides every day will continue, and you’ll even see the same exact faces in our branches. Our strong commitment to making a difference in the Lehigh Valley will be further strengthened by the resources and assets that come with the merger.

Evolve Along with GOLD 

When facing change in your own life, I hope you’ll remember these lessons that will help you thrive instead of flounder:

  • Know that change is unavoidable, and growth is impossible without it.

  • Let yourself grieve the loss of what you’d hoped for, but reject the idea of failure and instead look for opportunity.

  • Jump on board when change is coming so that you can help steer the ship, rather than resisting and losing your power.

  • Identify the things that are staying the same, and let that be an anchor through transition.

And I hope you’ll embrace and support GOLD’s evolution. You have a voice in GOLD’s next step. Members eighteen and over will receive notice at the end of this month of the special meeting being held on March 21 to vote on the proposed merger. That notice will include ballots to vote by mail and instructions for how to vote electronically as well in advance of the meeting.
 
I urge you to make your voice heard and vote to approve the proposed merger.
 
If you have any questions, my team is ready to answer them. You can call our dedicated phone line to speak with a team member at 484-223-4256. Alternately, feel free to send an email or a secure message through Digital Banking.

Cheryl Bartholomew

Cheryl Bartholomew

Cheryl has been the President & CEO at GOLD since 2009 and has over 39 years of banking experience. She ensures the happiness of all Members through positive experiences that exceed their expectations, regardless of whether it's a simple phone call, electronic transaction, or face-to-face interaction. She strives to provide a positive work environment for her employees so they continue to go above and beyond for Members. She works closely with Member Volunteers (Board of Directors and Supervisory Committee) and makes sure they feel appreciated for their contributions in setting up our Members for success. Cheryl believes that all Members can be empowered to take control of their financial well-being, and she's proud to say that we at GOLD are confident in helping them do that.

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