The new year comes with a lot of exciting possibilities and is a great time to reflect on your CRA program. It’s time to look back at what your program has accomplished in the past year and look forward to what impact you can forge this new year. Creating an annual CRA strategy is an industry best practice and lets you manage your strategic priorities along with the resources available for the year ahead.
Here’s how to build your CRA strategy and action plan.
Align your CRA strategy with the bank’s corporate strategy
As a member of the CRA team, you’re responsible for leading programs and building support in the community that helps your bank connect with potential customers. As such, key stakeholders and the executive management team should see you as a key player in carrying out the bank strategy.
Before you can build your own CRA plan or strategy, it’s important to consider the bank’s corporate strategy and priorities. Once you understand the bank’s key initiatives, you can align your CRA program’s priorities with corporate’s to impact the entire institution and the community.
To learn about your bank’s key initiatives and corporate strategy, meet with the appropriate people and discuss. Ask how your CRA program could support the bank, and make sure to tell them how they might help your CRA program.
Consider all elements of your CRA program
When planning and outlining your CRA strategy, you need to keep all elements of your program in mind. Here are some things to consider:
- Collaborate with different business units to ensure you’re meeting the credit needs of the community.
- Engage key internal bank stakeholders to maximize the bank’s community development services, loans, and investments.
- Create a system to ensure technical compliance with all required deadlines and activities associated with public file, public notices, sunshine provision reporting, etc.
- Acknowledge where you are in the CRA exam cycle. Your priorities will shift depending on whether you’re in year one of your exam cycle or if your exam is coming next quarter.
- Develop a plan to train key internal stakeholders such as commercial loans officers, retail staff members, and CRA team members embedded in different departments.
A key element of your CRA program is understanding that CRA is not always about creating new opportunities, but is about finding the opportunities that already exist. To do this, you should aim to give each team at least three CRA trainings a year. This will keep team members up-to-date on any new regulations and will help keep your program top of mind. Team members are more likely to forget about CRA when they haven’t heard from you in a long time. But if you train team members to watch out for CRA opportunities, you’re almost guaranteed to come across new services, loans, and investments that are eligible for CRA credit.
Don’t make a plan before setting goals with your bank’s business units
If you regularly meet with your bank’s business units, great! Keep up the good work. If you aren’t meeting with business units, you need to prioritize this in the new year. Your relationship with these key departments is critical as they influence your CRA performance and the time you spend serving the community.
At the beginning of the year, you should reach out to each business unit (especially commercial lending, retail, and investment/treasure divisions) and set a time to meet. During this meeting, ask about their specific goals, priorities, and initiatives for the new year. Now when you make your CRA action plan and set your own goals, you can ensure they align with the rest of the bank’s goals and help each business unit thrive.
And when each business unit thrives, so does your CRA program. But keeping these units involved in CRA is easier said than done. A couple ways to keep these units involved include setting shared goals, giving CRA training, sharing how they’ve helped your program in the past, and routinely reporting on their performance.
Perform a self-assessment
Two key aspects of running a successful CRA program include performing self-assessments and creating a CRA plan. Your self-assessment helps you look backwards at what you’ve accomplished and where your strengths and gaps are, while your CRA plan looks forward at where your program needs to go to meet your goals. Both of these allow you to advocate for your program and get the support you need.
Performing a CRA self-assessment doesn’t have to be difficult. If you don’t have the time or resources to perform a full assessment, simply make a list of how your bank has served its assessment areas. List the highlights of your program and add current initiatives to elevate your CRA program performance. Identify some performance gaps and your plans to fix these gaps. This will serve as a high level overview for examiners and shows intent as you continue to build your CRA program.
Build your CRA plan
You aren’t required under the Community Reinvestment Act to build a plan, but it’s an industry best-practice and will help take your CRA program to the next level. Keep your plan simple and don’t worry about making it perfect. Your plan can be one page or it can be 20; everything is up to you.
As a general rule, you should start your plan with an overview of your CRA program. Where are you in the exam cycle? Who’s your regulator? What are some of the past year’s accomplishments?
Next, list out your bank’s strategic priorities, both long and short term. Include your CRA performance goals, and make sure to mention goals for your lending, services, and investment tests, as well as goals for fee and investment income, deposits, and various business units.
Some sections you might include are how you’re going to conduct CRA training, any applicable regulatory changes, technical compliance, public relations, and marketing.
At the very least, your plan needs to answer these questions:
- What are 2–3 areas of the bank you want to learn more about this year?
- How can your program support various business units?
- Which areas of the bank need more CRA training this year?
For a list of questions to ask yourself when building your CRA plan, download the PDF at the bottom of this page. This will help you think about your CRA program and build that perfect plan to promote your program and make a difference in your community.
Most of all, remember that your CRA journey is your CRA journey. Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be, and have fun with it.
Once you’ve created your CRA plan, you can share it with executive management, internal business units, the compliance department, and even CRA examiners. This will help keep everyone in your bank on the same page and set expectations throughout the company.
It’s time to build your CRA strategy and action plan! Here are your next steps:
- Download the PDF at the bottom of this page for a list of questions to ask yourself when building your CRA plan
- Get a copy of your bank’s strategic plans for the current or previous year, if available
- Meet with executive management to learn their vision for the bank, and ask them to tell you their priorities
- Meet with business units to learn about their goals and how your program can support them
- Identify 2–3 strategies that support the bank’s/business unit’s strategic plans while supporting your CRA program
- Compile all the details into one document
- Set target dates and implement
CRA Today offers a wide variety of training and advisory services to help you master the CRA. Whether you are new(er) to the CRA or a seasoned professional, we stand ready to get your exam ready and help you drive impact into your local communities.
Jaidyn Crookston is a content writer for Kadince. She graduated from Southern Utah University in 2021, where she studied creative and technical writing. Jaidyn has always loved how words work together to create a strong message that can be used for good, which is something she tries to do through her work with Kadince. Click here to learn more about how Kadince helps financial institutions streamline their CRA compliance.