No Succession Plan? What could go wrong?

Succession planning can be seen as a “nice to have,” but it can wait. Umm, not so much. I was an executive with a credit union when the CEO died suddenly at a legislative breakfast at the state capitol. The disruption, disarray, and sense of fear were overwhelming. Key executives were more worried about their career path to the now empty seat than their primary responsibilities. Another distraction was the staff’s uncertainty about the organization’s future and direction. Members who read or saw the news about the CEO’s passing were concerned about their deposits’ safety and security. No, succession planning is not a “nice to have” or something that can wait.

When a bank or credit union loses a key member of its leadership team without a succession plan, it can significantly impact the organization. A succession plan is a strategic plan that outlines the process of transferring leadership roles from one individual to another. This plan is a critical component of any financial institution’s strategic planning process, and it minimizes disruption in the event of a sudden departure of key personnel. The plan also provides operations continuity and a framework for identifying and developing future leaders. Without a succession plan, a bank or credit union can face many negative consequences that can impact its reputation, financial stability, and ability to compete in the marketplace. This plan is crucial for any organization; however, when no succession plan is in place, the consequences can be dire.

The first consequence of not having a succession plan is a leadership vacuum. When a vital member of a bank or credit union’s leadership team departs without a successor, there is a gap in leadership that can leave the institution rudderless. This vacuum can lead to confusion and chaos, as remaining employees may be unsure of whom to report to, what decisions to make, or what direction to take the institution. This can lead to delays in decision-making, missed opportunities, and loss of momentum.

The second consequence is a decline in employee morale. When there is no succession plan, employees may feel uncertain about their job security and future with the institution. This can lead to low confidence, decreased motivation, and an increased likelihood of turnover. Employees who feel undervalued or unsure about their future may start looking for other opportunities, which can result in losing valuable talent and expertise.

The third consequence is a negative impact on the institution’s reputation. If a critical leader departs without a succession plan, it can create the impression that the institution is not well-managed or prepared for the future. This can damage the institution’s reputation with members/customers, stakeholders, investors, and the public. It can also make attracting and retaining top talent more difficult, as potential employees may be wary of joining an institution lacking strategic planning.

The fourth consequence is financial instability. When a key leader departs without a successor, there may be disruptions to revenue streams, financial management, and risk management. This can result in decreased revenue, missed financial targets, and increased expenses. Financial instability can also make it more challenging to attract depositors or secure loans, as members/customers may be less willing to trust an institution that appears to be in disarray.

The fifth consequence is a loss of institutional knowledge. When a key leader departs without a succession plan, the organization will lose valuable knowledge, skills, and expertise. This loss could be particularly damaging if the departing leader were the only one with specialized knowledge or experience. This institutional knowledge is worsened when the departing executive has the primary relationship with the Board of Directors. Losing this institutional knowledge can make maintaining the institution’s operations challenging and result in losing competitive advantage.

Not having a succession plan can seriously affect a bank or credit union. It can create a leadership vacuum, decrease employee morale, damage the institution’s reputation, lead to financial instability, and result in a loss of institutional knowledge. Financial institutions need to have a succession plan to ensure the continuity of operations, maintain employee morale, and protect the institution’s reputation and financial stability.


Rich Jones is the Founder/Principal of Leading2Leadership LLC. Before starting his strategic planning agency, he spent over 20 years in leadership roles in the financial services sector. Before becoming an executive in the financial services sector, Rich was an entrepreneur, building and selling two businesses and working for early-stage start-up companies in executive roles in marketing, business development, and seeking investment partners. With more than three decades of experience, he brings innovative thought to companies and executives. Rich published “Leading2Leadership, a Situational Primer to Leadership Excellence.” The book is available on and was designed to be used as a book study for leadership development programs; it breaks leadership skills into manageable situations for discussion and reflection. Rich works with credit unions, CUSOs, and vendors, designing digital, data, culture, marketing, and branding transformation strategies. In 2014, Chosen as a Credit Union Rock Star by CU Magazine, and in 2018, Rich received the Lifetime Achievement Award from CUNA Marketing and Business Development Council. A Marine and graduate of Colorado State University, Jones shares his expertise at

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