Michael Connolly joined Zeal Credit Union as chief technology officer (CTO) midway through 2022 and quickly made an impression with his experience and calm demeanor.
“Michael has added so much to our team,” says Paula Piccinini, vice president of marketing at the $890 million asset credit union in Livonia, Mich. “He will be a tremendous asset to our credit union as we provide best in-class solutions for our members. He has been good about asking questions and being ready and willing to dig in. He's given staff what we need in terms of consistency and being calm."
Connolly spoke to Credit Union Magazine about his goals as CTO, what he likes most about technology, his experience with credit unions, and what he enjoys doing in his free time.
Michael Connolly: I've worked in IT—from the help desk role all the way through CTO—for 25 years. I’ve worked across multiple industries, and I had a one-year stint at a credit union three or four years ago.
Credit unions always resonated with me. I joined a credit union when I was around 20 years old and have always thought the not-for-profit status, community outreach, member ownership, dedication to members, and employees are great.
I also like that credit unions reach out to help each other. It exists in other industries, just not to the extent that you see in the credit union space. It's phenomenal.
A: Making sure our tech stack is flexible to help the credit union grow and accomplish its strategic goals. Cybersecurity is always up there, too, and that’s my focus as I'm learning all the systems.
A: It's been significant. When I started, Google didn't exist. There was no simple way to research or solve a problem, just books, colleagues, and reaching out.
Learning was drastically different—you had to spend thousands of dollars on books. Now, with YouTube and web training, you can learn almost everything from there.
When I started working, you could put a server on the internet and no one would think about trying to hack it. Cybersecurity was almost a non-concern. Now it's front and center of everything we do.
A: Collaborative. I want the team involved in the decision-making process. I love mentoring and coaching to build the team and take them to the next level.
A: The biggest one is a passion to understand. That applies to business and technology. For any opportunities or challenges, you have to understand what you're up against and the options to address that.
I’m also open to asking questions—as many as necessary to achieve the understanding needed for the topic.
A: Ask all the questions you can and have a passion to learn the business and technical sides. When starting off, some people want to get into game development or cybersecurity. Don’t narrow your specialty; just get into technology and then move into the specialty. In the journey to your end point, everything you learn will be helpful.
Another piece is not being afraid of failure. You don’t have to be perfect. One of my favorite quotes is, "A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”
A: I'm a big family guy. I married my high school sweetheart. We’ve been together since 1995, and we have a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old. We do long weekend trips—nature hikes, amusement parks, rafting, biking, hiking.
I also garden, and I bought chickens for the kids when they were little. My daughter is the chicken farmer now. Every morning and every evening, she lets them out, puts them up, and collects the eggs. I thought having a small farm animal was a good responsibility for the kids.
Outside of family, I like to read up on technology and be my “CTO” self. I love it. I like learning new things. That's always been a passion.