Tech Leaders Strive to Meet Members' Growing Expectations

CUs focus more on the omnichannel experience.

November 25, 2015

Members’ service expectations today are set not by financial institutions, but in the consumer space in general—and they’re created around the use of devices such as smartphones and tablets.

This is one key challenge identified by two members of the CUNA Technology Council’s Executive Committee: Guy Russo, chief information officer (CIO) for $2.1 billion asset CommunityAmerica Credit Union in Lenexa, Kan. (chairman), and Mike Atkins, CEO of Open Technology Solutions, a credit union service organization, and CIO for $2.7 billion asset Bellco Credit Union in Greenwood Village, Colo. (vice chairman).

Russo and Atkins recently spoke with Credit Union Magazine to discuss issues facing today’s credit union technology professionals and the CUNA Technology Council’s goals and priorities for the coming year.

CU Mag: What are the top challenges you face today?

Russo: In the CUNA Councils, as well as at our credit unions, the whole focus is on omnichannel: the member wants a unified experience.

We’re charged with making it feel seamless and connected. That’s a huge challenge.

We’re leveraging the CUNA Councils, through initiatives like CUFX, to create some of that seamlessness for our credit unions and members.

Atkins: Today, members’ expectations are created around the use of devices like smartphones and tablets. Those expectations are set, not in our industry but in the consumer space in general.

Historically we’ve not kept pace with that set of expectations. So the challenge for our industry is figuring out to change how we are perceived, how we deliver value through a smart phone or a tablet, and how to use those channels to meet and exceed members’ expectations.

We have to get out of the box called “credit union” or even “financial services” and look at what other organizations are doing.

Uber came up the other day. What an industry-changing app. It’s to the point that “Uber” is almost a verb now.

We literally look at things and say, “someone is going to ‘Uber’ that,” meaning they will turn that industry on its head. We’ve got to look over our shoulder and recognize that there are a lot of organizations that would love to “Uber” financial services.

We’ve got to get there before they do, and we’ve got to present our value proposition to our members and meet or exceed their expectations.

CU Mag: What hot topics is the Technology Council focusing on?

Atkins: Business intelligence is a big topic. You can’t go into any industry today without having a discussion around business intelligence.

It’s all about extracting value out of the data you have. As financial institutions, we usually have more data than anybody else.

I don’t think any industry has figured it out yet. We are all struggling—we are all data-rich and information-poor.

You can go to conferences and hear chief information officers of the largest banks struggling with the same issues we are. The advantage credit unions have is that we are a little more nimble than they are; we can do things faster.

We have the ability to be much more creative with the information we have and to bring real value to our members quicker than the banks.

Russo: Credit unions are really good at doing transactions. But we need to be better at understanding our members and being more predictive about the products members want and what kind of risk to take with them.

We are trying to blend marketing data with transaction data. This provides a more holistic, 360-degree member view, which helps us understand trends. Business intelligence and predictive analytics are huge.

Credit Union Magazine: What are your top priorities for the Technology Council?

Russo: We are focused on highlighting our Virtual Roundtables, as well as working closely with the other CUNA Councils. We will be focusing more on bringing in tools and capabilities that could not only be used within our group, but across all of the councils.

All of the issues in information technology (IT) are becoming enterprise issues, as opposed to IT-only issues.

The collaborative aspect of these roundtables is huge. It doesn’t happen in the banking space.

Atkins: We want to continue to grow this council. We are finding opportunities to bring different populations within the IT industry into the council. There’s a lot of work going on with Credit Union Financial Exchange (CUFX), and we’re bringing in people with a lot of technical expertise to bring CUFX forward.

We’re looking at making some significant changes—not just us, but all of the councils – with our digital channel. That will allow for greater involvement and greater participation from a wide variety of industry professionals.

CU Mag: What’s in store for the Technology Council this year?

Russo: One of the biggest things is the CUNA Councils Community. [] It is the foundational system that will enable the roundtables to communicate better about specific topics.

It’s going to allow for cross-content repurposing across the CUNA Councils. A lot of our focus over the next year will be to figure out how to leverage this tool.

Atkins: We’ll continue to do what our council leadership has done over the past few years: Drive this council like a business.

We want to generate value for our members and continue to grow. So for me it’s about running this like a business, holding ourselves accountable, and managing to what we are trying to achieve.

CU Mag: On another note, what’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Russo: Don’t be afraid to take on the tough jobs—the jobs nobody wants. That’s where the most opportunity is.

Also, the human element is more of a challenge than the technology. But you have to get all those different pieces working together.

Atkins: A professor in college years ago told me there is one thing you need to remember in this world: results matter.

We have to deliver on what we say we’re going to deliver on. It’s great to put out the effort and have fun doing it. But in the end, our members are counting on us to deliver. So we try to keep that in front of us.