World Council of Credit Unions President/CEO Brian Branch addresses the audience at this year's World Credit Union Conference. (World Council photo)

WCUC 2019: Challenges/opportunities come with future tech

July 30, 2019

World Council of Credit Unions President/CEO Brian Branch channeled 6th-century BC Chinese Philosopher Lao-Tzu for his “State of the Movement” presentation during Monday morning’s general session at the 2019 World Credit Union Conference.

“The key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness into our awareness,” said Branch, using language from Tao Te Ching—Lao Tzu’s classic text—to introduce the concept of how technological disruption is ushering in a digital future.

“People have become accustomed to getting their information, getting their news, doing their social networking with their mobile phones and, of course, their payment services and commerce with their mobile phones. And therefore, it's only natural they're going to expect to access their financial services via their mobile phones,” said Branch.

He explained that is why World Council's goal for 2025 is the global digitization of the credit union system—and why cooperatives provide the perfect model for accomplishing that goal.

"It's difficult for small financial institutions to be able to afford this technology. And so that's one of the advantages we see across the globe in cooperative systems. The ability of cooperatives to share the cost of investing in and providing that technology, and those high-skilled human technical resources to provide credit unions across the country with that digital technology," said Branch.

Schwerdtfeger delivers keynote on disruptive innovation

Business futurist Patrick Schwerdtfeger, the founder of Trend Mastery, Inc., used his keynote address to tell conference-goers they can capitalize on disruptive innovations such as digitization and data analytics.

“My message this morning, without a doubt, is that we need to stay on offense. We need to aggressively go after the change and implement it as fast as possible within our organizations," said Schwerdtfeger.

He said if attendees don't have that mindset, large tech companies will look to fill much of the space credit unions currently occupy in the financial services industry.

Schwerdtfeger also warned the future of credit union payments and transactions will look radically different as blockchain becomes more prevalent.

"I think there's a huge opportunity in the financial services industry to use a blockchain-based system for title insurance," said Schwerdtfeger, providing a list of examples where it could be used. "I understand a lot of credit unions are making big in-roads with refugees—which is a perfect fit for credit unions to begin with—and blockchain can help in that space. There are all sorts of possible KYC (know your customer) applications."

Blockchain is the record-keeping technology behind cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin. “Blocks” are comprised of digital information—like the date, time and amount of your last digital purchase. Each block has a unique code called a “hash” that allows us to tell it apart from every other block. That allows digital financial information to be stored in an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties in a verifiable and permanent way.

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