Barb Lowman, president, CUNA Strategic Services

Prioritizing system collaboration

Balancing mission focus and profitability is an integral part of the CSS culture.

May 4, 2022

With an ownership structure comprised of CUNA, the leagues, CUNA Mutual Group, and the World Council of Credit Unions, it’s not surprising that CUNA Strategic Services (CSS) is prioritizing our focus on system collaboration and our role in advancing the credit union movement. 

By the end of 2022, 80% of the team will have obtained their development educator designation from the National Credit Union Foundation, so balancing mission focus and profitability has become an integral part of the culture we’re building at CSS.

We’ve made it our mission to deliver innovative solutions that drive growth and operational excellence for credit unions by staying grounded in our “why.” 

The team works diligently across the industry to better understand the evolving business and technology challenges our nation’s credit unions face—then prioritizes those challenges to better understand where CSS can make a bigger impact. 

Finding innovative solutions that solve those challenges is exciting, and enabling credit unions to thrive in their markets and better serve their members is equally rewarding.

Our annual VentureTech event is a shining example of how we’re finding those solutions and reimagining credit union industry collaboration around fintech. CSS and the Curql Collective work together to bring VentureTech to life annually, providing the premier platform for fintech leaders to showcase their solutions to credit union visionaries. 

A panel of industry leaders reviews all submissions to set the lineup of fintechs invited to pitch to the broader group. The solutions they pitch solve industry problems through innovation and forward thinking, creating awareness and adoption around emerging solutions.

The event is growing. In 2021, we saw record attendance and a tremendous opportunity for networking among industry fintech leaders.

CSS is deeply engaged in system-wide strategic imperatives such as Financial Well-Being for All™. We’ve tweaked our vetting process to better understand how potential new providers can help the nation’s credit unions improve the financial lives of their members. 

Another system collaboration opportunity CSS is prioritizing is CUNA’s Credit Union System Digitization Working Group. This body of work is crucial, as the goal is to provide credit unions with benchmarking and self-assessment tools to help them understand where they are on their digital journey and identify where they want to be. 

Ideally, credit unions will receive guidance that identifies the next steps they should consider along the path toward desired end state, addressing the gaps in their portfolios and digital offerings to current and potential members. 

Credit unions of all sizes, fields of membership, and digital maturity levels will benefit from this work.

Our focus on the sustainability and relevance of small credit unions is among the most impactful system collaboration work CSS is currently engaged in. In partnership with CUNA’s Small Credit Union Committee, we’re exploring opportunities for small credit unions to form buyers’ groups to create scale and work together to vet fintech solutions that position them to grow and better serve their current members and attract future members. 

This initiative fits perfectly with our efforts to facilitate collaboration and create economies of scale across the system. To augment the buyers’ group initiative, CUNA and CSS launched a Small Credit Union Vendor Showcase in April. 

This free monthly webinar series spotlights fintech solutions focused on helping small credit unions expand their services and grow business. Participating vendors will highlight how they can scale their products and services to meet the unique needs of small credit unions.

Perhaps the most important collaboration opportunity CSS has created over the past year is the new league engagement model adopted in 2021. The CSS–league relationship has never been stronger, and credit unions nationwide are benefiting as a result. 

We’re working together to better understand and prioritize the needs of credit unions in all market segments, and we’re partnering to distribute industry-leading solutions that address those needs—working together to identify the right solutions for the right credit unions at the right time.

CSS has an abundance of strategic growth opportunities in progress as we continue to reimagine our operating model. We will always position system collaboration not only as a priority, but also as the foundation we’re building our future on.

BARB LOWMAN is president of CUNA Strategic Services.