‘Failure Isn’t Fatal’ and Other Lessons in Innovation

Encourage and reward those who take smart risks.

October 21, 2013

Amplify Federal Credit Union’s mantra exemplifies its approach to innovation: “There’s a better way to do it. Find it.”

“Innovation is one of our strategic initiatives,” says Paul Trylko, CEO of the $627 million asset credit union.

This initiative has paid off for the Austin, Texas-based institution—most recently in the form of an Innovative Practices Award from the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

Trylko tells Credit Union Magazine why credit unions shouldn’t fear failure, describes his approach to innovation—and explains why organizations should reward those who try new things and take new risks.

CU Mag: How does Amplify foster innovation?

Trylko: Amplify is owned by its members, and serving them is our primary purpose. To deliver on that mission—which we state as “Amplify is people helping people achieve financial success”—we cultivate a members-first philosophy.

We put members first by constantly seeking to anticipate, not react to, member needs and launching innovative programs before our members even know they want them.

Our heritage is connected to IBM, so we highly value innovation and the ability to use technology to improve members’ lives. For example, we expanded our locations before members asked for them and saw member satisfaction increase.

Members weren’t clambering for mobile check deposit, but since we launched it they’ve responded in droves. As Steve Jobs famously said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Amplify goes far beyond member feedback in creating new products and services. We focus on what our members desire—great service, convenience, security, affordability—and we find new ways to deliver it.

We don’t really have a formal process for innovation. It’s more a state of mind.

In fact, innovation is one of our strategic initiatives. Our mantra is, “There’s a better way to do it. Find it.”

CU Mag: What are some innovative programs you’ve implemented?

Trylko: One of our most impactful and innovative campaigns was Amplify’s branch marketing project. Our marketing team transformed one of our underperforming branches into such a success that it exceeded expected goals and produced higher results than every other Amplify branch.

The concept was simple: Our marketing team ran the branch for 31 days to uncover firsthand what marketing could do to generate leads. The overall objective was to learn how Amplify’s marketing insights and strategies impacted the retail team and identify any opportunities to enhance those efforts to gain market share and meet retail goals.

The team experienced the kinks and loose ends in the branch’s day-to-day operations in a marketing context. This allowed them to create marketing strategies to capitalize on the branch’s untapped potential.

The team implemented various marketing and other strategies during this time, such as having morning team huddles, using transactional data as a basis for direct mail and email marketing efforts, setting daily goals, and tracking results by team members.

After 31 days, the branch had more referrals and new savings and checking accounts than any of our other branches. It also:

  • Opened more checking accounts than savings accounts—the only branch to do so;
  • Exceeded the average referrals rate of 28 per month with 136 referrals;
  • Increased the loan pipeline from $33,000 to almost $600,000; and
  • Made 413 outbound phone calls.

Another great example of our dedication to innovation is our investment in a software development group—an in-house team of application designers. That enabled us to introduce streamlined mobile apps and a mobile check deposit application, turning what used to be an unwelcome 20-minute errand into a 30-second mobile activity.

Current solutions use various methods of depositing checks with a mobile device. We take this a step further by securely integrating the app with our existing processing systems.

It performs all Check 21 Act regulation checks and complies with internal operating procedures while making funds available to users in a matter of seconds.

Mobile check deposit simplifies the check deposit process. It streamlines the checks and balances a teller would normally have to perform when validating who the member is, it scans and validates checks, and it pushes the information into the internal systems.

The app completes all of these steps automatically, eliminating most of the need for human interaction and dramatically speeding up the process.

We launched the app in late 2011 with a goal of 20% adoption after one year. After only two months, however, Amplify had achieved more than 25% adoption, and the app is currently averaging almost as many deposits each day as a typical branch.

CU Mag: What are the biggest barriers to innovation?

Trylko: In general, the biggest barrier to innovation is simply the status quo. Organizations can become risk-averse and not push outside of their comfort zone.

We have tried to balance the stability of a financial institution with the mindset of an entrepreneurial start-up. Our heritage—IBM employees and a technology-oriented membership base—sets our innovative mindset.

CU Mag: Where do you turn for inspiration?

Trylko: I turn to my team to surround myself with diverse perspectives. This helps the flow of ideas and challenges the status quo.

I also attend industry events to stay in tune with trends and the innovative ideas of others.

CU Mag: What advice would you offer others about being innovative?

Trylko: Failure isn’t fatal, so don’t be afraid to take risks.

Bad things may happen in your organization or you might take risks that don’t work out. But just because the result isn’t successful doesn’t mean you failed.

If you approach things in a sound manner and continually learn from your mistakes, you’ll live to fight another day. Eventually, the calculated risks you take will pay off.

This approach has given me the courage to lead Amplify in a way that encourages and rewards those who try new things and take smart risks. That outlook helps us stay ahead of the curve and produce innovative programs that drive Amplify’s success today.