When a credit union executive cites successfully deploying Office products during a pandemic as a major accomplishment, that’s a sign they’re a committed back-office person, someone responsible for the smooth functioning of a cooperative’s critical infrastructure.
But that’s not all Alec Patrick does at Signal Financial Federal Credit Union ($451.3M, Kensington, MD).
As vice president of IT and eServices, digital services and member-facing contact center work falls under Patrick’s purview. So does information technology and security. But he’s hardly old school. Patrick also does some serious visioning, working with strategic planning and looking ahead to imperatives his member-owned financial cooperatives will have to face in the not-so-distant future, including supporting cryptocurrency.
Here’s more about his many roles at the Maryland cooperative.
How long have you been with Signal Financial?
Alec Patrick: I joined the credit union about 4.5 years ago in this role.
Is Vice President of IT and eServices a new role at Signal Financial? Why did the credit union create the position?
AP: It was new when I started, but the newness has worn off by now. The CEO and I shared a vision of establishing a virtual branch that would allow our membership to do everything online that they can in a physical branch.
In that regard, we’re evaluating potential digital vendors with a goal of revamping our online and mobile banking experience. We hope to have a new solution in place by this time next year.
We’re also working to expand the role of our contact center to serve our membership virtually by incorporating chat, AI, video conferencing, and outbound digital communication.
Did Signal Financial create this role for you? Who do you report to, and who reports to you?
AP: It was specific to me due to my experience in digital transformation and the alignment of the vision for the digital branch.
I report to the CEO, Francois Verleysen. The IT team reports to me, and I recently took on the contact center with a goal of evolving from purely call-based member interactions to include digital interactions.
What makes you a great fit for this job?
AP: I have 12 years of experience running IT for various credit unions and am familiar with core systems, networks, applications, and server infrastructure. I led two credit unions through digital conversions and spent a few years supporting members with their online banking issues. Lastly, I got my MBA, which helped advance my career from purely IT into a more management and executive role.
CU QUICK FACTS
SIGNAL FINANCIAL FCU
HQ: Kensington, MD
Data as of 06.30.21
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: -0.7%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: -7.9%
What are your areas of responsibility? What’s your daily routine?
AP: I’m responsible for information security, IT, leading corporate projects, strategic planning, the call center, and digital services.
I typically have numerous corporate projects going on and spend a lot of time in meetings related to those. I have excellent managers and meet with them weekly to communicate company initiatives and take feedback from them to our leadership team.
In my down time I keep up with industry trends in technology, information security, fintech, cryptocurrency, and credit union news. We don’t have a dedicated IS team, so much of my time is spent with audits and mitigations, business continuity, and other related items to ensure Signal stays in compliance with NCUA regulations.
Why has Signal Financial kept digital services with IT rather than moving it into its own area? How has that worked so well in your shop?
AP: eServices was originally put into my title to focus on the online/mobile banking solutions. Our challenge was there was no staff directly assigned to it, and we never gained a lot of traction in building it out.
I have a passion for technology, and it translates well into the digital services realm due to the shift to APIs and fintech integration. We are excited for this digital transformation and using technology to its fullest to serve our membership.
Your LinkedIn profile says you’re a “cryptocurrency enthusiast.” What future do you see for crypto in credit unions? How long do you think it’ll take for widespread adoption?
AP: I think we have around five to 10 years for crypto to reach widespread adoption. I also think there’s a lot of misinformation and folks jumping on the bandwagon to make a quick buck. The technology behind blockchain and smart contracts is intriguing. There is a lot of good stuff being built there, and many real-world issues can be addressed by streamlining through the use of crypto.
Right now, crypto is similar to the internet back in the mid-90s. It will take some time to make it easy to use, but there is a ton of potential to disrupt many of the antiquated ways we do things today.
A perfect example is collectables. Many of us had a book full of baseball cards that could easily get lost, damaged, or faked. Take a look at what the NBA is doing using digital collectables at https://nbatopshot.com/. These can sit in your digital wallet for the world to see instead of an attic or basement.
There are challenges ahead for credit unions because one of the primary goals of crypto is to remove the middleman by being decentralized. Credit unions and banks are centralized by their very nature. What happens when crypto allows borrowers and lenders to interface directly with one another? Think about the government releasing its central bank digital currency (CBDC), which will probably require its own digital wallet. Will members have their deposits go to that?
Credit unions need to begin dipping their toes into the crypto world and identify opportunities to stay relevant as crypto continues to evolve. If not, the same thing that happened to Blockbuster could happen to credit unions.
"Credit unions need to begin dipping their toes into the crypto world and identify opportunities to stay relevant as crypto continues to evolve. If not, the same thing that happened with Blockbuster could happen to credit unions.”
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed strategies and tactics at Signal Financial? What has been your role in that response?
AP: Prior to the pandemic, we implemented Office 365 and VPN and provided laptops to all our staff in a desire to become more mobile as an organization. These systems were not fully used but were at least in place when the pandemic hit and forced everyone at Signal to use these technologies to support a fully work-from-home experience.
One of the key applications was Microsoft Teams. This allowed us to communicate quickly and set up virtual meetings that kept our projects moving without a hiccup. Our Microsoft Teams usage went from approximately 50% pre-pandemic to 100% now and continues to be one of our most critical applications to this day. I was looking at usage data yesterday, and Microsoft Teams is being used more than Outlook, which is surprising.
For our member-facing staff, we went to appointment-only banking and did our best in transitioning the membership to our self-serve solutions such as ATMs, RDC, online, etc.
We shifted the branch staff to outreach programs and assisting the back office with improving operational items. As mentioned earlier, we’re working on revamping our digital branch to serve the membership wherever they are and are excited for the opportunities we see there.
How do you track success in your job?
AP: Success is measured by the execution of projects on time and on budget and by audit findings, specifically by the NCUA. We measure risk scores for our technology assets and expect to see the overall risk score consistently going down. We also look at contact center reporting and digital services utilization. And although we haven’t focused on this yet, we plan to work on improving our app store rating as part of our digital transformation.
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What is the most significant advancement under your watch?
AP: The implementation of Office 365 across the organization as well as the utilization of Microsoft Teams as a central communication hub. This helped us survive the pandemic and made us more productive as an organization when people were working from home.
I faced a lot of skepticism in implementing a cloud-based solution as well as doubt around if staff would use Microsoft Teams. It’s been a huge success, and I attribute that to support from the top down once we pulled the trigger. The pandemic may have helped a little too.
How do you stay current with topics that fall under your role?
AP: Blogs, tech websites, FS-ISAC, LinkedIn, and other related websites and feeds. Being in technology, I also tinker a lot at home with computers, networks, crypto mining, and blockchain technology to keep myself up to speed. My team is more advanced than I am, but I like to keep up with things so I can be an effective leader.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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