A Lot To Learn, A Lot To Share As Credit Unions Confront Tech Change

A day-long meeting at Visa headquarters provides insight into technology challenges.

My job allows me to talk to a lot of people who need to understand technology, and more than that, decide when and how to deploy it at their credit unions. That’s especially challenging when some of these new technologies are still emerging and not always fully understood.

Fortunately, our movement is collaborative by design and nature, as well as full of fast followers out there leading the way and happy to share what they’ve learned. Conferences are a great way to do that.

Last week, I attended an event staged by CU Engage at Visa’s headquarters in San Francisco, CA. Exec Tec brought together leading credit union executives and technology leaders for engagement and learning.


Something I learned, and have been hearing through my daily interactions with credit unions and their suppliers, is that it’s difficult for credit unions to stay ahead of disruptive technologies. And this: credit unions and fintechs still need to figure out their relationship.

That first one, staying ahead or at least keeping up, is top of mind for our movement’s fast followers. Those are the institutions who have gone first in our space with disruptive, revolutionary innovations like static websites, and then transactional websites, and then mobile banking and remote deposit capture.

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These innovators did what they had to do, but they followed other financial institutions, not necessarily in our space, that had gone first. There’s risk, but it’s not the bleeding edge, as it used to be called.

Then there’s the competitive risk posed by the disruptors like Venmo and even Amazon, if it follows through with its feelers about creating a bank. Some of those disruptors work with credit unions and banks. Some don’t. Some are friends of credit unions. Some are competitors.

And this changes all the time. How do you keep up?

For both areas, I think the best strategy is to just be there maybe not first, but you have to be there. That calls for a coherent strategy.

When CU Engage consultant Heather Moshier was CIO at San Diego County Credit Union ($8.3B, San Diego, CA), she used a 15-page document to help prioritize technology investments the big credit union would make in the next one to three years.

A quick polling of the conference attendees showed that most hadn’t yet taken that step. These were tech-savvy credit union executives, or at least on their way to becoming that, or they wouldn’t have been interested in that conference in the first place. What about the rest of the industry? We all have a lot to learn, especially in the fast-growing areas of data analytics and business intelligence, artificial (or augmented) intelligence and machine learning, and blockchain and distributed ledgers.

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As for big data and BI, presenter Rich Jones of Leaders2Leadership said credit unions of more than $1 billion in assets have on average more than 50 different sources of data. The big challenge and opportunity here is understanding that data and making it actionable.

Blockchain and distributed ledgers were the topic of a panel discussion that included credit union middleware pioneer Brian Bodell, longtime credit union technology leader Jeff Johnson of BCU ($3.0B, Vernon Hills, IL), and John Ainsworth, founder of CU Ledger.

Ainsworth said 20 credit unions already have signed up to use solutions from CULedger, which offers an authentication product centered on a portable digital identity. Next up are loan participations, payments, and loyalty programs.

Blockchain technology is still new and confusing to many, including me, and Bodell suggested following Coindesk on Twitter to keep up with it all.

Capping the day was a tour of the Visa Innovation Center. Think of car rentals, connected homes, and retail biometrics that let you buy groceries and walk out the door without using a card.

These all sound far out and far away. But they’re not. Credit unions need to work together to understand the potential and the threats here. Fortunately, I think the movement is up to the task.

April 4, 2018

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