A Strategy To Think Creatively About Efficiency

TwinStar Credit Union's Imagination Lab studies processes and reduces friction for members and employees.


TwinStar Credit Union
Data as of 12.31.16

HQ: Olympia, WA
MEMBERS: 115,159
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 12.6%
ROA: 0.79%

While the world contemplates the Internet of Things, TwinStar Credit Union ($1.2B, Olympia, WA) is creating an ecosystem of innovation that could be called The Efficiency of Things.

The credit union has considered more than two dozen process improvements and product proposals in the past four years, but the deeper story is the people driving this change ? TwinStar’s Imagination Lab.

The Imagination Lab is a select group of 10 employees who identify pain points for members and employees and then marshal ideas for improvement through a process that discerns what’s doable, what isn’t, and what’s worth it.

The team has considered an array of topics, including how to streamline ACH set-ups, improve online check displays, and speed-up loan modification applications. The team has even looked at how the space-holding zeros on some forms prompt members to use zeros on other forms in ways that confuse and snarl payments.

On the employee side, the Imagination Lab has given attention to workload, head count, and how employee perks, such as merchant discounts, compare to other employers in town.

Resources For Innovation

Mary Beth Spuck, Chief Administrative Officer, TwinStar Credit Union

TwinStar’s Imagination Lab began in 2013 as an outgrowth of chief administrative officer Mary Beth Spuck’s work with the Filene Research Institute and CEO Jeff Kennedy’s belief that the credit union needed to dedicate more resources to innovation.

Jeff placed [COO] Scott Daukas and myself in charge of leading a team of employees focused on innovation, Spuck says. He always says some of the best ideas come from the least-expected people. ContentMiddleAd

Lab members must apply to participate, and the vetting process includes taking the Wonderlic Test, an assessment of intelligence, motivation, and personality that NFL teams use to evaluate draft picks.

Would you pass the test? Check out the questionnaire TwinStar uses to vet applicants for its Imagination Lab.

The Imagination Lab requires a two-year commitment, beginning with training in IDEO’s Human-Centered Design. TwinStar selects new members every year, so the group comprises new members as well as those with one year under their belts.

The 2017 Imagination Lab Personal Statement

The Imagination Lab Theory of Change

If TwinStar can provide the right people with the right resources, we can improve our members’ lives and position TwinStar as an industry leader.

Imagination Lab Objectives

To create products, services, processes, and business models that:

  • Help members.
  • Help employees.
  • Improve/streamline business processes.
  • Are able to be tested.
  • Can be implemented to maximize impact.

Make Imagination Lab members even better by:

  • Enhancing/developing innovation competency.
  • Improving ability to seek insights, ideate, test, and iterate.
  • Building collaboration, critical thinking, and presentation skills.
  • Developing focus on DO.

Make TwinStar even better by:

  • Failing, so the organization doesn’t have to.
  • Thinking differently.
  • Talking less, and doing more.
  • Questioning everything.
  • Solving pressing problems.
  • Encouraging others to create with us.
  • Serving as an innovation sandbox.
  • Developing leaders of the future.

While in the lab, the credit union expects participants to experiment, seek expert guidance, and undertake thoughtful study to uncover answers to problems. Lab members then bring their ideas to life, test them, and report on their findings, sharing their knowledge freely. This ensures the Imagination Lab has a bench of advocates for the advancement of the program.

We’re in our fourth year, and it’s continually evolving, Spuck says.

For example, TwinStar initially focused on exploring new technologies like the ones showcased at Finovate conferences.

We divided into teams and researched what would make sense for TwinStar, Spuck says. But then we changed directions.

Now, TwinStar identifies pain points, problems, and opportunities to improve. Then, lab members work through the departments and vendors to determine whether they can be, or need to be, improved.

It’s important to understand the problem before looking for a solution, Spuck says. Many times we start with the solution, the cool new technology, before we know if there’s even a problem or pain point to solve.

Problems To Solve

The Imagination Lab uses an Efficiencies Matrix Impact Scoringspreadsheet to track projects from viability assessments through completion, postponement, termination, or other eventual fates. A recurring theme in the problems to solve column is how to reduce friction for members in how they do business with the credit union.

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The Imagination Lab has considered both small and large changes to improve efficiencies. For example, the lab introduced the Bright Ideas employee suggestion program, which has provided many of the 30 or so ideas the lab has been assessing. The lab also reviewed TwinStar’s manual processes to identify where new efficiencies could be introduced.

On the other end of the spectrum, the lab worked on a major overhaul of the credit union’s check overdraft protection program, which was confusing to members. That’s now with a project steering committee.

The Lab also tackles sticky technical questions, such as working with an authentication vendor to address member frustrations over the system only calling home numbers to verify transactions. Another issue currently under study: the way the indirect lending and core system talk to each other makes it difficult to easily vet a borrower for full credit union membership.

Innovative products? Strategic new services? Callahan’s Strategy Lab is a great way to help leadership teams think outside the box while staying inside the credit union’s four walls. Find out if this program is a fit for you.

Although technical processes seem to be a common theme for the Imagination Lab, it’s the committed people working across departments to find solutions that is driving the lab’s successes.

As the Imagination Lab’s mission and vision document states: Modern technology is wonderful for connecting people. Still, there’s no substitute for face-to-face meetings.

October 15, 2019

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