Eric Givens On Leadership

Eric Givens, senior director of digital banking at Arizona Federal Credit Union, talks technology and understanding what makes millennials tick.
Eric Givens, Senior Director of Digital Banking, Arizona FCU

In 2006, a career in digital banking was the last thing on the mind of Eric Givens. The 2005 graduate of Bethany College in West Virginia had moved from the outskirts of Pittsburgh, PA, to Phoenix, AZ, with the intent of furthering his budding career as a radio DJ.

He landed a job as a credit manager offering sub-prime auto loans at 26% interest, which left him morally conflicted at times.

That’s when he heard about Arizona Federal Credit Union ($1.4B, Phoenix, AZ). He joined the cooperative in 2008 as an auto repossession specialist overseeing 300 repos a month.

There were a lot of repossessions during the crisis, Givens says. However, it was our last resort. We tried everything we could to keep a member in possession of their car. We’re here for the members and we try to help people better their lives.

Within two years, he became the risk specialist manager and soon afterward became responsible for all risk mitigation, including repos, mortgages, and credit cards.

When Arizona Federal’s senior IT officer left in February 2015, it named Givens senior director of digital banking. It was a new position that recognizes the important marriage of IT and business disciplines to meet the constantly changing needs of consumers.

Here, the self-avowed technology nerd who has focused on bringing payments innovation to Arizona Federal shares his perspectives on leadership and how technology-driven changes are likely to affect the credit union industry.


ARizona federal
Data as of 3.31.16

  • HQ: Phoenix, AZ
  • ASSETS: $1.4B
  • MEMBERS: 123,610
  • BRANCHES: 15
  • 12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 4.78%
  • 12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 4.68%%
  • ROA: 1.47%

On what separates a great leader from a good one

In some situations, when things are going crazy with an employee, you need to mentor. Other times you don’t need to give advice at all you just need to listen.

My leadership style adapts. I’m trusting of my team and treat them like adults. When we talk about schedules, I give them parameters and let them make their schedules. I step in only if there is a conflict and I need to make a decision. I want my team to be able to work together and reach conclusions on their own without having to rely on me.

On teaching moments of his career

Our vice president of organizational development has been a mentor to me. Early in my career as a manager, I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. He told me you have to tell people what they’re doing wrong as well as what they’re doing right. You owe it to them. If you don’t tell them, how are they ever going to develop?

As a sort of microcosm, that’s what he did to me. It’s about trying to develop someone. It’s leading, not just managing.

On working with members of the leadership team on key projects

Our chief strategy and chief experience officers developed a Future of Payments Task Force that includes them and the CEO, vice president of risk, vice president of marketing, senior director of cards, and me. The purpose of the task force is to look at our current offers and ask, What are our threats? What are our disrupters? How will Chase Pay [digital wallet] or the EWS and clearXchange P2P payments impact us? How will they impact the banking environment and credit union environment?

We’re going more digital, and we’re trying to cater to the digital needs of our members and prospective members.

We have created a digital branch that handles all phone and web loans and also has digital account opening. Soon, we’ll have an app for loan applications. We’re going more digital, and we’re trying to cater to the digital needs of our members and prospective members.

On trends in digital banking

A great majority of the millennial generation is not going to walk into a branch. It they come in to open an account, that might be the last time that member walks into a branch.

Everything else is mobile. I can speak for myself. I’m 32 and haven’t been into a branch for a personal banking reason for six years. I can do everything on my phone. I deposit checks. If I want to apply for a loan on my phone, I’ll be able to do that shortly with Arizona Federal.

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We might start seeing institutions consolidate physical branches and be more strategic or optimized elsewhere. It might be that some institutions have ATM kiosks just to keep a physical footprint. It’s going to depend on each institution’s strategy.

For Arizona Federal, we’re thinking ahead. We want to make sure we’ve got an in with the millennials while at the same time making sure we don’t alienate Gen X and baby boomers. I think we’ll see a lot more focus on education and financial coaching in branches in the future. People will need the branch when they need advice or they have a problem.

On what he’d like to see more of in the credit union industry

Other institutions need to get on the same page of constantly researching new stuff, or they’re just going to be left in the dust.

Don’t be scared to fail. It’s as simple as that.

Don’t be scared to fail. It’s as simple as that.Everything is not going to be successful, but try. And document it. It might not be good now but in the future it could be.

Wearables are coming out, which members can use to pay transactions. I believe there was a bank in 2010 that gave out wristbands to joggers. It never caught on because it was before its time. But now wearables are big and that bank has a jump-start because it has the case studies and already knows how the technology works.

You have to not be scared to try something. We’re fortunate because we have leaders at Arizona Federal who feel the same way.

May 3, 2016

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