VANCOUVER, Wash. -- Whether it's assessing the latest technology trend in credit union land or keeping up with the action at a Division 1 college basketball game, Jim Morrell knows which way the ball is bouncing.
And he knows the value of team play. Besides leading a tightly knit team of veteran IT specialists as senior vice president of support services at iQ Credit Union in Vancouver, Morrell is a long-time member of the CUNA Technology Council who also has become deeply involved in credit union innovation with the Filene Research Institute's i3 program.
All this and more is the reason Morrell is the 2008 Credit Union Times Information Technology Executive of the Year.
It's a well-deserved honor, according to his boss.
"Jim serves on advisory boards for Symitar, Online Resources, and Southwest Corporate Credit Union. Jim has been featured in and written for many publications from our trade associations and has been a speaker at many industry conferences," said Roger Michaelis, president/CEO of $376 million iQ CU.
"He has consistently been on the forefront of technology issues. His article, "Going Live on the Internet" was published in 1997. He has been recognized as one of 'Tomorrow's Leaders' by the Washington Credit Union League," Michaelis added.
"Jim volunteers with his church, on technology advisory committees with local school districts, and is on the iQ for Kids charity committee. I believe Jim is worthy of this recognition," Michaelis said.
Morrell is quick to share the credit for how his 41,000-member credit union has adapted to the growing demands from both technology and member expectations.
"Our staff has done a remarkable job at adapting to change and building their skills and knowledge, and I've had the opportunity to work with some very talented people for an extended period of time here," he said of his own shop. "We have been able to keep most of our IS team intact for the better part of the nine years I've been here. We all bring a variety of interests to the table, and by working together, we've been able to achieve a lot."
Those accomplishments include being one of the early adopters of online banking in the early 1990s and building on that to where iQ CU now has more than 60% penetration among its checking-account holders and a bill pay adoption rate of better than 25%.
Automated lending and membership application are both now in their second generations at iQ CU, Morrell said, and an intranet and knowledge base is in place to help staff and members get quick answers.
Morrell also pointed with pride to his staff's ability to maintain operating standards and develop and integrate applications on the Citrix platform.
The 15-year veteran of the CU industry also knows hardwoods as well as software.
As if his day job managing 27 of the 175 staffers at the credit union doesn't keep him busy enough, Morrell travels regularly around the big Western states as a referee for women's basketball, calling games on all levels from community college to Division 1, including the far-flung West Coast Conference and Western Athletic Conference, which includes schools from Southern California to Hawaii to Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and the Mountain West.
Morrell also spends a lot of time interacting with his colleagues. He has been on the CUNA Technology Council since 1996, including a five-year stint as the council's chair. He speaks with obvious pride of the group's accomplishments.
"The value of networking is comparing notes and leveraging the collective wisdom of a variety of peers facing many of the same challenges, which allows us to not re-invent the wheel, avoid pitfalls and achieve successes for our individual credit unions," he said.
"As a collective group, we have become recognized as a leading voice for technology within the credit union industry," he said. "The CTC brings tremendous value beyond just networking, too, by producing white papers and putting on Webinars on a variety of relevant topics."
Morrell also got hands-on with the i3 program for the Filene Research Institute, a program he said fills "a desperate need in our industry to meet the challenges we face in stagnating membership growth, shrinking margins, and increasing competition."
Among the more than more 40 innovations that have come from the program are some that now are gaining traction in credit union land, Morrell noted, including a debit card round-up solution conceived by i3, developed at Wright-Patt CU in Ohio and now being shared by iQ CU at no charge with other credit unions running on Symitar.
Morrell said he is committed to such activities because they reflect his own personal commitment to the uniquely cooperative nature of the credit union movement as a whole, and because they help further what he believes is technology's evolving new role as an integrated part of the business.
"Here at iQ CU, I think our biggest accomplishments related to technology have less to do with specific technologies and more with the evolution of how we approach technology," he said.
"We have developed a view, now shared organization-wide, that we identify business strategies and then select the technology approaches and solutions that go along with those, not the other way around," Morrell said.
"Taking this approach, and identifying the needs of our members, is the way we are best able to address the mutual interest of our members and the credit union's growth. Our board's philosophy also has been to be very forward thinking, but not so far ahead of what our members need that technology becomes a worthless investment," he said.
Morrell's philosophy and commitment has earned him the respect of his peers. "It's one thing to lead people who are on salary, but it is really commendable to successfully lead a group of professional volunteers. I have a great respect and appreciation for Jim," said Annette Zimmerman, a senior vice president at Mountain America Credit Union who served for five years with Morrell on the CUNA Technology Council.
He also draws pundits from his suppliers. "As a customer, Jim has always impressed me with his thorough and thoughtful approach to technology," said John San Filippo, marketing manager for Symitar.
"Once when I was working for another vendor, Jim opted not to go with our solution. Even so, he took the time to explain in significant detail why he chose a different solution. I was then able to pass this information on to my co-workers, which resulted in some changes to our product and how we sold it," San Filippo said.
He added, too, that "Jim's passion for his work is so apparent, it quickly rubbed off on me.
"It was Jim and his enthusiasm that convinced me to offer booth space to the CUNA Technology Council at the Symitar Educational Conference. Jim also talked me into committing to a $10,000 sponsorship for the council, even though I didn't have the money in my budget at the time," San Filippo said.
"I just couldn't say no to Jim. On the flip side, Jim has never said no, either, agreeing to speak at our conference on behalf of the tech council and doing an absolutely fantastic job," the Symitar marketing manger said.
"I've encountered my fair share of credit union technologists during my 18 years in this industry, and I can say without reservation that Jim Morrell truly represents the best of the best."