Services and solutions that push the envelope of what members expect and what credit unions can deliver can sometimes blur the lines between managing technology and member service.
That new synergy between those two key elements of credit union life also is paving the way for relative newcomers like Ron Wright, a hospitality industry veteran who once helped serve a half million meals a year at a mountain resort and now is the trailblazing vice president of payment systems and line of credit at Texas Dow Employees Credit Union.
Wright also is the winner of the Credit Union Times Trailblazer Award as the 2010 IT Exe of the Year.
Wright is nearing his five-year anniversary with $1.5 billion TDECU. He signed on as director of remote retail management, in charge of reorganizing a new call center and finding himself, he said, "in charge of anything that touched the client who is not physically in our building, including ATMs, credit cards, online banking, the call center and so on."
Now, he's in charge of "coordinating strategic solutions that provide the best and most innovative services for our members, competing with the technology standards of any bank and with the service levels of the best credit unions."
He hastens to add, "But we don't compare our services to other institutions. We set our standards to those of the Ritz-Carlton."
And to those of Yosemite National Park, where Wright served in executive management roles at Curry Village before moving to his employer's central office, where he created the revenue management department and operated a call center.
He also worked closely with the IT department there, managing five project managers as they evaluated new and existing systems in the company's various divisions and installed new solutions.
Wright said the transition to a similar role in a big credit union felt natural to him, although he's not a traditional "IT guy."
"I did become a systems expert at my previous company, I guess, and I've always wanted to know why things work the way they do, and how they do it," he said.
"That said, on many levels my 13-year-old son is more technical than I am when it comes to computers. Those are the people we've got to think about. He'll most likely grow up not knowing what a checkbook is or at least not using one," Wright said.
"That's why we've got such a focus here on keeping up with the technology. We need to offer the products that our younger and more technically savvy members are going to expect from our service channels," he said.
"And ultimately," he said, "member service is member service. I think when it comes to what we offer to our members, we all have to know our delivery channels very well. Not necessarily every bit and byte in every application, but an understanding of how the application delivers a service and how it integrates with the rest of the credit union."
Integrating what Wright sees as a crucial concept in both the back office and end user's home and business remote deposit capture-is a good example of his philosophy in action.
His strategy in that arena includes consumer and merchant RDC in the months ahead, as well as branch RDC projects now under way. He also is working toward ATM check capture in 2011.
The idea, of course, is to increase member convenience but at the same time increase efficiencies and reduce costs for the credit union and to enhance the personal touch through the whole thing.
"We're all about service," he said. "While I mentioned the Ritz-Carlton, I compare us to a Holiday Inn in the hospitality industry. You won't find glass, brass and marble when you walk into one of our branches, but you'll find very comfortable surroundings and a service level that we definitely can model after the Ritz.
"Our job is to listen to what the members are asking for and provide them those options. Provide them, suggest them, but don't mandate them. And do it in a way that keeps our costs down as we find new efficiencies in everything we do," he said.
That balance and passion hasn't escaped the notice of his colleagues.
"The Trailblazer Awards are meant for showcasing the best of the credit union movement, and Ron personifies that description," said Paul Perdue, senior vice president of lending and risk management at the 130,000-member TDECU.
"Today's credit union movement is based around providing the fine balance of maximizing efficiency and technology while maintaining a steady focus on what makes us strong: member service. Ron has been an integral part in our building our credit union with the leading technology and service in the area of his responsibility," said Perdue, "a blend that is very hard to find."
Wright also is blending new credit card products into his member-service strategy, including the Onyx card, which marries revolving and nonrevolving credit, up to 2% rewards and other attributes he said make it unique in the credit union industry and a competitor to American Express and Discover for his members.
He also points with pride to TDECU's emphasis on disaster recovery, noting that the Lake Jackson, Texas, credit union "was the last to close its doors and the first to re-open" when Hurricane Ike roared ashore in 2008.
"The tarp outside the door reading 'We're Open' spoke to the true level of commitment and reason for the credit union's continued success," Wright said. "It's important that members know we will always be there for them."
In fact, he's now working on combining RDC with disaster recovery, making sure that the capability to process remotely deposited checks travels with the credit union if it has to move functions offsite when disaster threatens or strikes.
Wright's key technology partner in deploying the RDC solutions said he has come to appreciate what Wright and others like him bring to the table from their past lives.
"TDECU continually breaks new ground for the credit union industry by leveraging the skills that strong executives like Ron have gained from other industries," said Jon Reneslacis, director of engineering solutions at imaging specialist VSoft Corp. in Atlanta.
"He has a rich history in the hospitality industry that augments his credit union career with a sense of true service and membership. It is a rich blend of talent and dedication that any progressive credit union should look to emulate," Reneslacis said.
Wright credits his boss, CEO Edward Speed, with being a trailblazer himself. "He's a very forward thinker," Wright said. "His concept is that when he brings in additions to his senior management team, he's not afraid to bring someone in from outside the industry if that person brings what we need."
Wright said he believes he was the first to fit that mold, followed by former Home Depot managers, health care and education professionals and chemical industry executives.
"The idea is you can teach people the banking industry, but you still need people who understand credit unions and are committed to that. You can't teach that," Wright said. "That's what we have here and it's really fascinating now when we sit down for a product discussion around here to hear all the different ways people look at things."