Michael Kelly, the new CEO of PSCU Financial Services, believes credit unions have to significantly improve their payment products and services if they want to remain relevant to their members or even in existence over the long term.
PSCU's board of directors named Kelly president/CEO this past March after the death of PSCU leader David Serlo. Kelly assumed his duties on May 1.
Kelly had been a payments executive at Fiserv and a relative unknown to many CUs before accepting the job at PSCU. He credited his awareness, which he acknowledged sometimes bordered on an obsession, with the changing payments landscape in part for getting the position.
"No one wants to use the word complacency, but I think the industry had gotten a little complacent," Kelly said. It got used to competing in a certain way, against a certain type of financial institution and it has not understood that the world has been changing, he explained, adding that banks, also, have not always had their eyes open to the changing world.
"The top 20 banks, well they are really on their own," said Kelly, who reiterated an observation others have made as well that, when it comes to payments, community banks and credit unions often find common ground in the competition against organizations that are not financial institutions but that have nonetheless entered the payment space. This is something that should cause both CUs and banks to lose sleep at night, Kelly added.
Kelly had several examples of companies in mind to illustrate his point. Starbucks, for example. The popular vendor of expensive coffee and atmosphere has implemented a prepaid card that users can access via an app on their Apple and BlackBerry smartphones. The result has been, essentially, the ability to cut the financial institution, whether bank or credit union, out of a swipe from a routine transaction.
"The most you might get is an ACH transaction, usually once a month," Kelly said. "Admittedly, the amounts of the transactions are not large, but I view Starbucks as the canary in the coal mine of where payments are headed," he added.
He also pointed to Target. As part of taking the job at the Florida-based CUSO, Kelly had to move his family of four to Florida, where, Kelly said, he went to Target and was offered a Target debit card. The card offered a 5% discount on anything he used it for and he noted that this was bound to get the attention of some consumers.
"Increasingly, Target is seen as a one-stop shop for consumers. I can get groceries there and many other things. As a consumer, that 5% discount could be seen as pretty compelling," he noted.
PSCU will help credit unions wake up and begin to compete by focusing first on needs and desires not of their member credit unions, but of their members and working backward.
"Credit unions need to be able to offer their members the sorts of products and services that really wow them," he said, and products and services that they really need to make their financial lives easier and more efficient. Doing that, he contended, would help them remain relevant to their members and be able to compete with a growing list competitors, including other credit unions, banks and the growing list of nonfinancial payments competitors.
That effort, Kelly indicated, remained in the realm of the mid to long term, while one of the CUSO's immediate efforts would focus on helping its member credit unions address the effect of an eventual cap on debit interchange. This could involve launching new technologies to help credit unions enhance their fee income by stepping up debit volume and further limiting program costs and waste.
Kelly said that under his direction, PSCU would be more open to transparency than it might have been in the past, and member credit unions would find it easier to examine their card programs for unintended or legacy costs and fees.
"I don't think these are costs that anyone necessarily meant to have hanging around for as long as they have," Kelly said. It's just that they were elements of programs that changed over time and were not updated or reviewed, he speculated.
Kelly described having the CEO's job immediately after Serlo as "standing on the shoulders of a giant" and said that the former CEO and leader remained alive in the organization he helped form and direct for so long.
"If you have been to our headquarters in Florida, I believe you know how warm and inviting and really joyful a place it is to work," Kelly said, attributing that to the approach Serlo had used to build the CUSO and motivate workers that continues today, he said. n