Trailblazer 40 Below Revels in Creativity and Innovation
As someone who believes in creating opportunities, the concept wait and see simply does not compute for Matt Weidler, information systems asset analyst at Evangelical Christian Credit Union.
“You can find plenty of opportunities to have an impact beyond your job description, but you have to work hard to recognize and take advantage of those opportunities. That may mean getting outside your comfort zone,” said Weidler. “We all have opportunities to be creative where we are at, but proactive people find ways to influence people outside their immediate circles.”
He has taken his belief that individuals own their creativity to collaborate with three other regular line staffers interested in more traditional leadership roles to form their own career development network. Aimed at providing support for their peers at the Brea, Calif.-based ECCU, the network has three goals: providing valuable career development opportunities, encouraging peer networking and promoting ground-up enterprise communication.
“For me, being proactive is the one quality that distinguishes leaders from followers. Why wait for someone else to start something like this,” said Weidler. “We wanted to create opportunities for ourselves to start leading from where we are now to prepare ourselves for the future we want, while simultaneously helping our peers achieve the same success we’re looking for.”
The group, which is not affiliated with the credit union, meets monthly on their own time during lunch. In addition to sharing information and resources designed to help young professionals stay ahead of the curve in their industry, some credit union executives and local business owners have been invited as speakers to talk about their successes.
“We basically run the network as a club of employees who are willing to make a sacrifice to invest in ourselves,” said Weidler. “We recognize that developing and honing leadership skills is important to the future of credit unions.”
He added that the time is now for credit unions to not only focus on bringing in younger members but identifying and encouraging the industry’s future leaders. As for young credit union professionals, don’t give up is his advice.
“It can be difficult at times. Many people feel that our schools and work environments tend to discourage creativity and promote conformity. There is some truth to that, and credit unions should be working against those tendencies by offering incentives for creative solutions and figuring out how to reject bad ideas without rejecting their creators,” said Weidler. “ But ultimately, everyone is responsible for their own efforts. Learn to focus your creative energies on subjects that you have considerable knowledge about, that you have an opportunity to influence, and that will bring real positive changes to you or your community.”
Over the last four years, he’s lived that no barriers philosophy as he’s lent his talents to further ECCU’s political advocacy efforts. For Weidler, it’s been a great way to put his natural gift for public speaking and his master’s degree in political science to good use.
“Political advocacy is vital for credit unions. We have to continue to build those local, state and federal relationships,” said Weidler. “Young credit union professionals in particular shouldn’t be afraid to step up because the average politician is happy to see and hear from constituents. The whole reason they got into politics is to serve. We have to leverage that relationship so they can take your concerns and fight for you on the Hill. Don’t think because you're young you have nothing to say–get involved.”
He added that he had not only regularly attended CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference and lobby days but also has continued to be a part of the California Credit Union League’s Government Relations Rally and Annual Conference. Recognized as a real asset during congressional visits, he has been routinely selected by the league to lead delegations to Assemblyman Chris Norby and other congressmen.
“My participation has been so valuable that my CEO Mark Holbrook has given me a second official job title of political liaison in recognition of my contributions,” said Weidler.
Making the most of every moment, no matter how mundane, has helped Weidler not only further his professional development but also sparked an innovative solution that earned him top honors and a $10,000 award during this year’s CO-OP Financial Services THINK prize competition.
“I can say I’m thankful I’m absent minded because a lot of good came from that day I approached the ATM without my wallet,” joked Weidler. “Debit cards have been around for so long it’s difficult to think of life without them. That day, nature forced me to ask the question, ‘There’s got to be a better way, right? Why do I need my wallet to identify myself?’”
Forced to think about the product offer as a member rather than an employee, he came up with the idea of cellular ATM access, which allows consumers to access their funds from ATMs via mobile phone.
“I realized in that moment that for years we had been asking our members to carry around a physical piece property to electronically identify themselves because when ATM networks were introduced in the 1970s they didn’t already have a unique electronic device,” said Weidler. “The logical question became, ‘If ATMs had been built today would we really choose to make our members carry something around in their wallet to identify them?’ You can bet the answer to that question would be no. Now whenever something happens, I think, O.K. it’s a gift. Something good my yet come from this.”
According to Weidler, with creativity as the new business currency it’s innovation that will play a key role in credit union success moving forward. He said it’s time for everyone in the industry to reframe their thoughts about everything from what constitutes basic services today, to who is the competition.
“Online banks and start-ups are the number one competition for credit unions now- not the bank down the street,” said Weidler. “Online institutions are delivering transactions and service on consumers’ terms and that’s influencing and changing their expectations when they shop financial institutions.”
He added that innovation has to be disruptive. Those who make minor changes to existing solutions are simply renovating and ultimately, the impact made is the distinction.
“There are places for renovation, but it won’t drastically change the nature of your business. If you really want to change the interaction between your credit union and your members you need to start thinking about the member’s behavior instead of your products,” said Weidler. “True innovation asks, ‘What is it that the member is trying to achieve that has been driving them to our products?’ not ‘What is it about our products that the member would like to change?’ The difference in language is subtle, but the impact on your thinking is huge.”
He added that going back to the drawing board and thinking about the member’s behavior from today’s technology and regulatory paradigm is extremely important.
“People don’t realize how many false assumptions they’ve built up just by doing something the same way for 20 or 30 years,” said Weidler. “Whether you prefer to call it breaking the rules or thinking outside the box, the lesson is that you had better change the way you approach change before it’s too late.”