Tarrah Palomino-Prim, assistant vice president of Web services at SAFE Credit Union, believes there’s no such thing as an idea too crazy for consideration.
“When you want to find a way to provide exceptional experiences for members there can’t be limitations. Even if it is a crazy idea, let’s discuss it not slam the door shut,” said Palomino-Prim of the innovative process at the $1.7 billion credit union.
“I really encourage the team and myself to go outside the box and to push the envelope by not accepting the answer ‘no’ without an explanation of why it’s not beneficial or the best approach. I feel strongly about that. If you expect to find a solution, it comes from great thoughts and making sure everyone’s heard. Never turn your ears off, listen for clues of what’s being attempted, ask questions like ‘what are you solving for’ and as you go through the journey it’s then the right solutions begin to be created.”
She’s harnessed and infused that same open, positive energy to her current role.
“I didn’t imagine this for myself but I always wanted to be in a leadership role or have more of a say in being a part of the direction of something bigger,” said Palomino-Prim. “Leaders in particular need to have a higher sensitivity to what’s going on. We’re all being asked to do more with less these days and I think the way to lead through that is to ensure that employees’ needs are met when they’re at work and to help meet their needs elsewhere, whether it means allowing them to work from home or offering the opportunity for some flexibility and happiness.”
She added that she feels lucky to be in an environment and culture that supports the innovative process.
“I have a huge passion for what I do and our team dynamic is one of such positive energy,” said Palomino-Prim. “Some days may be harder than others but I think everyday challenges offer an opportunity to figure out how to improve whatever scenario you’re dealing with and move forward. Negativity won’t help you reach the right solution.”
She said that having the chance to not only look ahead to what’s next but be a part of solving for those future endeavors has been better than she ever could have imagined. Like many, she didn’t know much about credit unions until a recruiter contacted her about an opening at the North Highland, Calif.-based credit union.
“I never considered financial services as far as an industry to be a part of, and here I am six years in and I can’t imagine doing anything else,” joked Palomino-Prim. “I’ve always been interested in the end-to-end user experience and program management so this has just been a perfect fit for me.”
Part of the appeal has been the variety it provides. At any given time her team’s project list can be 40-60 items deep.
Some of the projects on tap range from developing an iPad application with Intuit for SAFE to deliver money management tools to members, adding a mobile phone app to SAFE’s remote deposit capture program, to adding payroll processing for microbusiness, which allows small businesses to have automated payroll, direct deposit and other services.
In addition to moving the procedure manual to Microsoft's Sharepoint software, she has also been working on improving the front-line software to give employees a more sophisticated next-to-sell information to help improve member cross sales and efficiency.
SAFE has also been a beta test site for Intuit and Palomino-Prim has been a key part of helping Intuit develop the My Banking home banking with new features designed to increase member satisfaction. She said the constant generation of great ideas and solutions has been the greatest challenge.
“There are so many dreams that we try to get to and striking a balance can be tricky as you try to be cutting edge,” said Palomino-Prim. “As far as prioritizing projects it boils down to picking and choosing those that bring members the most value. Technology can be such a huge benefit to an organization particularly to have a culture that fosters technology as it relates to business objectives. When it’s well-aligned, the sky is the limit.”
She added that changing consumer perceptions can sometimes feel like an uphill battle, and when it comes to technology credit unions somehow lag behind other financial institutions.
“It drives me crazy because it simply isn’t true and in some cases, like cash rewards, I know at SAFE we were nine months ahead of Bank of America and others,” said Palomino-Prim. “We have a lot of work still to do to demonstrate and open consumers’ eyes to the benefits of being a credit union member not just in our branches but online.”
She added that may mean taking a look through a different lens as far as talking to members in the ways they prefer.
“It’s about knocking down walls based on members’ needs and financial concerns. So for example, during a live chat at a certain point in the process the member can schedule an appointment in the branch basically giving them the opportunity to convert the experience into their channel of choice,” said Palomino-Prim.
“A stronger message could be in one portion of buying experience when they choose not to buy on the website and do research. They could then convert to an officer. The opportunity lies in how to capture that information, experience and transition so by the time they make it in to a mortgage officer at the branch he or she knows more about that individual. The credit union’s been able to listen and act without having had a face-to-face conversation.”
Looking ahead to 2012, she said with the payments landscape quickly shifting the time is ripe for credit unions to look at ways to stay ahead of the curve.
“We’re going against parties like Walmart and Google, so we should at least ensure we have the same understanding of end user needs so when the time is right we have the right system for the right reason,” said Palomino-Prim.
“It goes back to staying informed and talking to customers because you can get disconnected to those you’ve created the solution for. Understand the population and what’s in their best interest not based on what you think it is, but because they’ve told you so. Through conversation we become educated. Don’t assume you have all the answers. It’s important to be open and receptive to discovering what the best answer may be, and at any given time, it might not be yours.”