Women to Watch: XCEL COO Fueled by Tenacity and Technology
“I simply don’t give up,” said Pulice. “It’s the advice I share with everyone. Even when something seems impossible, whether its growing loans or getting deposits, you just keep going and it’ll work out. At the end of the day, as long as you keep pushing through and trying, there’s nothing that can’t be accomplished.”
That positive attitude helped Pulice find what she said has been her home in the credit union industry and at the Bloomfield, N.J.-based $135 million credit union.
“I first started working in credit unions in 1992, and when I went for the interview I had no idea what a credit union was,” said Pulice. “I just saw an ad in the paper for a teller position. But the more I learned about what credit unions were all about the more impressed I became.”
Adding that you never know where life will take you, her career trajectory plans of becoming an accountant got derailed.
“When I first got out of school, I thought accounting was it, but as I worked at the credit union I realized that it wasn’t what I enjoyed,” said Pulice. “I loved sales, being with people and project management, for me, was just so interesting. How could I be an accountant when it clearly wouldn’t work with my personality? It was when I got promoted to supervisor it became clear. The more involved I got in the management aspect of the credit union and how the people, departments all work together as part of the strategic plan, the more I knew just what I really wanted to do.”
For Pulice, true innovation starts with having an open mind and then finding ways technology can help facilitate delivering solutions.
“We take creating and developing new products and services seriously, so we’re always looking at what’s the latest technology as a way to see if it’s something that will help us offer members new solutions for their everyday challenges,” said Pulice. “I think the past five to six years the credit union industry as a whole has become more open to everything and not closing themselves off from any product or service offerings. That’s a big change. There is always something to improve upon, and for the industry it’s getting the word out there. Even with all the press coverage about Bank Transfer Day, consumers will still walk into a branch and be shocked that credit unions offer whatever the big banks do.”
She added that over the past few years with the New Jersey Credit Union League’s Banking You Can Trust statewide initiative, awareness has grown among New Jersey consumers.
“Our league does a great job on getting the word out about New Jersey credit unions, and we then need to take that awareness to the next level and do a better job on educating consumers on what’s available and how we can help make their lives easier,” said Pulice.
Recognizing the value of members’ time, XCEL staffers focus on developing solutions that take the hassle out of banking. Pulice said it can be as easy as eliminating the paperwork associated with loans. Pulice’s team has made applying for a loan simple.
“There’s no more of the back and forth faxing of documents, we do it all via email and consolidated that whole process of members getting all the documents,” said Pulice. “It’s worked out great. Not only has it been a great savings on paper. but the member response has been overwhelmingly positive. The majority of our members don’t come to a branch, so we want to help make getting a loan less of chore. The harder you make it for members to just apply for a loan, the less likely they’ll turn to your credit union or move forward with it.”
She added that an online application where members can get approval on the spot has been a boon for the credit union’s loan portfolio. She also credited a renewed marketing focus on loans year round for XCEL’s loan growth. She said that has been the benefit that comes from seeing opportunity in adversity.
“Look, the economy tanked, and you heard these very pessimistic views on how things were going to go down, especially with loans. People would lose their jobs and default on their loans etc.,” said Pulice. “It would be easy to just toss in the towel or wait it out but that’s when credit unions have the chance to exhibit real leadership. Now XCEL, with our member base of Port Authority and federal employees, we didn’t have a lot of members lose their jobs, and we didn’t lay anyone off either, so the economic turn was different for us. Actually, when it went bad our deposits grew 20%, but we took the opportunity to show how we were different than big banks and kept working on ways to better serve our members.”
From a new debit card conversion and a home equity product to business loans, Pulice said the credit union has lots of projects lined up to roll out in 2012 and beyond. That sense of optimism has been the foundation upon which she has lived her life.
“My advice for future women leaders is you have to believe in what you are doing and what you want to accomplish,” said Pulice. “Set clear goals for yourself to achieve. The one thing that derails most careers is when people are just doing something they don’t enjoy. If you don’t like what you’re doing there is no way you can do a good job.”
She added that women can’t waste their time thinking about whether the good old boys network is still a factor today. Women who want to get ahead should focus on surrounding themselves with bright, energetic, positive people, keep an open, positive mind and before making any decision, weigh all the facts.
She said she has been lucky to work with a great team of people over the years and has had great relationships with leaders at her past and current credit union that helped in developing her leadership style.
“I lead by example. I don’t expect my staff to do anything I don’t believe in and they know that. To be an effective leader I think you have to be positive, believe in what you’re doing and trust and believe in your team to do the right thing as well,” said Pulice. “It’s about having an open communication, which means my team can come to me for anything and everything. I’m open to hearing everything they have to say good, bad or indifferent. They can call me just to get my input or how I feel about a certain loan application or new account. They know they can come to me for anything because I listen."