Trailblazer 40 Below: Nathan Schmidt Takes Others Along on the Big Picture Express
Nathan Schmidt, executive vice president of marketing and business development at San Diego County Credit Union, has always had a knack for not only seeing the big picture but taking others along to anchor and deliver on those ideas.
“I just try to do the right thing. Almost everything in life is a decision, from what time we wake up, what we will endure to what and how we will fail and, of course, succeed,” said Schmidt. “I would like to think with each decision. I do the right thing. I will fail at times, but that’s how we learn to make better decisions going forward. I really feel so fortunate to be here, having the opportunity to work alongside just the most amazing leaders in industry and live in beautiful San Diego. I’m grateful and determined to do my best.”
When he was younger, Schmidt dreamt of being an astronaut. When those plans didn’t work out, the Trailblazer 40 Below made a different choice and first got involved with credit unions in college for the benefits, tuition reimbursement specifically. He was hired as a mailroom specialist at the age of 19 and has been working his way up in the credit union industry ever since.
“I see the ultimate goal, no matter if it’s at SDCCU or if it’s a goal in my personal life. I have a good way of communicating to others the simplicity of choice, and I think that the people around me (employees, friends, family) respect my opinion and want me to genuinely tell them what I think. Sometimes the truth is hard, but I never approach others in a judgmental way, so I think it’s easy for others to easily share their ideas,” said Schmidt. “To me innovation is constant improvement. It’s not just products, it’s delivering on how people search, interact and communicate with you. Who thought we’d take pictures of checks and deposits on smartphones six to 10 years ago?”
He added that it’s important to foster an environment where brainstorming is encouraged and every employee feels empowered to share, so what happens is the organization becomes geared toward being an idea shop of sorts.
“It starts with trusting others and their talents. I can honestly say that your team must have a clear picture of where you’re headed. It is only then when it becomes easier for the team to create and ask what if we take this idea in this direction. We don’t necessarily implement every idea, but we do have a bank of them that we can go back to,” said Schmidt. “I have a house that was built in 1904. I can think of many things that I tried to fix when I knew deep down I should have paid the expense of hiring a professional from the beginning. Lesson learned. When in doubt, consult the professional first. You can’t possibly do everything yourself. It takes courage to reach out and ask for help, but it’s well worth it in the end.”
When it comes to marketing, Schmidt believes communication is key.
“I’m very direct, and I know that I have high expectations but it’s because I believe in what we’re doing. We as marketers need to rethink our communication strategies, specifically when and how we talk to each member,” said Schmidt. “The world has changed with communication etiquettes, credit unions should change, too. We’ve got to be better connected with our members and consumers overall. There are so many distractions and I think they truly know they should make a change but they don’t because of complacency.”
The team at the nearly $6 billion SDCCU has launched a slew of lifestyle products and services including SDCCU Mobile Live Chat. Members who carry iPhone or Android smartphones can connect in real-time through seamless integration with a live SDCCU customer service representative for an enhanced member experience. In addition, SMS text banking, alerts and e-notices provide updates and notices on member accounts to help make it easier to better manage their dollars. The credit union was also first-to-market in San Diego with the SDCCU mobile deposit app.
“While we’re all proud of the grassroots beginnings of most of our credit unions, we must better understand the world today,” said Schmidt. “Every day is an opportunity to look at our business model, dust it and ask the tough questions. Is your credit union still relevant to the original field of membership? I think that many credit unions get overwhelmed and focus solely on servicing the member in front of them, but how do you do that in a manner that will also move the credit union, and the credit union movement forward?”
Never underestimate the power of the member experience as a major component of branding.
“We’ve got a great team here and they recognize their role in the community. SDCCU has a positive brand in the community that has been built upon for the past 75 years. Everyone in San Diego knows SDCCU is active in the community. I’m the lucky one that gets to promote the heck out of it,” said Schmidt. “We have a motto at SDCCU ‘Feel the Teal.’ Feel the Teal is about fostering positive and exceptional member service. I’m just one out of 650 employees that provide wow service to our members, each and every day. Key messaging, goals and expectations must be defined by the organization to cultivate the organization’s overall brand.”
In 2012, SDCCU strengthened its corporate value proposition to reflect a more accurate market position in the communities it serves. The message: provide breakthrough banking products that meet the demands of today’s lifestyle and deliver banking services that save members money. That has helped SDCCU successfully differentiate itself.
Looking ahead, it’s technology that has him both concerned and excited about the possibilities.
“Fortunately, at SDCCU, we have some of the most breakthrough and cutting edge online and mobile services,” said Schmidt. “While this is very exciting, I’m also concerned with the way in which consumers will access and interact with us in the future.”