While you can’t predict the future, Wanda Chambers, senior vice president of payment services at Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union, believes in being prepared for it.
“Live one day at a time, but you have to keep your eye on the future,” said Chambers, who has been with the $5.1 billion Tampa, Fla.-based credit union since 1995.
The latest Women to Watch recipient admits she only began to understand the differences and benefits of credit union membership when she joined the Suncoast Schools team. Like many, once she saw the good credit unions do she got hooked on the industry and has been a vocal advocate ever since.
“It’s funny, I didn’t know at the time I was hired that I would find a career here,” said Chambers, who found the credit union through an ad in the newspaper. “I think Suncoast Schools helped me actualize what dreams were in place and helped me develop as a professional and a leader. It’s amazing how being part of an organization that really cared about me, and truly all its employees, makes a difference. I found credit unions, and I am exactly where I belong, doing what I enjoy most every day.”
She added that while others may be daunted by challenges, she’s always looked forward to meeting them head on.
“I’m a problem solver,” said Chambers. “I really enjoy tackling tougher tasks and using analytical thinking skills to find creative solutions to help our members and the credit union as well. The best part of my job has been working with the team we have here at Suncoast and getting to know the members so we can help them and best serve their needs.”
To Chambers, innovation has its roots in necessity.
“When you think about it, innovation is born from necessity and the application of critical and creative thinking to improve upon the current needs and determining the needs of the future,” she said.
It starts with communication, which she believes to be the key to building trust and an environment where ideas can be shared honestly and openly.
“My staff says I stay calm in the face of adversity, and while I don’t always feel that way on the inside, I’m happy to be perceived that way,” joked Chambers. “To innovate and have real change, I think it goes back to trust. I’m not content being average nor with Suncoast being average. I want to do well and for the people around me to do well too. I think it goes back to trust. If you build that trust and rapport with the staff, know what they’re capable of, then challenging the status quo is about trying to constantly improve– whether our services, process or the team. So we set the bar high but are realistic in what can be achieved and we’re lucky we have such a great group of people who work here.”
She added that sense of ownership has helped Suncoast do more for its members. Among the many initiatives Chambers is proud of, automating the process for front line staff using workflow document management solutions stands out.
In 2000, Chambers spearheaded the drive to find a solution that would allow Suncoast to eliminate waiting time for members when they visited a branch that didn¹t have their member folder on site. When this happened, tellers needed to request information from the branch where the folder was stored.
To decrease the credit union’s dependency on paper and give employees instantaneous access to information, an enterprise content management solution was implemented.
All member documents and information are stored electronically in a central location and are securely accessible to staff with a simple mouse-click in their everyday and core banking applications. Instead of relying on paper, Suncoast scans some 300,000 documents into its system every month, saving on costs for storing and shipping paper, while making preparation for audits a simple task. In addition, Suncoast processes more than 100,000 checks every day, which are then automatically imported and indexed. Decreasing Suncoast¹s reliance on paper, has not only increased speed, accuracy and member service, but also decreased costs and helped make it easier for the credit union to proactively comply with ever changing regulations.
According to Chambers, integrating the technologies Suncoast relies on every day like its core banking platform, loan origination system and accounting software with its ECM solution has helped employees become more productive. In addition, she led efforts to use electronic document workflow to automatically forward electronic documents and the pertinent information that surrounds them straight through processes, without manual intervention.
“It’s helped employees focus on helping our members and providing a better experience, where members obtain the services they need and want faster,” said Chambers. “I’m also proud that Suncoast was the first financial institution nationally to image enable our ATMs. Since 2007 our members have been making deposits of checks and cash at our ATMs beating out even the big banks.”
A calculated risk taker, she believes that competition is a good thing.
“Whether it’s from nonconventional arenas or the traditional big banks, competition helps clarify the benefits of credit union membership and the difference we deliver loud and clear,” said Chambers. “There is still this perception that credit unions aren’t as sophisticated in terms of technology and products and services and that simply isn’t true. We have to continually educate and beat the drum of literacy and why our people focused business model makes good sense financially for consumers, to change that perception.”
She added that future leaders can’t take a one size fits all approach to leadership.
“Keep an open mind to emerging technology, listen to your staff and members, learn to effectively communicate and take the initiative, “ said Chambers. “Never stop learning in your personal and professional life. Mentors come in all shapes, sizes and walks of life, some may even be younger than you, so be open to what others can teach you.”