For Stacie Wyss-Schoenborn, vice president of member solutions at BECU, "status quo" simply isn’t in her vocabulary.
“I’ve always been someone to challenge the status quo, constantly asking how can we improve and what can be done differently,” said the latest Women to Watch honoree, who has been with the over $11 billion Tukwila, Wash.-based credit union for some six years. “Every met project or goal, product or service presents an opportunity to retool and create a better experience. I’ve always enjoyed a challenge and it’s what drives me to want to excel and find what can be improved upon to make more of a positive impact for BECU Members and staff.”
Like many, Wyss-Schoenborn, stumbled into credit unions after realizing that her job at a high-risk lending firm wasn’t the right fit.
“While I felt there was a value in providing these individuals with access to credit, at the end of the day I didn’t feel good that I personally was likely compounding an already fragile financial situation,” said Wyss-Schoenborn. “I was in my 20s and didn’t know a thing about credit unions. I started working at the Oregon Credit Union League, became educated on the value proposition credit unions offer and discovered it mirrored my own.”
With the majority of individuals learning about credit unions through SEGs or as employees, she said there’s an opportunity for the industry to be more proactive in recruiting that top talent right out of college or graduate school by building awareness of the unique value proposition credit unions offer.
“True leadership is about inspiring people and guiding them through change,” said Wyss-Schoenborn. “To ensure the results delivered are the best we can offer, there’s got to be collaboration. I don’t believe I have the best ideas; those ultimately come from collective input. I want to hear from others, that’s how you build and refine ideas to deliver the best solutions. It starts with hiring people with different strengths and leveraging their talents. You fail in leadership if you don’t capitalize on what you have, which is human capital.”
With a group of CEOs retiring, she said there has never been a better time for leaders to step up for consideration.
“I think everyone can be a leader. Every morning when you get out of bed you choose your path for that day whether to lead or follow,” said Wyss-Schoenborn. “There are so many resources out there such as organizations like Filene, Leagues, WOCCU, CUNA, CUNA Mutual Group, National Credit Union Foundation and The Cooperative Trust. These associations provide opportunities to get connected, involved and gain experience. I have a network of people I go to as trusted advisors. I think everyone should create a panel of their own board of directors as a trusted source to ask advice, bounce ideas off or to collaborate with to develop solutions to everyday challenges.”
Ideas cannot just languish due to analysis paralysis, said Wyss-Schoenborn, as there’s something to be said for failing fast, moving on and learning from any mistakes along the way. It’s all part of the improvement process.
“I believe in keeping it simple, so for me innovation is more about business process reinvention,” she said. “If you improve upon something, there’s no need for a big bang or wow factor. We recently made a change that allows front line staff to launch directly into a core system when talking to members that saves three seconds. Individually, three seconds may not seem like a big deal, but multiply that time across our branch footprint and the time savings gained is substantial. It’s about base hits to improve and provide the ultimate experience to members and employees alike.”
Given the sweeping shifts of the competitive landscape, the issue of relevancy will determine how the industry as a whole survives and thrives in future.
“There is an urgency in retaining and growing membership,” said Wyss-Schoenborn. “The competition is everywhere; retail stores, Google Wallet, Facebook, in addition to big banks. To remain relevant, we must bring value to members’ lives every single day and earn their loyalty. I wish more credit unions were asking how to come together as an industry and be more relevant. I love and bleed credit unions, but I think as a whole we need to effectively collaborate more, leveraging our strength as a community versus single entities.”
She added that individual credit union efforts would be complemented by an industry push for relevance.
“Each credit union should determine what makes them more relevant in their members’ lives and how to bring additional value to the relationship,” she said. “That means asking why someone should join your credit union. What is your value proposition? Everyone should have their own elevator speech that answers these questions. Sometimes credit unions don’t effectively tell the story. With credit union’s overall market share hovering around 10%, we can’t afford to waste time thinking of other credit unions as competition.”
The reminders of what’s really at stake were recently driven home for her during checkout at a local Target.
“As an example, I’m more concerned about Target offering a debit card that links directly to an existing checking account and gives back 5% to charities and local schools. In the clerk’s sales presentation to me, one of the selling points she mentioned was how great it was not to have to deal with a bank. I stood there and realized, right here, this is disintermediation,” said Wyss-Schoenborn. “I was being taught a lesson on how vigilant credit unions need to be about remaining relevant to their membership. If we’re not providing timely service, members will go elsewhere. We have to woo members with service, looking for additional opportunities to deepen relationships and we must ask for the business. If we aren’t providing education on our products and services then it is financial malpractice and members may have a Target Red Card in their wallet. We need to sell our current and future members on the benefits of the cooperative improving their financial lives.