Generally speaking, while women are avid users of technology, they tend to be underrepresented in its creation.
According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, women leave tech industry careers at twice the rate of men. In addition, women hold only 5% of technology leadership jobs and just 19% of software developers are female.
Women and technology both play a critical role in the future of our industry, as one prominent female executive opines.
So with technology as still a male-dominated field, we thought what a great opportunity to showcase the credit union industry’s Women to Watch in Technology.
It wasn’t an easy task but the five women selected champion the role of technology as a strategic partner to help credit unions continue to be relevant.
It’s been an honor to be able to recognize those women who challenge the status quo and push creative solutions to address what ails their credit union and oftentimes, the industry as a whole.
Here are their stories.
First: The Explorer, Harmony Paulley, Co-op CU
The Explorer Who Never Stops Learning
Snapshots of Cracking the Glass Ceiling
For Harmony Paulley, electronic records manager at the $259 million Co-op Credit Union in Black River Falls, Wis., every day represents an opportunity to learn and grow.
“I made a promise to myself after I had graduated to never stop learning,” said the Women to Watch in Technology honoree. “Your education shouldn’t stop when you leave school. It’s every individual’s responsibility to create their own curriculum and make a point to keep growing.”
It’s about accepting new challenges, she said.
“Opportunities present themselves every day and while it may be easier, given how busy we all get throughout the day, to pass, we have to accept new challenges,” said Paulley. “It’s important to figure out what scares us because it’s usually those things that we most need to do,” she said. “As we overcome those fears, we get the confidence, strength, courage to push ahead to the next challenge. Facing those scary moments not only helps us grow, but empowers us to keep trying and embracing change.”
That quest for challenging the status quo to deliver custom solutions has been part of the allure of the technology field at the Wisconsin credit union, Paulley said.
“I know it sounds cliché but Steve Jobs is one of my tech heroes. I may not have liked all his actions, but I admire that he was such a visionary. He saw things that didn’t exist and found brilliant people who could help him create it,” she said
Imagine the possibilities in the credit union world if we could find and collaborate with others who could help us create and deliver solutions to help make members’ financial lives easier or better somehow.”
Paulley’s willingness to take a risk to expand her talents has resulted not only in a career she loves but also feeds her desire to help others.
“I always liked writing and have a natural curiosity about the world around me so I had dreams of being a journalist, but I also had this drive to help people as well. To be part of a cooperative that is devoted to helping others and making a real difference in peoples’ lives, that just resonated with me. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
The Apple motto of “think different” is how Paulley not only defines innovation but also leadership.
“To me innovation is about seeing or thinking about something as no one has ever seen or thought before,” the electronic records manager said.
“I think change is the biggest challenge facing leaders today,” she said. “No matter what change is hard for everyone and it can’t be stopped. So to me, how you handle change not only defines you as a leader but also has a lot to do with your effectiveness as a leader.”
For her, effective leadership boils down to the ability to translate the vision into reality by motivating others toward a goal. It is also about leading by example, recognizing the potential in others, mentoring, and providing opportunities for them to grow, make mistakes, and reach their potential.
“Over the years my perspective of leadership has evolved,” said Paulley. “It’s not just about leadership only being possible with the title of CEO or vice president. I see leadership every day in other people across departments and the industry as a whole. I think we have lots of leaders, just not in the conventional sense of titles.”
The Cooperative Trust is one such example. Launched in 2010, the grassroots organization composed of several hundred young credit union professionals has focused on ensuring the industry continues to thrive in the future. Its activities include meetings, mentorships online collaboration and development projects.
“I can’t tell you how much inspiration I get from being a part of The Cooperative Trust,” Paulley said. “Here is this group, a concentrated pool of passionate, talented people, having conversations and working on projects to help push the industry forward with solutions that address members’ needs.”
The key to credit unions remaining relevant lies in collaboration, she added.
“In terms of technology we have to collaborate more and leverage our strengths particularly within our core systems” said Paulley. “I had an opportunity to participate in the World Council of Credit Unions’ International Credit Union Leadership program and traveled to the Dominican Republic.
“They have more limited resources than we do here, but all the credit unions in the country pooled their money together to hire someone to create the technology they needed to serve their members. It was amazing. I couldn’t help thinking, ‘Why aren’t we doing something similar here?’”
Indeed, with technology as one of the biggest expenditures, finding ways credit unions can collaborate to reduce those costs and invest in each other and the industry as a whole has to be a priority, Paulley said. Other challenges looming, including the loss of small credit unions, taxation and retirement of longtime board members and executives provide even more reasons to join forces.
“Collaboration is vital to our future,” Paulley said. “CUNA’s Unite for Good is a step in the right direction and something that we all should embrace and be a part of. We need to ask how can we stop the trend of small credit unions heading toward extinction and help them thrive. There’s so much we could be doing.”
Next: The Mentor, Jen Shefner, Columbia CU
The Mentor Asks: Enough Hours in the Day?
Snapshots of Cracking the Glass Ceiling
Jen Shefner, assistant vice president for e-commerce/interim member service manager at Columbia Credit Union in Vancouver, Wash., never imagined that a major in journalism combined with a strong interest in Web programming and content management would pave the way to finding her passion in serving the credit union industry.
“It provided a good foundation for problem solving,” said the Women to Watch in Technology honoree of her certifications in programming and content management. “Working at a financial institution, let alone a credit union, never really entered my imagination, but in retrospect it’s been a huge blessing in my life and a wonderful place to work. My role here has been so rewarding. I’ve got a wonderful team and with technology changing at such a fast pace, it’s fun to launch solutions that will help improve the lives of our members.”
For Shefner, it’s the people that have made all the difference since she joined the now over $917 million credit union some 11 years ago.
“Several years ago I heard a quote that I’ve tried to live by: You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you’ve read,” said Shefner.
“I believe it to be a rather applicable philosophy. Continual learning is something I value highly, and I have made an ongoing effort personally and in my career to expand my knowledge through interaction with others and reading,” she said.
Whether it’s a coworker, a reference call about a technology vendor, or an acquaintance from a conference, there’s so much to be learned from others and their experiences.
“I have more of a democratic leadership style. I highly value the ideas of my staff and encourage them to contribute,” said Shefner. “I facilitate a team, but it’s the team as a whole that succeeds. It’s important to me that my staff feels valued individually. Regular communication, walking the halls to check in with staff each day, and coaching are part of that.”
Citing time as one of her greatest challenges, she said given all the team at Columbia CU wants to accomplish, from improving processes to exploring new technologies available, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.
“The first step to finding solutions is understanding the current process and challenges,” Shefner said. “Next I think collaboration is key. I ask my team for their ideas and I turn to connections in the industry to find out how they’ve solved similar challenges. I look for what authors Chip and Dan Heath call ‘bright spots’ – successful efforts worth emulating.
“Lastly, I always anticipate a solution is possible. I’ll push myself, vendors and coworkers to keep looking for that better way.”
As someone driven by learning and solving challenges, for Shefner, true innovation must go beyond just the bells and whistles of something new.
Innovation is a new idea, product or process. But, I think it’s more accurately defined within the scope of its audience and the ultimate impact the change creates for that audience.,” said Shefner. “It’s something that ultimately impacts people’s habits, like digital cameras, touch screens on the smart phones. But as you tighten the scope and the audience, creative innovation can be found everywhere.
“In your credit union that might mean coming up with a new process that improves efficiency. A great internal idea can impact a team or the credit union in a big way even if it’s not a ground shaking invention.”
Shefner added that great ideas can come from anywhere within an organization and there’s value in being open to share and receive those ideas. A big believer in collaboration, it’s one reason she developed a LinkedIn User Group for Intuit Financial Services (now Digital Insight) customers about a year ago.
She said the group has proven to be a valuable resource and tool to exchange information about solutions, challenges and internal process around online banking management while helping her stay in touch with people in similar roles she’s met though conferences and reference calls.
“We need to be intentional about growing in leadership and engage with others beyond the credit union walls,” said Shefner. “There have been a lot of great people I learned from.
“Again it comes back to the philosophy that you grow most from the books you read and the people you meet. That might look like a formal mentor relationship, but it might also come from having the courage to ask other leaders how did you get here, what would you have done differently, etc. when you have that one-time opportunity.”
After all the Columbia CU technology exec said, one never knows what curiosity and greater engagement with others can lead to or the ideas and questions it can spark.
“In terms of technology I wish more credit unions were asking how do we reshape what great credit union service looks in a world were members visit online and mobile channels 10-plus times a month and may only come into a branch six times a year? What delivery channels and technology features will truly engage new members and deepen relationships with those we already have?” said Shefner. “What are the risks of waiting and benefits of leading in technology? How can we collaborate within the credit union industry and better leverage our economies of scale and compete with the big banks when it comes to offering technology?
“Internally, could we be doing this a more efficient way? How can we automate or why we do this in the first place?”
The answers will hopefully help lead to better understanding of how credit unions can deepen relationships with members.
“Understand what truly differentiates you and make sure that it’s something that is relevant with your target audience and will drive members to come and stay,” said Shefner. “Identify how important embracing technology is to staying relevant – and the speed to which it should be embraced.”
That is where she said again the power of collaboration can make a difference.
“Part of why I created the user group was to help solve problems, push myself and others to look for a better way,” said Shefner. “ Our vendors know I’m a little high maintenance because I push a bit more, and in the end it helps deliver a better solution for our membership.”
Shefner successfully led the implementation of mobile banking several years ago, which resulted in 20% adoption by Columbia CU’s online users within the first three months. This past July she led the successful conversion of the credit union’s mobile suite to a new mobile and tablet platform.
“We’ve received strongly positive feedback from members and after finishing our first full month moved 35% of our active online users onto the new platform. I feel confident that we made the right move for our members and the credit union,” she said.
She added that whether major initiatives like the conversion, implementation of a new purge process for business online banking, which saved the credit union over $50,000 within the first 12 months, or even simply completing a risk analysis of online and mobile services, it’s ultimately the resulting impact that matters most.
“One of the greatest challenges for leaders today is the pace of change, prioritizing investment with the speed of innovation and responding accordingly,” said Shefner. “We’ve got to be aware of what advances are being made. “
From advances in mobile and tablet banking, P2P, marketing options and business mobile to delivery channel trends, there’s a lot to monitor.
“We’ve got to shift our perspective and view challenges as opportunities,” said Shefner.
Next Page: The Tinkerer, Belinda Caillouet, Spokane Teachers CU
Snapshots of Cracking the Glass Ceiling
“I didn’t plan a career in credit unions,” said the vice president of information technology at the $1.8 billion STCU in Spokane, Wash.
“At the time I was just applying for a job, but from the start, for some reason I’d been drawn to the credit union. I’m sure it was the people and culture and I think when I discovered my place in technology, that is when I knew this is where I belonged,” Caillouet said.
“The people, credit union philosophy, willingness to give back to the community, fit more with my core values and it’s why I’m still with that credit union I applied to 26 years ago.”
Caillouet said that at one time she had contemplated being an accountant but a few classes in she realized it wasn’t the right direction for her.
“I’m a curious person who enjoys tinkering and solving problems,” said the Women to Watch in Technology honoree. “I think that’s why I’m so drawn to technology. It’s continually changing.”
As someone who thrives on challenges, the field delivers in more ways than one.
“I love innovation, challenges, and am willing to take risks. It’s the development of solutions that inspires me every day,” she said. “Honestly, the best part of my job is working with a high-performing team that challenges the status quo.
“To me, innovation is thinking outside the box to solve problems or create opportunities, keeping in mind that anything is possible.”
She added that adaptability and willingness to explore other avenues applies to leading others to help accept and welcome change.
“With the constant state of change in the industry, in order for leaders and the industry as a whole to survive and thrive, they need to be adaptable,” she said. “Change is hard for everyone, so it’s important to know where your team falls on that change meter to help them understand and be part of the solution. Does it excite or stress them out? And then focus on individual needs.”
She said it also helps to share the whys behind the change.
“I try to share the challenge we’re trying to overcome so others feel more emotionally connected and share the why behind it, paint the vision and communicate that often. You’ve got to continue to communicate what’s in it for them whenever possible,” said Caillouet.
“Hear their voice as much as possible in the decision making process and keep everyone updated. Celebrate the wins and keep the door open to allow them to vent.”
The STCU vice president added that effective leadership is also about continual learning.
“Work with mentors, take educational courses, read about leadership and never stop challenging yourself,” she said. “I think it’s important that you then take everything you’ve learned and develop your own leadership style based on your values. What I always think about is, whenever I feel uncomfortable in a situation, I know that I’m growing as a leader.”
Created for everyone there, an internal portal site called Innovation Station, where employees can post comments, ask questions, and offer solutions to strategic challenges, has proven effective in helping staffers, particularly the front line staff, feel more empowered and that their ideas and input matter and are valued.
Staffers can vote on ideas submitted with thumbs up or down and make suggestions or comments accordingly. Caillouet said the collaborative environment helps strategically fulfill the STCU vision.
For example, the credit union recently developed the new member account process app, reducing the time to join STCU from 45 minutes to just 10 minutes.
“It’s great for members and our member service representatives,” said Caillouet. “We changed our business rules so we are able to deliver better service to members.”
She said the input from the members and front-line staff alike helped streamline a cumbersome process to joining. Taking it to another level, now imagine the possibilities and opportunities for the industry as a whole with greater collaboration among credit unions, vendors, leagues, CUSOs, corporates etc. she said.
The fact is the world is changing around us. We can do nothing and be irrelevant, change and keep up or change and become a leader. It’s very important that we credit unions work together to help push the industry forward,” she said.
“There’s a lot of silos and duplication even on the political side to have one voice. We should be asking how can we work together to improve the industry as a whole. There’s so much we can do on the technology side. How can CUSOs work closer together to provide more efficiencies in back offices of large and small credit unions? For example, if we consolidated to one check processor, it could help identify fraud better,” Caillouet said.
“In addition to industry challenges of regulation and shrinking margins, competition has changed to include anyone offering financial services and threatens our relationships with members or potential members. The time has never been better to continue to explore new ways to work together.
“We have to be more creative in the battle as it includes Walmart, PayPal, Starbucks, Verizon or Target,” said Caillouet.
She pointed to the CUNA Technology Council, which has been doing its part through the Credit Union Financial Exchange, as a way to help credit unions become more competitive by being able to deliver new products and services to market quicker as a result of integration standards. She said, with a set of standards that cores and ancillary systems will code to, CUFX could help credit unions not only save money but time and resources spent integrating new technologies.
Next Page: The Communicator, Heather Moshier, SDCCU
The Communicator, Innovating by Example
Snapshots of Cracking the Glass Ceiling
Expressing interest in being part of a credit union’s first in-house computer conversion helped Heather Moshier, executive vice president for information technology at the $6.2 billion San Diego County Credit Union, discover her affinity and passion for technology.
“I started out thinking I would like to be an accountant, but quickly realized it was not the right fit for me,” said the Women to Watch in Technology honoree on changing her path in school to management information systems.
“My experience early on in my career on the new core system conversion was exciting and I loved the challenges that came with it. Throughout my career, I oversaw computer operations, human resources and marketing functions,” Moshier said. “However, my heart always drove me back into the technology field. I love learning, deploying leading- edge technologies and working with a great group of people.”
She added, “Working with the talent at SDCCU is the best part of my job. The support we receive in IT from the staff, executives, CEO and board of directors is truly remarkable. I love interacting with people and finding out what we can do in IT to help accomplish SDCCU’s strategic goals.”
Moshier also said that exploring the possibilities of driving the digital transformation has not been limited to within the walls of SDCCU but extends to the industry as a whole as well.
“Working with the most talented IT executives in the credit union industry on the CUNA Technology Council has been very impactful and helped me learn from the best,” said Moshier. “As an industry, we need to be able to move faster with integrating new technologies and services.”
To that end she is excited about the progress of CUFX, the Credit Union Financial Exchange, which the CUNA Technology Council has been leading.
“CUFX will revolutionize the way in which credit unions can become more competitive by being able to deliver new products and services to market quicker as a result of integration standards,” said Moshier.
CUFX is a set of standards that cores and ancillary systems will code to.
“This standard will save thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of time integrating new technologies,” said Moshier.
“I think it’s very important for the business to drive technology, not technology drive the business. So, credit unions should be asking their IT departments for a strategic technology plan and align it with strategic goals. This is the only way to keep IT in line with the business and be an enabler,” she said.
When it comes to innovation and credit unions remaining relevant, Moshier said, it starts with people.
“It all starts with having the right people in the right positions. It has to begin at the top and go throughout the entire organization,” she said. “You can only move forward with the right team players, as those who are not on board can hold you back.”
She added that it’s important to have a good structure in place to support growing business needs.
“You know, when I heard someone’s title as chief innovation officer, I found that intriguing,” said Moshier. “All IT executives are responsible to keep a keen eye on innovation. You see this more and more in today’s organizations.
“Innovation is thinking outside the box and coming up with something new. Whether the innovation is an idea, technology or process. Being innovative can be a key to a company’s overall success.”
There’s a lot for IT execs to keep their eye on.
“It’s all about mobile solutions. The landscape is changing from PC -based Internet services to mobile and tablet apps,” she said. “I am also keeping a close eye on the changing payments landscape. Who is going to win in the end?”
The SDCCU executive added that one of the biggest challenges facing leaders today are the risks of committing too early, too big or too late or too small.
“This is always the question. Do you be a leader and commit early? This would be a risk taker, or do you sit and wait until it’s too late and competitors have passed you by,” said Moshier. “It’s all about the balance and your company’s appetite for risk. In order to be successful you need to take risk.”
She acknowledged there’s more due diligence, discussion and risk analysis required of leaders today but said it’s the risk takers who reap rewards even in their own professional and personal development.
As someone who prefers to lead by example, Moshier meets regularly with staff and team members to ensure everyone is moving in the same direction. She said it’s important to address any concerns or conflicts right away.
I learned early on in my career, never to suffer in silence. I have always told my team that if something is bothering you, be sure to speak up. Don’t hold back,” Moshier said. “I think it takes a lot of hard work, people skills, self-confidence and drive to become a leader."
“Seek advice from strong, successful leaders and have a conversation with them. I do this all the time with individuals early on in their career wanting to grow and become successful.”
Next: The Cheerleader, Terri Bentley, Redstone FCU
The Cheerleader Who Says 'Be Different'
Snapshots of Cracking the Glass Ceiling
Where others may see a problem or challenge, Terri Bentley, vice president of technology at the $3.5 billion Redstone Federal Credit Union in Huntsville, Ala., sees opportunities and ways it can be improved.
“This happens easily for me personally and professionally,” said the Women to Watch in Tech honoree. “Personally, when I look at an older home, I can see past the harvest gold appliances, worn out floors and dilapidated cabinets to my new home with walls removed and my décor.
“Professionally, I do the same thing when we brainstorm or collaborate a problem. Process improvement and finding ways to do things better is my passion.”
Bentley added that it makes all the difference that the team at the over $3.5 billion credit union share the same passion.
“They are encouraged to think different,” she said. “The role of IT is changing and is no longer a support role but more a business enabler role. To me, our role is fun, and seeing our employees’ enthusiasm inspires me and this great team to want to do more.”
For real change to happen, after thinking differently, one must be different. For those in environments where change is not easy, that can start with making small steps toward embracing it.
“Add more improvements with each acceptance of change,” said Bentley. “As leaders this is a must to remain in business. I like a quote by Jack Welch, who said, ‘You must keep the vision up-to-date, fresh and relevant. The vision should be continually reviewed.
Business leaders that treat change as an enemy will fail.’”
While she is driven and inspired by developing strategic solutions and a job well done, Bentley said it’s ultimately helping others – members, employees, industry peers, family, community – that she finds so rewarding.
Coaching and mentoring new leaders, surrounding yourself with talented people and watching them grow is the best part of my job,” the Redstone vice president said. “I do not think any of us have a detailed plan right out of college of what we want to do with our careers, but more of a broad idea."
She added, “As far as my broad career idea of working in the technology industry and enabling the business to meet goals, I feel I am doing that today as a member of the executive team at RFCU and a decision maker. “
Like life, she said one’s career path is a journey. Along the way there have been many people and events that helped shape Bentley into the person she is today, and she said her high school calculus teacher Ms. Campbell, made an early impression on her life.
“She told me I had innate skills related to science and math, a great personality and that I should set goals to change the world and make a difference,” said Bentley. “My talents and skills as a leader have matured and I feel I am still making a difference in the financial and technology industry today.
“However, I have more to learn and more to contribute. I feel I am only part of the way down my path and have many goals still to achieve including mentoring many new leaders along the way.”
The idea of being collaborative, remaining united and staying involved in Washington and with local politicians, she said is the first step credit unions industry-wide can take to ensure they continue to be relevant and thrive in the future.
“The competition is no longer another financial institution. It is anyone in the business of providing financial services. It is unconventional companies like Walmart, General Motors, Microsoft, PayPal, Square, insurance companies, online banks, etc.,” she said. “In terms of technology, credit union management teams must create alignment to the vision and ensure they stay focused and nimble, so as to capitalize on the opportunities as they present themselves,” Bentley said.
That means asking questions ranging from what the credit union is doing to prepare for the next generation of consumers, to does your credit union have a mobile-only strategy. She added that technology is ever changing and there’s a lot to keep tabs on related to payments, NFC, EMV, P2P and all forms of digital wallets.
At RFCU, two new departments of software development and business analytics and automation were created with a clear focus on continuous process improvement. According to Bentley, the teams have developed 28 applications for RFCU using a SDK provided by its core technology provider, Fiserv and DNA, that are now for sale to others in the financial industry via DNAappstore.com. In addition, they have developed Web services and interfaces to third-party applications that are available for sale to others via its CUSO Redstone Consulting Group.
“To me, innovation is a new idea or method. A new invention or a new way of doing things,” said Bentley. “We have saved thousands of man hours along the line of process improvement. Being complacent, doing things the way they have always been done limits growth in the industry as a whole and as leaders.”
She encourages everyone to apply their own Oz Principles of see it, own it, solve it and do it.
“The best advice I’ve been given and I share with others is, ‘Close your mouth and open your eyes.’ Good leaders listen. Don’t stay behind a desk or in an office. Walk around and observe,” said Bentley. “Find that leader who inspires you along your journey whether it is at school, church, community events, or work. Pick up some of the skills they use and adapt it to your style. There’s no one perfect management style.”
She added that it’s important to create a style that inspires others and delivers desired results.
“Set personal and professional goals for yourself. And be nimble and willing to change as life around you changes,” she said.