Compliance helps innovation rather than hinders it, according to Andrea Stritzke, vice president regulatory compliance at PolicyWorks.
“I view my role as a compliance professional as helping to free up credit unions to be innovative,” said Credit Union Times’ new Trailblazer 40 Below honoree. “Too often people think compliance stifles innovation, that they can’t do something because of a rule, or they’ve been told no so many times in the past. Honestly, compliance is hard for examiners too. So I see our goal in compliance as how to get credit unions to yes in terms of what they want to do within the bounds of a rule.”
She added understanding a rule, its purpose and the reasons behind it goes a long way in developing new products and services that are also compliant.
“I don’t like to just say no you can't do something,” she said. “It’s a matter of where it falls on the risk spectrum.”
As passionate as she is about helping credit unions embrace compliance as a strategic part of their business, rather than merely a task to be completed prior to an examination, Stritzke said it’s imperative that credit unions continue to innovate, even in how they do compliance.
“Credit unions have to also view regulations through the lens of members,” she said. “You may be scared to offer mobile banking because of security risks and breaches but there are ways it can be done to mitigate those risks. To grow, the industry as a whole, has to be willing to open doors, create and develop new solutions. Those are strategic risks worth taking. There are ways to mitigate compliance risk, but you first have to understand what that risk is, then innovate with eyes wide open.”
In this volatile, fast-paced regulatory environment, credit unions have to take another look at their compliance strategy and question if there is a better, more efficient way to be proactive and innovative about compliance.
“Something I think we are all guilty of at some point is the idea that ‘we’ve always done it this way’ especially when it comes to compliance,” she said. “We have to continue reevaluate and question the whys behind compliance processes and procedures too. Starting with is this something we are required to do? Is it efficient and in the members’ best interest to continue doing something based on past interpretations of a rule? It’s okay to stop and ask why are we doing this? If the honest answer is I don’t know, then it becomes a chance to explore whether it is still even compliant, or if there is a better or different way.”
As someone who lives to learn and values change, it makes sense that Stritzke would find navigating complex regulatory environments to be a perfect fit.
While she loves what she does, she admits the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau offers challenges.
“Trying to predict the CFPB and this whole aspect of ‘unfair, deceptive and abusive’ is challenging as there are very few parameters,” she said. “I know the CFPB intends to be transparent and we appreciate that, but we operate with a lot of gray trying to predict the future.
Fortunately, she said she welcomes a good challenge, and the key to compliance boils down to communication. For Stritzke, it goes beyond simply knowing the regulations and digesting the latest avalanche of amendments to those rules. Compliance professionals must also have the ability to communicate rules in a way that is simple, understandable and even fun.
“I just try to take it from a different perspective, not the legalese or lawyer speak, but breaking it down to understand what the rule means and how it can be applied,” she said.
No conversation of strategy can be complete without having a grasp of the board’s attitude toward compliance, she said.
“What do they see as strategic in terms of compliance? Where do the board and senior management fall on the spectrum? Are they more reactive or proactive,” she offered as questions for volunteers. “How does compliance affect enterprise risk management and how is it rolled up into the overall risk strategy?”
It’s equally important to view the competition through a new lens, she said. Looking ahead, Stritzke has her eye on the technology, payments and mortgage landscape.
“When I hear competition those are the areas I focus on,” she said. “We’re already starting to see new players who aren’t traditional financial institutions. There is also a lot of change ahead in the mortgage landscape and it should be interesting to see how it plays out in the secondary market and as a result of the CFPB's new mortgage rules."
Like most in the industry, Stritzke didn’t anticipate a credit union career.
“I always wanted to be a lawyer and got my law degree but recognized early on trial law was not for me,” she said.
What she found at the Iowa Credit Union League subsidiary was a unique, non-traditional legal role.
“What I do today is the perfect fit for me because I get to analyze regulations, develop training and work with credit unions to make compliance easier,” Stritzke said. “When you think about all the good credit unions do and how many financial doors they open for people, I’m grateful to get to be part of a great team that helps make it possible for them to continue to do what they do best.”
To thrive moving forward, credit unions will need top talent who question and challenge the status quo, she said. For rising, young professional leaders she advised they begin to invest in the power of yes.
“If a leader in your organization offers you an opportunity, say yes, even if it is one you never considered,” she said. “You’d be surprised how much you will learn and take from the experiences that will help you grow both personally and professionally.”