Barriers simply don't exist for Brandon Riechers, executive vice president/chief lending officer at the $1.4 billion Royal Credit Union in Eau Claire, Wis.
“I’m all about removing them. The best way to get buy-in is to make sure everyone on the team is involved and part of the process. It's a very similar line of thinking to come up with solutions as well as barriers,” said the latest Trailblazer 40 Below. “It's the same analytical thought process, so why not take it as a challenge to turn it around and be a part of the solution?”
He added that a team needs a balance of those who can challenge ideas and those who can see past the barriers.
“I always reserve the right to be smarter today than I was yesterday and accept that we are continuously learning,” he said. “We can get new knowledge or experiences that can change an opinion. I know I don't have all the right answers, so we’ve got to be open minded and not be afraid to hear or find new facts. Even an idea that maybe didn't work in the past, might work well today.”
Since every idea has its time, Riechers said he does his best to focus on empowering teams to act as entrepreneurs, so they feel safe sharing and exploring different solutions.
“Success only comes from trying new things,” he said. “We can't fall into the trap of ‘that won't work because we tried it before’ as if the environment, time, technology and people haven't changed since it was first introduced. When you work for the same organization or even industry for a long time one of the greatest challenges can be keeping ideas fresh.”
He should know. While RCU was not only his introduction to credit unions but also his first job out of college some 17 years ago, he's held various roles at the organization. From financial sales representative and technology resource specialist to operations coordinator and director of consumer lending, Riechers has never shied away from an opportunity or a challenge.
For example, he took on the additional responsibility of consumer mortgage lending during the economic slowdown when there was a rise in delinquencies and foreclosures. He worked with team members to foster relationships with those members impacted by the recession and develop meaningful solutions to the rising delinquencies.
With a solutions-oriented philosophy, RCU was one of a handful of credit unions recognized by CMG Mortgage Insurance Co. with the 2011 Loss Mitigation and Home Preservation Excellence Award for their effort in reducing foreclosures and loss mitigation. RCU is the number one mortgage lender in the core market it serves and consistently ranks as one of the top lenders in all communities served. Under Riechers, RCU has consistently ranked in the top 30 nationally in loan production.
Modest about his leadership, he said he believes in creating a safe environment where the team is able to fail forward because “you’re never going to hit an idea out of the park without first experimenting.” In the recruiting process he doesn't look for order takers but rather looks to hire those who question everything.
When RCU wanted to help reach the unbanked population it devised an alternative to payday lending. Created with a built-in counseling service feature that would be triggered on the second or third loan, the hope was that it would change the behavior. While the payday lending program broke even, Riechers shared that it never reached the potential he thought it would as far as changing the behavior. The experience and lessons learned were worthwhile though.
“In term of innovative solutions, we should take the opportunity to learn from other industries, not just the financial up the road or even at large,” he said.
“We have to get out of the mindset of being better than a bank, but cross industry lines because people expect great service and a wow experience. If we are not making it easier and convenient for the member to do business with us then we are wasting our time.”
Riechers said he sees the competition going beyond the traditional financial players. To that end he's been keeping his eye on everyone from retailers to new companies from different industries entering the financial arena. In today's world, convenience is defined in several ways: branch locations, phone, Internet and point of sale, so creating a quality experience across all channels matters.
“I’m concerned because they don't have the same mindset or regulations we do as a financial institution, so they come to market with something different that makes it easier to interact than the traditional methods,” Riechers said. “Amazon now offers small business loans. Apple has a patent application that essentially could cut out financial institutions entirely and may be one step away from creating a major disruption.
“So it's about being able to offer a competitive experience not just products and services. Products offered are a commodity so it doesn't matter what the product is without providing the better experience as well.”
He added that the industry as a whole may consider investing in harnessing the plethora of information and data gathered from member transactions and interactions as a way to improve or impact the member experience in a way that could be a game changer.
Another potential opportunity presents itself in discovering how credit unions can collaborate in the secondary mortgage market. Given the history of credit unions having a better profile when looking at performance, he said, it may be worth exploring how to leverage that into a secondary market collaborative space.
Just wait and see. And then act on that new idea.