Foret Tries to Make Employees’, Members’ Lives Easier
At Service Credit Union, don't hold your breath waiting for Chief Risk Officer Ana Foret to dismiss every initiative as too risky.
Ironically, the latest Women to Watch honoree is far from risk adverse and has always believed there's nothing to lose by trying.
“My role is not to prevent projects from happening,” said Foret, who has been at the $2.4 billion Portsmouth, N.H.-based credit union since 2003. “I like to think I’m here to help solve problems before they arise.”
That means knowing what the risks are and planning for them to make those projects possible. Foret said the last question anyone expects to hear from a chief risk officer is, “How can I make your life easier?” Just starting off with that question can help with not just the apprehension a visit can prompt, but also get buy-in.
“Most see us and wonder what additional work are they going to make me do?” she joked. “I like the challenge of figuring out how I can reach out and strike the right chord so we can start talking about how together we can work to solve a problem.”
Previously serving as chief internal auditor, with the newly created chief risk officer position, Foret said she has been thrilled with the opportunity to bring risk to the forefront of the decision- making process.
In her new role she is responsible for directing the credit union's enterprise risk management function, information security, business continuity planning and vendor due diligence.
“Of course we’ve always talked about risk at the senior level but this is an opportunity to build a new, more formalized risk division to support and help our organization move forward and grow,” Foret said.
A believer that there's always room for improvement, whether a process or in professional development, fostering an open environment where communication is a two-way street has always been a priority for her.
Foret said her leadership style is collaborative.
“I’m not the one with all the answers even though I’m the one on the hook for it at the end of the day,” she said.
That easy flow of communication has helped as she gathers as much information as possible before making a final decision.
A big proponent of being prepared, Foret's advice for anyone who has found it challenging to be heard is never walk in uninformed and never make assumptions. Listening as you gather facts and knowing who you’re meeting with and how they best receive information can go a long way toward having suggestions heard, she said.
As far as she is concerned, Foret added, successes are a team effort; but, whenever thing go wrong, it's her own name, not anyone else's, she provides.
“If staff doesn't believe in me I might as well hang my hat up and go home,” she said. “I take to heart that I am nothing without them. If they lose faith in me, that's really tough. Just because I’m the one making the final decision doesn't mean I have all the right answers. I can't do this alone.”
To Foret, good leaders surround themselves with the right people who can be relied upon for their expertise.
“I always believe the best in others and having a foundation in trust,” she said. “It boils down to communication and empowering the team.
“Risk is hard to figure out sometimes but sharing how the whole process works and challenging why we’re doing what we’re doing helps open the door to understanding and reveals opportunities.”
Service Credit Union has 44 branch offices and serves members in every U.S. state and more than 40 countries around the world. Given its field of membership and the competition, a strong technology background is key.
For example, always looking to better serve members, Service CU offers international bill pay so members can set up to pay their bills in euros, the Japanese yen, British pound and Canadian dollars.
When those in the trenches in Iraq needed to send money home, Foret said the credit union had to be able to deliver and technology enabled that.
“Change is something we have to accept as a part of life and roll with it,” Foret said. “Today everything is changing at such a fast pace, and remaining competitive in the tech area just to stay within the curve is challenging for the industry as a whole.
Security is another concern, she said. Giving members easy access to financial information while keeping that information secure requires a delicate balance.
Technology may be a tool to help serve members needs more efficiently, but ultimately credit unions shine through the employees in front of the members and behind the scenes working together, being involved in the community, Foret said.
It's one of the reasons she believes the industry's future is not only bright, but holds promise in helping improve members’ lives in meaningful, relevant ways.
“As long as we stick to the original premise that we are here to help and do right by members,” she said. “As far as the perception of the industry by others that we’re small, it's time to break away from that, speak up and stand out.”
Foret added that the same holds true for women leaders who generally tend to work behind the scenes.
“Never miss an opportunity to step up to the plate,” she said. “Sometimes women have a tendency to hang in the shadows or second-guess themselves, rather than going for it.”