Educational Systems’ Vaupel Aims Past Good to Great
Good has never been an acceptable standard for Bryn Vaupel, SVP for retail delivery at the $759 million Educational Systems Federal Credit Union in Greenbelt, Md.
The latest Trailblazers 40 Below honoree has lived by one simple, Jim Collins-inspired philosophy that “good is the enemy of great.”
“Even in the greatest and most beloved organizations, it requires constant vigilance to not settle for good and work hard for great. Even if we did something well I always ask how we can do it better,” said Vaupel, who learned about credit unions from her parents, lifelong members. She said she jumped at the chance to work at a credit union when the opportunity arose.
“In the past leaders were expected to tell people what to do and how to do it. Today, it's important for leaders to share their vision of where we’re going and the why,” she said.
A believer in listening first to build a collaborative vision, Vaupel said leadership is best expressed through clear communication.
“Each of us, regardless of gender or the position we hold in an organization, has the opportunity to lead,” she said. “Great leaders learn to listen, really listen, and try to understand others’ points of view. Taking the time to listen is the difference between good and great. It isn't a weakness. Listening gives you the insight and confidence to make sound decisions and lets others know you have taken their input into consideration.”
Responsible for the branch, marketing, community relations and business development teams at her Maryland credit union, Vaupel has focused on ensuring brand alignment has been embedded throughout the organizational culture.
While innovation has its place both in fostering growth and increasing efficiency, credit unions can't afford to let the novelty of a new idea detract from the vision, she said.
“It's our responsibility as leaders to manage relationships and ensure that employees, members and volunteers see the value created through their engagement with our credit union,” she said. “It can be a challenge to get out of the office and spend quality time with the people who are making a difference every day. But as leaders, it's the most important aspect of what we do.”
To Vaupel, that sense of belonging and working together toward a shared goal helps employees feel motivated to achieve.
“It's important that every employee, whether in IT, accounting or the front line, understands who we are, what we want to be, and the experience we strive to provide for each other and for our members,” she said. “This type of change is more long-standing than putting forth, say, a short-lived promotion, as it positions us to become more effective with each new initiative and product rollout for years to come.”
Part of that realignment has led to such initiatives as a revision of the employee incentive plan and integration of marketing with branch staff that allowed Educational Systems FCU to significantly grow auto loans and refinances. In addition, the credit union increased efficiency and cut costs by exceeding goals for e-statement sign ups at all 11 retail locations.
Success in tailoring experiences across the organization for its core member base, the education community, has also helped drive branch profitability. By the end of the first quarter of 2014, Educational Systems FCU had surpassed its peer average in net worth, market and asset growth.
“For those who believe that great rates and lower fees are the credit union difference, they are missing the point. Understanding the community you serve and conveying that understanding is why members will choose to do business with you,” said Vaupel, who has been keeping a close eye on the evolution of branching and the future of face-to-face sales and service.
“We all know that members, just like us, are using electronic and mobile devices for transactions,” Vaupel said, “but it's unclear whether we should discourage branch usage, as that lessens the opportunities for employees to help. Since one of the things that makes credit unions great is that ability to help members achieve financial dreams, we’ll need to find ways to continue to capture that high level of engagement that comes with face-to-face interaction.”
The challenges and opportunities that the search for relevant solutions present have been among the most enjoyable aspects of Vaupel's current role.
“As the marketplace evolves, retail delivery is less about brick and mortar and absolutely about the member experience,” she said. “Leaders at every level in the organization should be asking how retail delivery helps provide an exceptional member experience in person, online, over the phone and in channels that we are just discovering.”
Vaupel added the task has become particularly important given the challenges of government regulations levied in recent years, hiring top talent, and managing the balance sheet to position it for the rising rate environment.
“Interest rates have been at historic lows for years. If we see a rapid rise like in the late 70s and early 80s, credit unions will be significantly challenged. The hard choice is being competitively priced today while balancing what could happen with interest rates in the not-so-distant future. We need to look at what's the intrinsic value proposition we offer and how can we best convey that,” Vaupel said.
“We should also be evaluating what we’re doing to shape the current and next generation of leaders,” Vaupel said. “We are not in a recession anymore and though unemployment is still higher than most would like, our credit union, like many across the industry, is finding it difficult to uncover great talent at every level in the organization.”
Her advice for young professionals? Never stop listening and learning. She also advised anyone looking to get ahead to have a sound foundation and master the four areas of finance, IT, marketing and lending.
“You don't need to have worked in each area of a credit union. Instead, you need learn enough in each area so you can talk to the functional area experts intelligently and build credibility,” she said.
“If you think you have all the answers, then you set yourself, your team and your organization up for failure,” Vaupel said. “Leadership is inherently about asking questions and taking risks. Great leaders listen to others, learn from others and try to make a difference.”