Teamwork Leads to a Slam Dunk for Tom Kuslikis
Tom Kuslikis first learned the value of teamwork while playing basketball for Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., when he discovered that each individual on a team or in an organization can help make or break its future.
This lesson has served the Trailblazer 40 Below well throughout his career, and particularly in his current role as interim CFO and vice president of internal audit and compliance at University of Michigan Credit Union in Ann Arbor, Mich. Since joining the credit union, he has helped develop an internal audit function, which provides reassurance for the credit union's board and supervisory committee, and acts as a liaison for the credit union's audit and examination processes.
His past auditing experience with the State of Michigan's Office of the Auditor General and Michigan State Transportation Commission's Office of Commission Audits has helped turn Kuslikis into the perfect middle man between examiners and the $638 million credit union. He has also helped restructure UMCU's investment portfolio to better mirror current loan demand and reduce some of its existing call risk. Earlier this year under his leadership, the credit union's accounting and card services teams successfully worked together to ensure UMCU's merger with the $40 million Family Community Credit Union in Flint, Mich. ran smoothly.
Kusliskis said he credits his accolades and accomplishments to members of the UMCU family, who are known for fostering a collaborative, teamwork-oriented environment. He emphasized that every department in the organization truly lives and breathes the team concept – if one area needs assistance in any way, others are ready to step in.
“My college basketball coach was my most influential mentor,” he said. “He taught me so many valuable lessons about hard work and teamwork, and that's made such a difference. It may sound cliché, but the best investment a credit union can make is to invest in its team's development. I know I feel most empowered when given the trust and free reign to pursue an idea. The more we take care of our team, the better members are taken care of on the front line.”
As someone who constantly pursues new learning opportunities, Kuslikis has encouraged others to err on the side of too much education, which may include formal schooling, certification programs or professional conferences. Kuslikis has much to be proud of in the education department himself – he's already earned his Certified Public Accountant license, his Certified Internal Auditor designation and a Master in Business Administration.
“The environment we work in changes so fast, so we have to be constantly learning,” he said. “If you’re surrounded by a strong team, by default you’ll push each other to be better and support one another to reach a common goal.”
Kuslikis shared that he’d like to learn more about ways to leverage information and technology to improve efficiencies, and in turn deliver better products and services that will help members. He’d also like to focus on internal process automation and building systems that work faster and help employees perform at their best, he said.
“There is so much information available to us about our members, and if we leverage it appropriately, it can be used to deliver on members’ needs or help us provide what they may not even know they need,” he said. “If we can find a way to leverage the information we already have, imagine how great a job the industry as a whole can do of servicing our membership.”
Kuslikis believes that if credit unions allocate their resources toward innovative, emerging concepts that will add value to members, they will help the industry as whole to grow. UMCU demonstrated this concept by investing in two virtual branches on the campuses of the University of Michigan-Flint and Washtenaw Community College. Equipped with ATMs, iPads and remote video conferencing technology, the branches allow members to video chat with member service representatives in UMCU's headquarters, and do everything from deposit checks to apply for a loan through the credit union's secured site. It's just one of the many ways he said UMCU has taken a risk to innovate and grow.
A deep dive into payment data recently helped Kuslikis and his team determine which financial institutions were receiving payments from UMCU members. Armed with that information, they then created lists of members who were likely making payments on a credit card balance at another financial institution, and contacted those members in a pilot outbound calling program they launched with a select group of branch employees. To date, the 833.5 total hours that team members invested in the effort has resulted in $1.6 million in balance transfers and $3.3 million in increased credit card limits.
“It's been successful in itself by growing Visa and helping members reduce their credit card payments, but what's more interesting is how it changed the dynamic of the culture here,” he said. “Since the first pilot last fall, our branch teams have been more motivated to cross sell and market products and services based on members’ needs.”
After getting hooked on the thrill of competition and seeing the real difference that was being made in members’ financial lives, the credit union's staff managed to deepen their relationships with members, Kuslikis said. They began asking more probing questions to find the right product and service match for each member, and further utilized data mining to market the most suitable options.
“We could look at terms on various auto loans and use that to predict when a member might need a new auto loan, or place a courtesy call to a local dealership and work with them,” he said. “If we find a subgroup of our membership is partial to, say, BMW, we could work with the local BMW dealership to get members in the door and target market accordingly.”
To stave off the analysis paralysis that working with big data can often lead to, he advised honing in on one small piece of the pie and working from there. He has also been looking into different types of big data software that can help the credit union communicate and present financial information differently.
“We’ve found that financial information can be banal and boring, but with the right software, we could visually present that spreadsheet data in a different light,” he said. “That picture format could speak volumes.”