Embrace and employ the innovators

on "May 05, 2017 2:46 pm"

Remember being told to “think outside the box”? It used to be such a common phrase; asking you to forget the norm and imagine greater possibilities.

Throw a curveball. No idea’s a bad idea. Blue sky thinking.

When a group of college students recently visited CUNA Mutual Group, it occurred to me just how obsolete the phrase has become.

It’s been a long time since we settled on the norm. Innovation is everywhere. The app you just downloaded needs updating. The new phone you bought is great, but an even better version is just around the corner. You can refinance your mortgage with the push of a button in the time it takes to order a cup of coffee.

The pace of change is simply so rapid now, so unrelenting, the only true constant is change itself. But for credit unions and their partners—regulated institutions with complex, legacy processes—it can be a challenge to keep up. Large or small, we were built in the box.

CUNA Mutual Group is no different. For generations, we’ve been a proud member of the credit union movement and a trusted provider to 95 percent of all credit unions in this country*. But the world we operated in yesterday is not the world our customers live in today.

That’s why I’m proud to lead an organization that recognizes the only way to truly remain competitive, to provide continuing value to our customers long into the future, is to embrace innovation by employing the innovators.

It was a privilege to have a group of talented students visit our Madison, Wisconsin campus as finalists in the 2017 FOCUSS Idea Competition, a national contest CUNA Mutual Group has sponsored for two consecutive years.

The program challenges students from four historically black colleges and universities and two Wisconsin colleges to propose solutions to issues facing credit unions and their members.

This year’s participants were challenged to provide hypothetical product and marketing solutions to help millions of U.S. households that are either financially unbanked or under-banked access safe and affordable credit.

And while each finalist received a cash prize, for CUNA Mutual Group, the reward is much greater. It’s an opportunity for us to work with and learn from a group of young, innovative thinkers. Each participant is given the opportunity to enter into our internship program, which was recently overhauled to ensure every placement offered is done so with the expectation of continued employment. Our intern program is now a funnel for new, innovative, and exciting talent. It’s a process that strengthens our future as much as theirs.

It truly is exciting to see and hear from the next generation of credit union leaders: those who simply don’t recall that the box ever existed.

Robert N. Trunzo is the president and chief executive officer of CUNA Mutual Group, the leading provider of lending, insurance and wealth management products for credit unions.

*Source: Sales Navigator, 2016 Market Share, Dec 31, 2016 report