“I was either going to go the nursing route, or banking. But I didn’t take to nursing. With banking, however, I was like a sponge. I took to the whole platform and always wanted to learn more. I was fortunate enough to have people who recognized my interest and offered me opportunities.”
As Senior Vice President and Chief Retail Banking Officer of Navigant Credit Union, Kathleen Orovitz oversees Navigant’s retail delivery network and channels. This includes branches, electronic delivery channels, call centers, and the retail investment services division.
Kathleen started in banking at age 18 as a teller, working through college. In the ensuring decades she’s been involved in the industry, she’s believed in NEACH’s value to customers, especially in the role of a go-between or “translator” role for financial institutions. She’s also appreciative of how NEACH provides its members with education, helps with certifications, and ensures compliance. She’s been on the Board three years.
NEACH chatted with Kathleen about why it’s important that everyone has a seat at the financial planning table—and how banking may run in the family.
NEACH: What does it mean to you personally and professionally to serve on NEACH’s Board of Directors? What is your primary role?
It’s exciting to be part of an organization that aligns with the credit union philosophy. Adding value and helping members navigate their financial journey isn’t easy in this ever-changing environment. I believe NEACH not only has the expertise to help along this journey, but they also care about protecting their members and constituents.
As Chief Retail Banking Officer, I lead product development and electronic and retail delivery channels for Navigant Credit Union. Those channels include brick-and-mortar branches, electronic delivery channels, call centers, and the retail investment services division. Retail needs all those channels to operate seamlessly for customers.
NEACH: As you see it, what is the biggest opportunity for financial institutions over the next three-to-five years? What is the greatest challenge?
Financial institutions have an opportunity to position themselves for growth using self-service technology combined with a brick and mortar strategy. Everything happens so fast nowadays, and the small businesses we serve wear a lot of hats. To be self-sufficient, they need to focus on their business strategy, and doing things like having to go to a branch and pay bills the traditional way isn’t going to help them in the future.
We’re checking the pulse and seeing how our digital platform can keep up with the demands of our customers. Many businesses have an opportunity to leverage digital technology to drive revenue and keep costs down: Understanding available tools can help businesses thrive.
The onus is on us to educate our members, but it does come down to digital technology. Even the fact that they can do most of their banking and bill payment right from their business; they can originate their own billing and payroll and don’t have to leave their office. It can be intimidating to a business that’s a small mom-and-pop shop. Our model is relationship-driven, so we do a lot of face-to-face banking, helping convey what the benefits are, as well as doing demonstrations and seminars. That helps us engender security.
NEACH: Where do you predict the industry will be in five years? How can FIs prepare in a rapidly accelerating financial services environment?
The industry will continue to fast track because of fintechs introducing new and more immediate ways to move money. We continue to watch fintechs: We won’t be the first to deploy, but will be a fast follower. Contactless and cashless will continue to be an increasing trend, so FIs will need to be ready to service their customers and these demands.
Having good technology partners and being open to adding new partners who can keep them above the trends in a secure manner will be key to sustaining business. The successful partners will be those who put their customers first and don’t fear change. You can’t be afraid of it. You’ll need good risk management, but as long as you continue to do due diligence and align yourself with those who continue to do R&D, the outlook is good.
NEACH: Why is it important for an organization to have a payments strategy in place in this environment?
Payments are the way customers do business both on the consumer and business side. FIs do this well; however, the noise of the real-time networks tends to create disruption. FIs need to compete with this. There is risk with real time networks given the fraud and it can be costly to launch these platforms.
For example, say we have an offering that allows customers to move money, right? You have to. Then Zelle comes along and says, “We can do it faster.” That’s a disruptor for a lot of FIs. It’s expensive to sign with Zelle, but it’s like a new shiny penny, and people want it. It’s disruptive. If you don’t have the capability or move quickly, you’ll get left behind.
NEACH: What business topics keep you up at night?
The payments landscape and remaining top of wallet: I call it that because whoever has the card with the best rewards, with the best ease of use, that’s going to be the top choice. From a business balance sheet, it’s one of the largest line-items of revenue. As the landscape changes, we also are working to keep up with the fintechs and large regional FIs.
NEACH: Why is it critical for C-Level decision makers to be actively engaged with NEACH and the work that it does?
NEACH is one of the key partners to engage with to help navigate payments and real-time networks. Understanding the implications and how to mitigate risk for FIs and their customers is vital.
For example, many businesses want to originate ACH because that’s how they are going to generate accounts receivable and pay their payables. We can bring NEACH to the table and help educate them on issues such as safety and speed, as well as due diligence around customers. Or, they can be a direct member of NEACH and learn on their own. Either way, it’s of tremendous value.
NEACH: What do you see as NEACH’s biggest contribution to the industry?
They are like the backbone of the industry. They add value to FIs and businesses keeping them abreast of the rapid changes, helping identify opportunities to be more efficient and ultimately remain compliant. It’s not a single point of view around moving money: They have audit and operational teams, and can bring that value-add to customers. They act like a translator or go-between, and help us maintain compliance with NACHA, but also assist with educational tracks and certifications.
NEACH: Complete this sentence: Without NEACH, I (or my organization) would be:
Behind the curve.
NEACH: What excites you most about the industry and your role in it?
Having a seat at the table helps me stay informed on trends in the industry and helps prioritize my business strategy work around new digital and payment type solutions.
As a bonus, I’ve met so many talented folks through this Board. I learn something every meeting just through my peers, and I am very grateful. They’re all really smart people.
NEACH: What books are you currently reading?
I like a good mix of fiction and nonfiction. It helps me relax. For fiction, I’m reading Seeing Red, by Sandra Brown, kind of a suspense novel. I’m also reading Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken.
NEACH: Who has been your biggest role model and why?
My dad. He also worked in banking. He has always been my mentor, pushing me and challenging me to do more. He continues to give me objective advice and makes me see all sides of a decision.