“I think our biggest opportunity as an industry is to be able to partner with the innovations that are going on outside of the traditional banking industry—I’m talking about the FinTechs.”
Jeff Benson, SVP/CIO at Bellwether Community Credit Union, understands the pivotal role strategy and collaboration play in his organization and the industry at large. Benson serves on several local Boards of Directors and committees for non-profit organizations and is committed to community and industry service.
He joined Bellwether Credit Union in 1999 and has 25 plus years of experience in the banking industry. He believes partnerships and collaboration, along with innovation, are critical keys to progress, both now and in the future.
As a follow up to our recent board spotlight with Jeff, we wanted to dig a little deeper into his thoughts on innovation and the member experience.
Here’s what he had to say:
NEACH: As you see it, what are the biggest opportunities and challenges for financial institutions over the next three-to-five years?
I think our biggest opportunity as an industry is to be able to partner with the innovations that are going on outside of the traditional banking industry—I’m talking about the FinTechs. A lot of those startups need resources; they need brainpower…they have ideas, but the banking industry can be kind of strict sometimes. So to break in, they need partners. I think if we ignore the FinTechs, they'll find other ways to sneak into our industry and get in our income stream and our payment stream. I believe what Digital Credit Union has done creating their FinTech Innovation Center is a great idea. Partnerships and collaboration can only help.
NEACH: Could you speak to the importance of innovation for financial institutions?
The only thing constant right now is change. To be able to innovate, especially when it comes to member experience, and with member experience I would include payment speed, we need to innovate. If the banks and credit unions don’t innovate, the FinTechs will. We’ve seen how Uber and Lyft disrupted the taxicab industry. We’ve seen how Napster upended the music industry. We think we’re a bricks and mortar, institutionalized industry, and we were. However, if we don't continue to innovate, we're going to be upended by a whole new sector of financial services. It's imperative to keep our eye on innovation and to make sure we stay relevant to our members and customers.
NEACH: What excites you most about the industry and your role in it?
I think it’s probably the evolution of the member experience and their expectations of their interactions with us. Again, the FinTechs have had a phenomenal impact on peoples’ expectations. For me as a CIO, I love being able to implement new ideas and new products and services that our members not only like to use but want to use. It’s like Facebook. Our members want to interact with us not just because they have to but because they want to. It’s nice when somebody says, “Hey, look at what my credit union has done.”
NEACH: You talk a lot about the member experience. Would you unpack that for us and explain why it’s so important?
Unfortunately, in our business and in many other businesses, a lot of what we offer is a commodity. Everyone has checking accounts and loans. Every credit union or bank has different rates, but I think from a relationship side, it’s all about the member experience. Again, it’s not just because of FinTechs but technology in general—the mobile phones, the Internet—the way that the user experience has evolved. I mean look at the iPad. Four-year-olds can pick up the iPad and use it. When computers first came out, 30-year-olds couldn’t use them. They had to be taught. You don’t have to teach a four-year-old how to use an iPad. For me, it’s the rapid pace of change in technology. It both excites me and terrifies me at the same time.
NEACH: How do you see the relationship between financial institutions and FinTechs evolving over the next five years?
I definitely see it expanding. There are companies I’ve been talking with for a couple of years now—young startups. I would call them brilliant thinkers, and they’re looking for our input. They understand in the long run that they need us as much as we need them. To continue collaborating with them, bouncing ideas off one another and not shutting them out but including them in a manner that is a value-added component to our delivery of financial services, is key for our future success.