When I came to Southeast in 2001, it was pretty much a plain vanilla corporate. I was charged with changing that approach in order to create the kind of corporate the members would need in order to succeed in the future. I began with strategies linked to a scorecard that was basically my own version of a Balanced Scorecard. We used it to monitor and track six areas of focus: New Products, Quality Service, Staff Development, Professional Image, Technology, and Safety and Soundness. Over the next few years we successfully transformed the corporate into an organization that offered members a much wider variety of products and services. At the same time we began to leverage technology, incorporating it into our products and automating many of our processes.
We continued down this path for the next four years, using the scorecard, having annual planning sessions with senior management and our Board of Directors. At the same time it became apparent that the financial services marketplace was undergoing rapid change, particularly due to the effects of 9/11. The decline in checks was accelerating, the electronic world of payments was becoming more the norm, and security concerns necessitated changes in the way we all do business.
So we added Scenario Planning to our strategic planning process. In a nutshell, Scenario Planning helps you determine what key capabilities your organization needs in order to survive and thrive in any possible future. Our management team, senior management and Board of Directors all received training in Scenario Planning, and then we began the process.
As part of our Scenario Planning we looked at various environmental factors such as economic climate, regulatory climate, competition or the like – and then stretched them to two extreme potential outcomes. When looking at competition, for example, the extreme outcomes would be a competitive environment that is extremely heated and one where competition is barely a concern. It is a process whereby you chart the factors on a matrix and then determine what competencies your organization would need to operate in a world of that environment. This tells you what competencies are most critical to your operation and thus which ones to cultivate and foster for a future that is always going to be uncertain. The process of Scenario Planning caused us to stretch our thinking and we added it to the mix of traditional strategic planning tools we use.
Our Scenario Planning actually helped us to be better prepared when early in 2006 we had the unexpected opportunity of merging with Southwest Corporate. It was a possibility that had actually been discussed during our Scenario Planning and as such was not foreign to us. However, the lengthy process required to blend two large corporates caused concern that service to our members would suffer if we continued through a longer than expected time frame, so we had to discontinue our plans. It is interesting that “timing” was what caused us to pursue the possibility of merging with Southwest Corporate, and “timing” was also the reason we could no longer proceed.
What We Are Doing Now
Today at Southeast Corporate, strategic planning is not something we do once a year. It has become an ongoing process, and a process that we are driving deeper into our organization. It starts, of course, with our Board of Directors who at the highest level chart our course. Last year we expanded our planning activities beyond our senior team and began involving our vice presidents and directors. We operate sort of a parallel process, with information flowing back and forth between the two groups. It is an education process for everyone, with good ideas coming from all levels. We’ve been expanding our managers’ use of our ability to segment our membership and also to look at product and service usage by segment. And we are transitioning our surveying processes to an electronic format.
Whereas before we used as many as six categories for our scorecard, we are transitioning to a more formal Balanced Scorecard using the categories of members, processes, learning and financial. We also track trends and uncertainties in the market place and share this information throughout our organization. This ties back to our Scenario Planning, and helps everyone be alert to what is changing. We still do the traditional SWOT Analysis – assessing our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – but it starts on the front lines and moves from there.
Strategic planning is clearly continuous for us. We produce a physical plan once a year. It states what the Board has approved us to do and the resources we can use to do it with. Business units update their plans more frequently, so that at anytime the actual “plan” is a snapshot in time.
We are fortunate that the members of our Board of Directors all come from credit unions across our market. We have officials from credit unions in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee serving on our Board and Supervisory Committee. They know the industry and they know what credit unions need. We rely on the Board to set the strategic direction for us, looking long-term and making decisions that will carry us into the future. But the Board members also understand we have to be flexible enough to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. It is the strategic planning process that helps prepare us to make good decisions about which opportunities to pursue.
One of the greatest opportunities we see is to help our member credit unions grow business services. Growth in the national economy is coming largely from small business. And we believe small businesses are not being well served by banks, so serving them well can be a credit union stronghold. Accordingly, with Georgia Central we established a CUSO – Member Business Solutions (MBS) – providing small business services for credit unions. MBS provides credit unions a back office operation with years of expertise, and at a fraction of the cost they would otherwise incur.
Another area of opportunity is in the electronification of checks. We have been partnering with our credit union members in developing and testing our Virtual Deposit branch capture solution. Right now we have more than 470 credit union branches capturing check images on-site and exchanging them electronically through Southeast Corporate. This area of payment systems is rapidly evolving and our members need to keep pace with what the banks are offering. That is why we are now piloting merchant capture and teller capture services as well as testing an ATM capture product. Check 21 has presented credit unions an opportunity for cost savings, increased efficiencies and faster access to funds. We see our role as helping credit unions capitalize on this.