Doug Marshall joined BECU ($11.7B, Seattle, WA) nine months ago as the credit union’s head of Internet. He brought with him business experience and a genuine curiosity about what kind of technology could help the nation’s fourth-largest credit union achieve its goal. In this Q&A, Marshall talks about how his role is different than many industry insiders might expect and why credit union leaders might want to rethink the way their institutions make key technology decisions.
Tell me about the Head of Internet position at BECU? That is a different title, what are the key responsibilities?
Dough Marshall: Some people would call the position I’m in a chief digital officer given that the Internet is becoming one part of the larger digital world. My main responsibility is to ensure that our member experience is relevant, consistent, and cost-effective across all digital platforms. Whether a member is using their computer, a smartphone, Google glass, or an ATM to access the credit union, we want their experience to be a positive one that is in line with what they would expect from BECU.
Just to clarify, I’m on the business side of technology. I’m not a technologist myself, although I work closely with our IT team. Neither the marketing nor the IT teams report to me; however, the leaders of those teams are close colleagues of mine.
Who do you report to and which groups or departments comprise your team?
DM: I report directly to the CEO. In terms of groups that report directly to me, we have a digital team that is on the business side of the technology offerings, an ATM team, and a product group that is responsible for digital and other types of product development.
Our digital team of four is responsible for ensuring that we provide relevant, trusted, and intuitive digital offerings our members and prospective members can access whenever, wherever, and however they choose. What this means in practice is monitoring member input, the competitive environment, general market conditions, and emerging technology capabilities and then implementing new or enhanced offerings based on that.
How do you keep the lines of communication open as you work across different teams within the credit union?
DM: In addition to informal communication, which can be important to get work done across functional areas, we have formal teams that we charge with specific initiatives. A working team that is composed of my digital team, IT, and others depending on the project establishes its own meeting schedule, which might include weekly or even daily meetings.
Why is it critical to have someone on the executive team that understands both the business and technology side of the equation?
DM: There are a number of ways to answer that question, but the simplest answer is that having technology in one place, marketing in another, and the business units somewhere else just doesn’t make sense anymore. The book Converge: Transforming Business at the Intersection of Marketing and Technology — which is written by the leaders of Razorfish, one of the largest digital media agencies —explores this idea that to be successful you need to start solving business problems at the point where media, technology, and marketing meet.
The member, or more broadly the consumer, doesn’t see things in a segmented way when they interact with an organization. For example, if a member is out there interacting with us on Facebook, receiving Tweets from us, jumping on our mobile app, or receiving push emails — from their perspective it is all just the same information from their credit union.
Having someone at the senior leadership level that understands both the business and technology side matters because members are changing and so are their behaviors. The capabilities that technology is providing are evolving so rapidly that unless you have someone at the senior level who is responsible, it is easy to become reactive or miss new technology trends altogether.
How do you see the role of the technology or digital leader evolving? What new or different skills will those making technology decisions need?
DM: This is my personal opinion, but several things come to mind. This is not a skill set, necessarily, but the ability to make connections — being able to see connections between what members require and the emerging technology that might allow us to meet those requirements — is going to be critical. And doing this while remembering that we are in the financial services business, which has certain constraints. If we’re able to see the connections clearly, then we can respond and ideally anticipate member needs.
Another not new but more important skill is the ability to get work done internally. We should be clear about which functional area is responsible for what, but sometimes you have to throw that away and just get the work done.
The sheer pace of technology is challenging, so we also need the ability to discern between what’s new and going to stick, think PayPal, and what is new but might not stick, think Bitcoin. We might place wrong bets sometimes, but let’s try to place as few of those as possible by creating an environment and team that is making the connections.
Lastly, we need to understand compliance, what our vendors have to offer, and what is going on in the world at large in technology. At BECU, we try to keep our finger on the pulse of the competition and the marketplace in general.
What was your background before joining BECU? Is there an ideal path to becoming a chief digital officer?
DM: Five of my 30-ish years in financial services have been with credit unions. Prior to that, I worked for big banks like Bank of America and WAMU. My business experiences and positions included exposure to nearly every facet of financial services. I’ve run a branch, managed call centers, worked in marketing, directed operational groups, and worked with legacy payments like debit and credit cards and checks.
This was my path, but I don’t think there is an ideal path to becoming a chief digital officer. Ideally, you need someone who has a pretty deep understanding of the business, and I think I’ve been privileged to be exposed to all of that. However, you also need the curiosity to know enough about technology so you can act as almost a diplomat or translator for the leadership team. That is what the role is about. You also need to have the right people on your team who understand both the business world and world of technology.
Another path that could be effective is the inverse of mine. I know there are people who have grown up in the IT world and are technically proficient but have also figured out that technology must be deployed correctly for a business to be successful. They start with the business solution and find the right technology to match.
How do you evaluate and prioritize new technology initiatives at BECU?
DM: Currently, we meet with the IT team monthly, at a minimum, to revisit our business roadmap to review where we are on projects that are already underway and to look at what is coming up to ensure we have the right resources and priorities for the future.
BECU has a tremendous culture and a key piece of that is collaboration. The quality of people and culture has helped us discuss technology strategically and keep a close eye on the competition. We also use critical input and member input to prioritize our technology objectives. Lastly, we use context. For example, if a member can buy an e-book in 30-seconds, then why should it take them a day or two to set up a wire?
Moving forward, the notion of governance to help set technology priorities properly is going to be key. We plan to formalize our own process to make sure we’re coming out with solutions before members realize they need them.