Indiana-based Forum Credit Union has more than $900 million in assets and serves more than 110,000 members. Doug True, who has served as the credit union’s CEO since 2011, began at the credit union 25 years ago as a management trainee. During a stint in the lending department, he helped write code for lending programs, first for Forum members and then for a CUSO. In this Q&A, True discusses the changing role for leaders of technology and reflects on how his time leading FORUM’s IT department enhanced the skills he brings to the role as CEO.
Is it important to have a technology leader on the executive team? Why?
DOUG TRUE: Yes, it is important to have a teammate at the executive level that is responsible for the technology function at the credit union. We have an executive team composed of six teammates; one of these is our chief technology officer. It is important to have this role represented on the executive team because each area of the credit union uses technology now in its pursuit of member service and will likely leverage technology even deeper in the future. Most technology decisions involve more than just the chief technology officer, so we need a collaborative approach to make the best decision for the credit union. The chief technology officer being a member of the executive team promotes such collaboration.
CU QUICK FACTS
FORUM CREDIT UNION
data as of 12.31.13
HQ: Indianapolis, IN
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 2.64%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 5.91%
Is the role of the technology leader evolving in credit unions? How?
DT: The role of the technology leader is rapidly evolving at many credit unions. In my opinion, the ideal candidate for the role is a business leader who understands technology and knows what new technology is capable of doing for the membership and the credit union. This business leader should have a capable technology team that manages and develops the technology on a day-to-day basis. I believe credit unions today should strive to have a business leader that has a keen understanding of the operations at the credit union instead of a pure technologist. This might be a shift for some credit union IT leaders, who in the past have tended to be more technical versus business-oriented.
Are there new or different skills you think future IT leaders will need to be successful?
DT: Yes, I believe future IT leaders must possess both a higher level of business acumen and a deeper understanding of the credit union’s operation. For example, FORUM encouraged its chief technology officer to pursue an MBA, and he did so. This business acumen complements his technology expertise, and I believe it will help FORUM implement better solutions for our members over the long term.
Operationally, do you expect the structure of the IT team to change moving forward? Perhaps, being more integrated or even spread throughout other areas?
DT: Structure is important but not as important as a collaborative culture at the credit union. There is no magical template as the ideal structure depends on your team’s skill sets and your credit union’s objectives. A truly collaborative culture allows the appropriate teammates to work together on a project regardless of where they are sitting on an organizational chart. That type of collaboration is what we focus on here at FORUM.
How does FORUM encourage collaboration among employees?
DT: One way we provide staff the opportunity to collaborate and develop as professionals is through a program we call Forum Future Leaders. This is a group of approximately a dozen employees who serve one-year terms to help the credit union implement groundbreaking tasks, many of which are related to technology. Any of our 300 employees can apply, and the goal of this program is to develop future leaders and ensure FORUM continues to implement the best solutions to serve our members.
We encourage ideas and feedback from all employees, but one result of this group in particular is that we continue to research fresh ideas and, when applicable, implement them through a collaborative process.
Do you solicit ideas from members?
DT: Absolutely, we encourage members to suggest new technologies or solutions they would like us to present. Some are eager to do so; it gives them a sense of participation and pride if one of their ideas develops into one of our services. Our front-line staff receives a lot of informal feedback during one-on-one conversations with members. We also have an advisory council of members; these are people who enjoy making suggestions and reviewing our offerings.
We don’t find that technology ideas bubble up solely from young people — on either the membership or the staff side. We see them coming from all age groups, and of course we listen to all age groups. Anyone who has encountered a new technology, a new app, or a new approach can suggest we incorporate it for the benefit of our members. Technology is advancing at lightning speed and is becoming more critical in how we deliver service to our members. Having a technology leader who understands the credit union’s business and is able to help the team identify the right solutions to implement is critical.
Do you think your technology background has benefitted FORUM?
DT: Yes, I believe my technology background has been a benefit in performing my role as CEO at the credit union. My educational background, both undergraduate and MBA, is in business and I have been fortunate to work in a variety of roles at the credit union, including time leading the technology team. Understanding how technology works and, most importantly, how it can make the experience better for both members and teammates is a valuable skill.