Arizona YPs Learn to Challenge the Status Quo

Facing a room filled with young credit union professionals, Andrew Downin of Vantage West Credit Union challenged them to challenge the status quo – and offered them the tools to do it effectively and successfully.

Downin was the featured speaker at a recent in-person professional development session on Demystifying Innovation, hosted by the Arizona Young Credit Union Professionals (AZ YCUP) in Tempe, Arizona.

Early in his presentation, Downin offered examples of companies that failed because they didn’t keep up with changing times, burdened by the ‘we’ve always done things this way’ kind of culture.

“It can feel dangerous to question the status quo, but respectful questioning is the key to innovation,” said Downin, Chief Marketing and Digital Officer at Vantage West CU.  “So, rather than just blurt out ‘That’s crazy, why would you do things that way?’ consider framing your questions with ‘Help me understand why we do it this way’ or ‘If we had to rebuild this product or process from the ground up today, would we develop it the same way we did in the past?’ Expressing curiosity from a perspective of learning will invite those with more work tenure to explore their assumptions in a less-threatening way.”

Downin notes that the credit union movement has a wealth of expertise in leaders and CEOs who’ve “been in their seats for years and decades, which is great. We also need fresh ideas and that’s what the YP program brings to credit unions, especially in such a collaborative way.”

“I love being able to connect YPs from all different credit unions,” says Dawn Lepore, Associate Vice President of Consumer Banking Operations at Vantage West CU. Lepore serves on the AZ YCUP board and the GoWest YP Steering Group. “We can get creative and innovative and learn together, and develop ourselves to take over someday as leaders of the credit union movement.”

Downin, who led research and innovation at Filene Research Institute before serving in leadership positions at credit unions, advised the YPs to broaden their experiences and their interests as they invest in their own professional development.

“Some of the best advice I’ve received about preparing to be a CEO is to consider the path to the top as a spiral staircase more so than climbing a ladder. A CEO needs high-level exposure to all of the areas in a credit union, so rotate through roles in a variety of departments as you are promoted rather than moving up through just one department. This helps you become a better innovator, too! If you’re in IT, understanding the employee experience in a branch will help you come up with better innovations to improve how you use the core system. If you’re in marketing, gaining exposure to how loan underwriters review applications will help you better hone your loan promotions and messaging to members.”

Being part of YCUP has truly broadened horizons for Melissa at First Credit Union. “The YPs do a lot in their community and thanks to YCUP, I’ve been able to network with different business leaders, people in schools, and in the community, so I can help to provide financial education. YCUP really helped me to break out of the mold to learn to speak to people who aren’t just inside my credit union, who aren’t just the members I’m interacting with every day, to look for impact opportunities and ways to move the needle in my community.” She says the presentation by Downin offered helpful tools to start conversations about innovation and members’ impact.

Downin told the YPs about “human-centered design,” requiring them to first consider the perspective of members in coming up with a desirable innovation for them before worrying about the feasibility and viability for the credit union. “Too often in credit unions, we first limit ourselves by what our core system can handle or some arbitrary ROI level, and don’t pay enough attention to what our members actually want.”

He says the most successful innovations check off three boxes:

(1) Does it solve a problem that my members have in a desirable way for them?

(2) Do we have feasible systems and organizational structures to bring this innovation to life, or can we build or buy them?

(3) Is this solution viable and does it support the credit union’s financial sustainability?

Lepore says the session brought with it lasting value to participants and the communities they serve:  “Having discussions around innovation and how we can be innovative, talking about giving people permission to be creative is really valuable.  It helps prepare us to approach things in a different way and that will help credit unions carry on for future generations.”

Want to get involved? YP Summit is right around the corner, June 7-8, and is an amazing opportunity for credit union professionals to grow and learn together in person. Learn More.

Posted in Across the Region, Arizona, Thought Leadership, Top Headlines.