IdeaScale Nation

Lake Trust Credit Union: Progress Is the Constant Replacing of the Best There Is With Something Even Better

May 21, 2019 IdeaScale Season 1 Episode 2
IdeaScale Nation
Lake Trust Credit Union: Progress Is the Constant Replacing of the Best There Is With Something Even Better
Chapters
IdeaScale Nation
Lake Trust Credit Union: Progress Is the Constant Replacing of the Best There Is With Something Even Better
May 21, 2019 Season 1 Episode 2
IdeaScale

Lake Trust Credit Union realized that solving key financial challenges required the participation of their staff (and someday over 100 thousand of their members). Learn how they embedded innovation training as part of their employee development and how they're using this feedback to redefine their institution's purpose. Featuring Blake Woods, Innovation Catalyst at Lake Trust Credit Union. 

Show Notes Transcript

Lake Trust Credit Union realized that solving key financial challenges required the participation of their staff (and someday over 100 thousand of their members). Learn how they embedded innovation training as part of their employee development and how they're using this feedback to redefine their institution's purpose. Featuring Blake Woods, Innovation Catalyst at Lake Trust Credit Union. 

Speaker 1:

[inaudible] hello there and welcome to ideas, scales innovation podcast. Uh , we've got a great guest for you today , um, where we're going to be talking with Blake woods, who is from Lake press credit union, which is a cooperative financial institution. That's based in Michigan. Uh, Blake is a innovation catalyst there. And , uh , tell us a little bit more about yourself, Blake.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. First off. Thanks for having me on really excited for this opportunity. Talk a little bit about innovation. Uh, yeah, my role is a bit unique as the innovation catalyst at , uh , uh , credit union. Um, what I really uh, try to do is drive human centered design and futurist thinking throughout our credit union , uh, what we wanted and what we recognized a few years back is that we didn't want five, 10 people in a room determining the future of our cooperative . Uh, I think the better , uh, angle is to teach, give folks those tools to come up with great ideas and then have our entire workforce, all 400 employees , uh, contributing to those , uh, contributing ideas in that way. And eventually our vision is to have all 180,000 members , uh, which was what we call customers in the credit union industry engaged in that process. So that's been my mission for the last few years and ideas scales have been along for the ride and it's been a fun journey.

Speaker 1:

That's so interesting. I didn't realize that that was , um, sort of the driving force was that you wanted to make sure that it wasn't just this closed room , um, ideation experience who made that realization in the first place.

Speaker 2:

I , I th I think it would be tough to give credit to one individual. Our CEO, David Snodgrass, u m, is one of the leaders in innovation and financial services. So I must tip my cap to him. He had the vision to kind of assemble an innovation team or one of the first credit unions to have dedicated, u h , i n novation resources. And then from there, our team just looked around the room. There's, there's only three of us. And we said, this is not the way that ideation happens. Uh, w e need to engage, u h , t h e larger crowd. Uh, bu t before we do that, it's not just about opening up a suggestion box. We've got to get these folks, some tools we' ve ne e d to teach them how to make an empathy map, teach them, u h , t a ctics besides dry brainstorming to truly get the insights, the ideas, the innovation that we're seeking.

Speaker 1:

That is so good to hear. I feel like a lot of people, you know , want to involve everybody, but haven't developed a shared language or kind of best practices or offered guidance. So how do you train your team members that way?

Speaker 2:

Uh, yeah, that's, that's a great question. Um, we, we have an internal university here at Lake trust and, and my team has more classes in that internal university and then any of our other adjunct facilitators. So we really engage our industry partners , uh , to teach topics like human centered design, future scenario planning, and even run our own innovation immersions here in house. Um , on day one of our new employee training w here we're asking employees to submit ideas. So we want everyone, no matter what the role at Lake trust to feel, u m, not just allowed to, but encouraged to share ideas that that's something that, u h, they take away from day one here working at Lake trust.

Speaker 1:

That's awesome. It's like truly embedded. Um, and tell me, what does the word innovation mean and you know, financial services, but maybe also at Lake trust specifically?

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So there's a phrase that kind of defines the work we do, and it's , it's , uh, attributed to Edward Filene. Who's the pioneer of the credit union movement here in America. He brought the credit union movement from Europe over to the United States, and he used to say, progress is the constant replacing of the best there is with something still better. And so that's really what kind of drives us here at Lake trust. It's not about just settling or, or saying our product sets have been great for 10 years. Why change them? We're always looking for that next , um, great idea that next way to help our members thrive financially. And I believe innovation is a key tool to help us to do that. So , uh, using foresight , uh, what I like to call global thinking big picture thinking innovation can help us , uh, kind of solve these root causes rather than just symptoms. I feel like a lot of firms chase symptoms , uh, but innovation is that act of truly , uh , big picture thinking and problem solving.

Speaker 1:

Well, that's , it's interesting because my next question to you is going to be about like, what problems are you trying to solve? And I do think that a lot of the problems people when they're answering this question are symptom-based answers, but you can tell me both, you know, what are some of those deeper issues that you're uncovering and what are some of the symptoms that you're treating?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it it's equal parts , um, depressing, but also motivating, you know, I, I live and work in Metro Detroit and we have , um, the largest on and under-banked population in the U S and Canada. So that's really a driving force. We have , uh , nearly one out of four residents of this area are disconnected from the banking system. And that's a , that's a very high cost of living when you don't have access to things like a debit card or a checking account, u m, you know, money orders, u h, prepaid cards. These things cost a lot of money and they're, u h, taxing the most vulnerable members of our population. So we look at a symptom like that and start to think about what are the root causes, how did people end up disconnected from the banking system? And there's a number of different paths you can follow. So that's some of the work we're really, u h, undertaking right now at Lake trust is figuring out what our purpose is. And I think it's helping Michigan residents thrive, helping children of our community, u h, have a better tomorrow. U m, and to do that, I think, you know, there's a number of solutions that arise, u h, whether it be products and services, education, u m, w e, we've been talking a lot about savings as a human, right? How do we make sure that everyone has the ability to have access to these tools? Not just, you know, the fluent or the well-off in our communities.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, that's actually, it's one of those things where I was looking at some of the financial trends as I was preparing for this interview. And not only is there just a whole, y ou k now, s traight f rom new technology that you can use i n financial services, but yeah, t here, t here a re these really interesting and alarming trends of, you know, something less than 10% of Americans have set up some sort of savings for retirement. So it's interesting that that's a problem that you see, not just a problem that consumers see.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. You know, we start even with our own employee base. So , so we have employees living paycheck to paycheck, and we have members who we've known for 20 years, who are , um, you know, the average household in America with credit card debt has over $12,000 in credit card debt. Um, so it's, it's our loved ones, our friends and family that , um, are suffering in this way. And those problems are not just unique to Metro Detroit. So the credit union movement as a whole , uh, works together to help solve these problems. And I think innovation , um, big picture thinking , uh , that futurist mindset when it comes to problem solving are key tools that we need to have to fix the financial system here in America.

Speaker 1:

Wow. Well, and so tell me what, how does your program work? Um, how are you getting these ideas? What sorts of ideas are coming in? What are you implementing?

Speaker 2:

Uh, yes. So we partnered with idea scale early on in our innovation journey and we set up a community called gather. Um, so this, this is a place where folks can, can gather and work collaboratively to build , um, ideas that could turn into solutions. Uh, we do four quarterly challenges. Uh, so these are focused problem statements , uh, you know, baked with research, baked into them. Uh, we'll give a few stats and a paragraph or two, and then we'll put the challenge, u h, or the problem statement out there, excuse me. U h, from there any employee can submit an idea. They can form teams work together a nd, and the top ideas, u h, as you know, how the t ool w orks, rise, rise up, and those are decisioned by a group of subject matter experts that w ill assemble, u h, based on whatever challenge it is we're trying to solve. U m, and once we declare our winner, u m, u h, you know, we have a trophy that goes out, but then the real reward is starting to put some of these solutions into action. So we'll q ueue them up and do our project management process a nd, and start actively working on concepts.

Speaker 1:

Wow. Well, so tell me, you know, what's a program or project that you've started and launched and what have you learned from it so far?

Speaker 2:

Um, one of my favorite success stories at Lake trust is our aspire CD. So, u m, the insight that we k inda gave was that, u m, a large majority of our membership weren't saving and what's more a re our young members, u h, weren't using, u h, really any of our deposit accounts, right. They were living paycheck to paycheck, u m, racking up credit card debt, u m, already had student loan debt, so on and so forth. So how could we make, u h, these, these products like CDs and money markets, which sounds so stale, u m, i n which have been stale, these products look exactly how they did 30 years ago at any bank or credit union in your neighborhood. U m, how could we, u h, bring some more excitement to that? And that's where the aspire CD came. U h, this was, u h, a person from our accounting department. U m, my good friend, K ristin s chooly, u m, who has no background in product development, but came up with this unique concept where, u h, members would tell us their goal on the front end. And then once they achieved their goal, they can pull their money out of the account penalty for you, which is different from how CDs usually behave. Um, we kind of took a product that was , uh , dwindling and usage and, and , uh, rebranded it and retooled it, launched it back out to the population. We've helped hundreds of members save for their first car down payment. Um, you know, the down payment on their home , uh, their trip to Europe, whatever it was they're saving for. Um , and it's really neat to kind of financial services can be really dull, but when you connect it to , uh , people's purpose or their desires, when you're helping someone get that first car, get that , um, piece of equipment that they need for their, their new job , uh , whatever it might be, that's where this work can become really rewarding, really exciting. So , um, again, why, why not make that connection? Why shouldn't we be transparent with our members when talking about their savings goals? We want to be their partner, not just another hurdle that they need to overcome as they try to , uh, find success in their lives.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Wow. I mean, a lot of our customers will talk about the results of their program in terms of new revenue growth or money saved or , um, you know, patents filed, but it's really great that you can take it down to an individual personal level and be like, we help that person, you know, either first car save for a house. I mean, it's, the impact is very real on an individual level.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, sure. And , and that's some of, that's just the structure of, of credit unions. Uh, we are not-for-profits um, so although we need to generate revenue to continue to do the great things we do in our communities, it's never our focus when it comes to ideation. Um, in fact, we've launched a lot of campaigns that were even internally focused. How do we build our culture stronger here at Lake trust? We do have , we've had ideas like , uh, our, our Lake trust talent show and our book club I've come out of challenges like that. So , um, revenue is not a defining measure , uh, for success when it comes to ideation at Lake trust. It doesn't mean that we aren't always looking for those types of ideas because that does help , uh , enable us to do some of that other work that we love to do. Um, but that, that does differentiate us from a lot of firms.

Speaker 1:

Well, so tell me about an idea either before your , this program existed, or even now with this new program where an idea couldn't, you know, a good idea, couldn't make it through , uh , what were those barriers then or now? Sure.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. I can give a current example and , um , I'm actually glad to be able to do so. I don't want to paint the picture that we have , uh , solve the innovation equation. Um, entirely we , we always could do better. And one example, I'd point to, u h, just in this last year, we had a lot of regulation come down, u h, around, u h, lending, u h, from the federal government. We also had a new loan origination system come in and we want a federal grant, u h, that enabled us to do some small dollar loans to businesses in our area. U h, all of that is to say it was a very busy year in lending. U m, so the way we run our i dea scale platform, gather folks can work on those challenges that are very focused, but we also have a campaign called other great ideas where anyone c an submit an idea 365 days a year, 24 seven. Uh , we got a lot of great lending ideas last year into that campaign. And I really struggled with , um, you know, how do I find this balance between setting expectations of what that other great ideas campaign could be? Um, when also saying we've got some excellent ideas in here, I just don't have the resources to pursue them. So that's really something, you know, I'd like us to think about , uh, when it comes to business planning and, and even , uh, when I , when I'm encouraging people to use the portal is that we just don't always have the resources to work on everything and , and having a focus does allow us to , um, have quicker , uh, completion time when it comes to making, putting these ideas into action.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. I mean, I think aligning ideas to resources is one of those, like key challenges for anybody who's running a program around innovation. U m, you know, we're talking a lot of the times about, you know, net new ideas. So of course t here's no budget defined for them yet. They don't exist yet. So I think that makes a lot of sense, but it's also interesting that you guys do a mix of kind of like this continuous ongoing open campaign, but then you'll do, u m, short targeted. U h time-limited can you tell me how you pick those campaigns and how you see those two interacting?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, we work closely with our board and leadership. Um, uh, my team just does that. That's part of the work that we do. We , we , um, provide their strategic education calendar. So , um, I have access to the board and leadership in a way that many of my fellow coworkers do not. Uh, and through that, I'm able to understand what projects are on the horizon , um , where we could use a bit more creativity where we will allocate resources throughout the calendar. So it really is a collaborative effort between my team and leadership and our board of directors.

Speaker 1:

That is interesting because we find that the most successful innovation programs are the ones where the person who's leading it or coordinating it has sufficient authority for change. And that doesn't necessarily mean that they themselves have the authority, but they need to have sort of access to the authority like you do with the board, so that when the time comes, you can , um, you know, advocate for those great ideas.

Speaker 2:

And again, this is an area where we could always do a bit better. Uh, but one more unique thing. I , I I 'd like to share about credit unions. O ur board of directors are unpaid volunteer members. So, u m, it's really cool to have kind of the voice of the membership come through, u h, leadership that way. Again, I think that differentiates us from a lot of credit unions, u h, but when it comes time to plan out our business plan or even our budget, u h, we have, u h, members a re, as most firms would call them customers engaged in that process. So that helps us kind of align, u m, the work that we do to the voice of the membership.

Speaker 1:

Well, that's really awesome. Yeah. Cause it's a really great blend between what your employees on the front lines are experiencing and then yeah. Your customers, our end users, what they see and value. Sure. Um, so you've been running this program for a while now, tell me what are some of the things that , uh , look different from when you first launched to today?

Speaker 2:

Um, well, we've we , um, one thing I 've found when I was looking back at some of our earlier challenges i s I was painfully verbose and l ong-winded, u m, one thing I've learned is folks at our credit union have a million different things going on, u h , b e t hat in their professional lives and then their personal lives as well. And so we've got to find a way to give them these challenges in , in the research. They need to be successful in bite si ze p ieces. Uh , t hat's really helped our engagement with the challenges. Um , w e've also kind of entered into the, u h , v ideo, u h , s ide of things. So we're really excited about some, u h , c hanges in 2019 that will include video responses to ideas. Should they hit a certain vote threshold? Um , I think a lot of times in written word, u h , t one and, u h , b ody language, all these things become difficult to o, or they could mean completely different things to , from one person to the next. And so I'm really excited about the video responses. I think tha t wi l l re ally, u m , in c rease co llaboration and inc reased en gagement, u h , wi th the tool.

Speaker 1:

It's interesting. It's one of the key things that you've changed is your engagement approach, which is o bvious it's every year we ask our customers, what are the challenges that they want to, u m, you know, optimize or overcome and engagement, you know, is always on that list. U m, I love the approach of having a video response t hat really personalizes, u m, you know, the value. It says, s omebody's listening, i t validates that somebody should participate and that even if the idea doesn't make it all the way through that, you know, someone took the time to thoughtfully reply to it. So that's a really interesting approach. I don't think most people do that. Sure.

Speaker 2:

And it won't always be myself or my team even , um , in those video responses, should we get , uh , an idea about a deposit product who better than the , uh , manager in that area to partner up with us to , to talk about the, what we love about that idea, what we might tweak or, or even where we'd like some further creativity. I really want to use the videos, not as decision points of yes or no, we're going to do this, but instead to generate even more comments that when people ask me, what's the most valuable part of your ideation portal, the ideas themselves very valuable, but it's the discussion. It's 400 people talking together about how to improve the lives of our, our membership, the communities we serve that's really , uh, and the value and , and , uh, worth it many times over. And when it comes to the investment of money and time,

Speaker 1:

Right, that discussion creates an energy that's really valuable , uh , that certainly let lends itself to a better workplace culture. Have you found that to be true as well?

Speaker 2:

Totally . I think just personally speaking this type of thinking , uh , this type of problem solving, that's what turns a job into a career or in best case scenario, a calling. Um, so when you connect the work that people do , um, to helping someone get their first home to get that automobile, they need to take that new job that's going to , uh, increase their satisfaction in the success of their family. Um, that's, that's an excellent, the beautiful thing about working in financial services. Um , again, a lot of people might roll their eyes, think that's , uh , a boring career path. Nearly every problem in our society is connected to money somehow. So we always have a role to play whether it's helping that small business on main street , uh , stand up or some of those examples I mentioned earlier , um, w we always have a way to lend a helping hand and, u m, I love using ideation and innovation to help solve those problems.

Speaker 1:

Well, and so that's gonna lead me to one of my last questions, which is what advice would you give to other organizations that really want to improve or start innovation programs?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, just, just what I was talking about. Um, when we started the podcast, you can't have ideation, you know, just live in a single department, a lot of folks like to partner it up with their it area. And they really think about innovation and problem solving in terms of technology. Uh, technology is definitely part of the equation, but there , there is so much to be gained from crowdsourcing this work. And so, yeah, I would just really say, you know, teach people those core concepts, get as many employees at your firm, no matter what their job is to become a global thinker, to become a problem solver, and then give them an environment , um, like idea scale to do just that. Um, again, the ideas are great. You'll get some amazing concepts out of that, but the , the morale, the , uh , retention that you'll get from engaging people in this type of work , uh, that's the truth ,

Speaker 1:

Right? Then investment in your employees like that certainly helps them build their career, but it also just raises the bar for everybody at your organization.

Speaker 2:

That's right. When we do this stuff on day one, I really think it's, it's a lot different than day one at most of the other jobs they've held previously, you know, we're, we're asking them to solve big problems in the communities they live in. And, u m , t hat th at's, that's very different than most firms that might be watching the HR video that day or , or, or whatever. I don't know. I've only really worked here, so I don't know what other folks do during onboarding, but, u m , I know it's not ba d.

Speaker 1:

Well, that's just awesome, Blake. It's a really great story that you guys are building there. And I can't wait to see what other new ideas that you generate. Maybe we'll have to do a followup interview in a year and see what else has changed.

Speaker 2:

I'd love to give you a progress report and I'm sure we'll have a lot of new concepts, but , uh, like I said, even more, some, some , uh, collaborative thinking and some teamwork, that's, that's really , uh, what we consider success at Lake trust.

Speaker 1:

Excellent. Well, thank you again for joining Blake.

Speaker 2:

Thank you. Hi .