Lending Perspectives: ‘Geeks’ Wanted

smiling man with laptop
Bill Vogeney Photo
Chief Revenue Officer
Ent Credit Union

5 minutes

If your team members obsess over these four key factors, they’ll help drive your credit union’s future.

As the self-professed lending geek at Ent Credit Union, I know there are many reasons why I’ve been in the lending business for almost 39 years. There are aspects of my job that just get me “geeked out”! Yet geeks tend to have a bad reputation. According to the source of all knowledge, Wikipedia, the word typically connotes an expert or enthusiast obsessed with a hobby or intellectual pursuit.

I recently had a meeting to discuss fair lending with a couple of our newer employees who are responsible for Ent’s fair and responsible banking initiative. They both specifically said they get geeked out about data and how it can be sliced and diced to analyze fair lending patterns. It reminded me of something that I had known for years: Credit unions need more geeks in order to survive and thrive in the future!

Geeked out about what, exactly?

After just a few minutes of thought, I came up with a list of elements of our business that are geek-worthy!

It’s About the Member, Stupid!

When George H.W. Bush ran for re-election in 1992, the rallying call of the opposition was “it’s the economy, stupid” because President Bush was not sufficiently concerned about the state of the economy. When it comes to credit union lending, the key phrase is, “it’s the member, stupid.”

Because credit unions serve our members and are devoted to improving their financial lives, we need employees that get geeked out about helping members. It should also be easy to get geeked out that we make decisions that benefit our members, not our shareholders.

“Tom,” one of our lending managers, has gone above and beyond to help many of our members—and has some great stories to tell. One story that really impressed me was his willingness to make a house call and deliver loan documents to a member that was housebound. He’s a member-focused geek!

Underwriting Is Important

Here’s more food for thought from a different meeting. This time, a management discussion about the percentage of Ent’s consumer loan applications that are automatically approved by our system migrated to a discussion about one of our EntRANCE employees. During 18 months of training, “Tim” has stood out as someone who learns quickly and loves getting geeked out about loan underwriting.

Tim, on top of getting underwriting authority as quickly as anyone we’ve ever had, also loves the analytics. As a result, he has uncovered some issues with our automated underwriting rules and processes. He’s figured things out that others with years of experience have overlooked!

While artificial intelligence and machine learning will certainly play a bigger role in our future, I hope we never lose the need for a human to look at the toughest applications. Someone like Tim I think can also lead the charge to move us in the AI direction while not forgetting what credit unions are about.

Focused on the Team

“Rob” is a junior person in our mortgage group. He’s working up the career ladder and perhaps not in the way you might expect. I’m making sure he gets a fair share of my attention, but not necessarily because of his productivity. In fact, I don’t know how he stands compared to his peers. I’m not watching him because of his technical knowledge either. I think he’s doing well there, but that’s not why he stands out in a crowd.

Rob has my attention because his peers respect him. They go to him with questions. They trust him. He makes the time to teach and coach. If he doesn’t have the answer, he’ll get it.  As many of his co-workers have told me personally, he tells them much more than what they need to do; they walk away knowing why they need to do this on a particular loan, and how to do it. That’s way more valuable than just knowing what to do.

I love baseball, and Rob is the credit union equivalent of that player at Triple A who not only is going to make the majors but could become a star. But more importantly, he’ll be great in the clubhouse and likely be a fantastic coach or a manager in the future. Rob seems to be geeked out over the team much more so than he is interested in making his own career. He might not have leadership in his job description, but he is clearly an emerging leader.

How Does It Work?

I love the concept of intellectual curiosity. When I was growing up, I loved to take things apart, but could rarely get them back together in working order. I was curious, but I didn’t have the intellect. Over my nearly 34 years in credit union management, I’ve had several employees who had this drive to figure out how things worked, specifically as it pertained to the interactions of the core and lending origination systems.

“Vladimir” is one of my employees who gets excited about figuring things out. Knowing that we wanted to pursue self-service options as part of our digital journey in lending, he started exploring what our lending system was capable of. In a short time, Vladimir figured it out.

Because of his intellectual curiosity, assisted by his manager “Jane” (who seemingly gets geeked out about developing and supporting her staff), we recently rolled out our second generation of self-service in consumer lending. Once members who had recently received a pre-qualified personal loan offer had accepted it in home or mobile banking, they were given the ability to get disclosures and electronically sign the documents on their schedule. All of this can happen without an Ent employee having to intervene. Vladimir made it happen!

It’s All in Good Fun

Of course, none of the people I mentioned are really geeks. I suppose I’m the geek when it comes to lending and developing people. It’s time we all find our inner geek and ensure we put it to good work for the sake of our credit unions.

Bill Vogeney is the chief revenue officer and self-professed lending geek at $8.7 billion Ent Credit Union, Colorado Springs.

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