High-performing credit unions are making the most of their governance software.
Anyone who supported a credit union board before the early 2000s remembers the arduous task of collecting paper materials and assembling them into binders for board meetings. The process was time-consuming and begged for a more efficient (and environmentally friendly) solution. Plus, the financial scandals of that time, such as Enron, Tyco International and WorldCom, along with other breaches in business ethics, led to demands for more accountability, transparency and compliance protocols that resulted in The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.
Enter the creation of board portal software. Once considered a “nice-to-have,” these centralized hubs are now a staple of high-performing credit unions. They streamline meetings through such features as automated meeting scheduling and reminders, electronic document distribution and storage, real-time collaboration, virtual voting, and improved communication between board members.
Though board portals are an essential tool for good governance, it is crucial for credit union boards, committees and leaders to consider their specific needs and budgets when researching portal options. However, these secure platforms are proving they have no shortage of innovative uses, making them well worth the investment.
The Maturation of Board Governance
Paroon Chadha, CEO and co-founder of CUES Supplier member OnBoard, an Indianapolis-based board portal software provider, has witnessed the transition from shipping board materials to the adoption of digital solutions. His company was a pioneer in the industry, starting as a credit union service organization of Purdue Federal Credit Union. OnBoard has scaled to serve over 400 credit unions and more than 5,000 organizations worldwide.
“The benefits of going digital have continued to compound over time,” Chadha says. “We went from emails being shared to needing a secure portal. That shift towards security was the first shift.
“The secure portal then shifted to not just being a secure way to access material but also enabling collaboration within the governance structure of a credit union, allowing for lots of pre-meeting and between-meeting interactions. That collaborative work was the second shift.
“Over time, we went from the board meeting being run in the portal to the supporting committees also being run in the portal. From loan committee to executive compensation committee, … credit unions started using board portals as a scalable way to support the board work. The move to digitizing the board’s underlying committees was the third shift,“ Chadha explains.
CUES member Bob Falk, president/CEO of $1.8 billion Purdue Federal Credit Union, W. Lafayette, Indiana, has been an OnBoard user since its inception. As the owner of Passageways, the parent company of OnBoard, Purdue FCU was one of the company’s first customers.
“We’ve always been able to be part of the design phase,” he says. “We went through a beta on it, and we were able to test it out and kick the tires on it a little bit.“ It was an obvious decision to go with OnBoard, he notes, as he felt it was custom-designed for his credit union.
Falk, who refers to himself as a “techie geek,” says in the day of disseminating binders for in-person meetings, he ran into the challenge of where to store confidential documents. He wanted the board to have access, but not the entire credit union. After the portal implementation, he was able to address this challenge by creating cloud drives and then, using the authorization rules within OnBoard, creating links to those different drives.
“The move to electronic board packages has really streamlined meetings a lot,” Falk adds. “We can make changes on the fly to an agenda. We can tweak a board packet. … Paper-wise, you couldn’t easily do that. Directors just seem like they’re well-engaged in the meetings. We’re having better dialogues, discussions and meetings since we’ve gone electronic, … and it continues to get better as more folks get comfortable with it.”
Purdue FCU uses OnBoard for all the usual board needs, according to Falk, such as meetings and vote capture. These features were earth-shattering when the software was created in 2011, he notes.
“Our directors like the ability to be able to make comments within the board packet, and they have their annotations they can pull up during the meeting,” he says. “The annotation allows them to go question after question and move through the packet. All those things have changed the nature of work.”
And then came another earth-shattering event in 2020. Chadha notes, “The supporting committees sharing all the information through the portal creates a clear governance infrastructure, something that obviously makes you more efficient because you can attend meetings remotely. All this came in handy when the pandemic hit, as board portals allowed boards and committees to operate remotely, securely and with more agility.
“Through all these technological, behavioral and exogenous changes, the governance approach at most credit unions matured. We leaped forward at least five to seven years in just the adoption of technology in the boardroom.”
Chadha adds that OnBoard’s capability to rate meetings can keep everyone accountable, allowing the board or internal teams to consistently improve meetings.
“You can rate meetings on a scale from one to five like you would rate your Uber driver or CEO on Glassdoor,” Chadha says. He adds that users can share what worked, what didn’t and what could be improved in the agenda structure.
“Meeting ratings are not meant to be an assessment of the board,” he stresses. Rather, they’re “meant to be like a reading of the meeting so that you know, day to day, you’re improving your meetings. All workflows and information flows can be streamlined using such technology today.”
Upgrade Your Internal Meetings
Kenny O’Reilly, president of CUES Supplier member MyBoardPacket, Arroyo Grande, California, says that MyBoardPacket’s competitive advantage is security, followed by simplicity. “Throughout the whole experience using MyBoardPacket, people are usually very surprised” at how intuitive it is, he says. “We want people to focus on what’s important: the meetings, the preparation for meetings, and communicating securely and efficiently.”
This design focus has inspired users to expand beyond using MyBoardPacket just for board meetings, says O’Reilly, and to use the portal as an intranet for communication between employees, remote teams and internal meetings.
“We’ve never branded it as such, but we let people know that is an option that our customers have discovered,” he adds. “Because it’s so simple to use, anybody can just log in and start to use it without any training.”
O’Reilly notes that because the portal’s month-to-month subscriptions include unlimited users, clients have gotten creative and use it as an extranet as well. This can come in handy when a credit union needs to share documents or communicate securely with such outside parties as regulators or vendors. Customers are only charged additionally for increased storage needs, but they can keep fees low by deciding how long to keep and when to purge past meeting data. “[Users] have discovered that it really does have more value outside of just the board.”
Chadha agrees that using board portals for collaboration and real-time communication between executives and their teams is an efficient use of the software. He reports that 42% of OnBoard’s 400 credit union clients also run their leadership meetings using their portal.
“The leadership team meets in an organized way,” he says. So, much like the board benefits from the software, internal teams can time-box agendas (set their time in the meeting)and be better prepared, and past meeting output can be accurately referenced as often as needed.
Compliance and Preparing for Growth
Grant Sheehan, CEO of the National Council of Firefighter Credit Unions Inc., Coconut Grove, Florida, and Sheehan’s Consulting, has found a board portal to be invaluable. Sheehan says that when he was CEO of Miami Firefighters Credit Union (now $153 million in assets) from 1998-2009, MyBoardPacket was an important tool not only for his board but also as an extranet for communicating with National Credit Union Administration examiners.
“The nice thing about MyBoardPacket is you can open several different tabs and you can assign different people to see those tabs,” he says. “At the credit union, long before NCUA and some other accounting firms had their portals, we uploaded the accounting side of the information into MyBoardPacket so they could access it. The NCUA examiners could access many selections and read them before they came to the credit union.
“It’s like any other innovation out there,” he adds. “You have to explore it and talk to other people about it. There are a lot of features that I may not be using.”
Sheehan says he now uses the software for the council’s board because its members are located all over the United States. They can use it to discuss and vote on different topics, and Sheehan also uploads financials to the portal where the council’s auditor can readily access them and complete their audits.
Erin O’Hern is VP/strategic initiatives for ViClarity, a provider of governance, risk and compliance technology solutions. O’Hern notes that the subject of how boards and senior executive teams are managing their governance activities, monthly requirements, communication and engagement has become more of a priority from a regulator and examination standpoint.
“It is an interesting topic when you think about innovation in relation to board governance,” she says. “And we’ve talked a lot about it internally—especially over the last year or two, as regulators expect more from boards to understand and set the overall direction of the credit union and risk tolerance. I think folks are looking at how they utilize software in general to ensure that they’re maximizing their resources and time.”
O’Hern, who came from a compliance and governance consulting background working with PolicyWorks LLC before it merged with ViClarity in 2020, relishes working in a combined compliance consulting/technology solutions capacity with credit unions. “What I loved coming into the technology world in 2020 is how adaptable the ViClarity system is,” she says. “The governance oversight of changing regulations and growing member services requires a technology solution for a board that can not only help them with their needs today but adapt over time to match the growth of the credit union. That is how a board prepares itself and the credit union for future innovation. It is exciting to be a part of that growth.
“While there are some similarities amongst boards, such as setting up the audit or supervisory committee and credit committee, every credit union has unique needs,” she adds. “You might have board members in training learning about board responsibilities and preparing to run in future years, or an additional diversity, equity and inclusion executive committee. There are unique setups within credit union boards, and technology can help a credit union manage those needs.”
O’Hern says she has recently seen credit unions using ViClarity to track and measure their strategic plan progress throughout the year. As credit unions look at their three-to-five-year plans and break them down into annual initiatives requiring different operational teams, the software can aggregate that information and facilitate regular check-ins.
“There are a variety of ways technology can support board activity, such as with document management automation, to execute annual policy reviews with features like version controls or maintaining a history of the credit union’s strategic plan,” she explains. “Tracking board education trainings or documenting monthly board discussions all strengthen the governance of the credit union.
“However, the importance of interconnectivity between reports and information across different modules or systems can often be overlooked,” O’Hern adds. “Depending on the size and setup of a credit union, information the board needs to review, such as audit finding reports and remediations, high-level risk reports or complaint trends, may all come from different sources or departments. If the information from different modules can connect to each other—which they can on ViClarity’s product—it not only creates efficiencies but a stronger view into potential gaps and strengths at the credit union.
Many boards are also required to review policies and procedures annually, she notes. Robust software can provide a one-stop shop to not only review those policies but also strategic planning documentation to get a clear picture of how the policies and strategic initiatives relate.
Achieve Corporate Social Responsibility
Boards are also using portal software to hold themselves accountable for their corporate social responsibility goals by using the software for tracking and reporting sustainability initiatives, environmental and social impact projects, and sharing best practices and impact data.
For example, Chadha says boards can use OnBoard for diversity reporting on their boards and committees. The software can identify and report out the level of diversity and representation on the board, including skill sets. The software can produce a visual representation of where the board is doing well and where it is lacking diversity or needed skills.
O’Hern says ViClarity has long been having conversations with credit unions about DEI and where it crosses over into compliance and governance. She has seen a rise in credit unions incorporating DEI into their strategic plans and initiatives throughout the process.
“Financial inclusion requires consideration of the regulations and often raises compliance questions,” she notes. “As an example, in the past we’ve worked with credit unions to adapt account opening policies and procedures to adjust for changing demographics or fields of membership as they’ve seen an influx of new immigrants who have other forms of identification that can be accepted. It’s important for the board to receive regular updates on DEI initiatives. The board sets the supportive culture of DEI, not to mention the initiatives that may occasionally require board policy updates.”
The Future of Board Portals
So where do board portals go from here? O’Hern says that on the innovation side, ViClarity continues to watch for evolving trends and needs to guide what the company builds and enhances within the system.
“I think folks are looking to technology as a solution, whether it’s a portal or a governance, risk and compliance system,” she says. “But we have seen folks struggle when they end up with many different systems that can’t connect reports or information together. Either [the technology] doesn’t grow with them, or they have to go to a different vendor for another solution.”
O’Hern stresses that it is essential for credit unions to think long term about their technology plan—not just for operations, but for governance needs too. “Starting small is important to make sure you’re getting the most out of the system you decide to use,” she says. “Then you can grow over time and identify your top needs.”
When thinking about the impact board portal software can have on organizations, Chadha says that now that people have become more comfortable with technology, a secure board portal is a crucial safeguard.
”It’s a no-brainer—especially in this post-pandemic world,” he says. “We are giving you a secure record-keeping system for governance.”
Chadha says 2023 marks 20 years of his work on the same challenge of improving board governance. “I believe boards matter, because strong corporate governance forms the backbone to create a sustainable, scalable and diverse business ecosystem. In the case of credit unions, they are a business, but they are also a key element of their local community. That has a huge impact on our world, one community at a time.
“Leveraging the power of digital is a powerful way to bring about this change, this impact. It is the most promising way to make every board high-performing. And I do believe every board can be high-performing with the right infrastructure, committee structure and approach.” cues icon
Formerly a member of the CUES marketing staff, Felicia Hudson Hannafan is a writer based in Chicago.