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Rogers Deep Dives for Credit Union Growth.

Byline: Myriam Di Giovanni

Where a sea of data may have others looking down in dread, Ben Rogers can't get his scuba gear on fast enough to dive right in and start exploring.

"I don't have a background in economics but I still love the underlying math in research. If I had a few months to take classes in quantitative data management and data visualization to study the different ways data enters our lives, I would," the research director at Filene Research Institute said.

"Never miss an opportunity to learn a new skill. The world changes so fast you can't possibly have all you need right out of college or in a particular field," Rogers continued. "Whatever you are doing, if it doesn't hurt a bit, then you are not pushing yourself enough."

It's the settling and feeling comfortable that has generally presented the biggest drain on any organizations' culture. Filene wrapped up a report about the building blocks of leadership and found six universal essentials hold true regardless of context: Effective leaders have the ability to challenge, decide, learn, align, interpret and anticipate.

"Even leaders who may not be good or great at all six themselves, they assemble a supporting team to cover it all," Rogers said.

Given Filene's work with i3, the research council and The Cooperative Trust, Rogers has learned to never underestimate the value in taking an interest in someone's personal or professional development beyond just the annual or quarterly performance review.

"If you feel there's no formal mechanism for sharing your ideas then make an informal one and take someone out to lunch," Rogers suggested. "It takes persistence and consistency to get ideas heard. If you've tried everything and you still aren't being heard then find a new place to work."

The Trailblazer 40 Below's own drive for new experiences and knowledge helped set Rogers, a former journalist, on the path to what's been his most fulfilling professional role. He began at Filene in Madison, Wis., as a contractor for an 18-month project focused on young adult issues in credit unions called CU Tomorrow. As part of the project, he ran the 30 under 30 group and published business-oriented papers for credit unions to help them become more relevant to the next generation of consumers and professionals.

In his current role, Rogers examines credit union business challenges ranging from economic and consumer behavior, to policy and management. Digging into the academic research and talking to credit unions has provided a unique perspective. Part of the fun of the job for Rogers has been simplifying and conveying the complex in easily information-packed bites.

"I'm not a natural storyteller and maybe it's the English major in me but I've found that metaphors are a lot more powerful than data at telling a story," he said. "I never imagined I'd be here seven years and it turned out to be a way to still scratch that itch of doing interesting work. The habits and rhythms may be the same but the projects, themes are new every month."

The credit union system, with its cooperative business model, has served as an unceasing fountain of information, he added. Some interesting questions have been explored revolving around the areas of payments, wallet allocation and channel delivery. The research has pushed credit unions to think beyond the status quo framework.

For example, Filene has been working with Lerzan Aksoy, a professor at Fordham University in New York, to look deeper into satisfaction scores, not just at credit unions, but also how other companies use those scores.

"So, it's not how big your serving is but what else do consumers have on that plate and what food do they enjoy most," he said. "So, it should provide real insight into how members make those decisions. We're working with 10 credit unions now around the area of loans to better understand why consumers use a credit union to take out a loan and how credit unions can improve to get on consumers' plates."

With so many consumers looking for mobile native apps, often as a primary decision maker in choosing a financial institution, very few credit unions would not be better served by investing in digital. Rogers also believes greater opportunity exists around exploring the profitability of serving the unbanked.

"I think of competition as piranha. There are so many service companies doing excellent work around one particular thing. That friction is going away all the time because of a well-designed website or app and services are becoming unbundled," he said. "Are we going to try to be monolithic and have members do all their banking through us or compete with single stand-alone services to be bundled? If we only get a couple of services then how can we incentivize consumers to do business with credit unions?"

Seeking the answers to those questions and more in financial services has demonstrated the equal importance of investigating how what's happening within the demographics served has influenced business or even consumption.

"Will consumers continue to buy homes the way they have or are they going to share more? As a whole it's worth paying more attention to consumer behavior and trends," Rogers said. "Looking at ways to add value to members' lives by helping them make good decisions and charging appropriately; that is where the financial institutions of tomorrow are going to win."

To Rogers, innovation is the next best way to do something, not just that final polished, shiny, new technology or product.

"I think what's especially true for the credit union industry is we need to make our delivery and interaction with members simpler," he offered. "It's easier to add a function and detail than take one away. Regardless of the delivery model, how can we make it feel simpler to members? How can we catch the next wave of expectation and make it easier to do business with us?"
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Publication:Credit Union Times
Date:Nov 19, 2014
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