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For a credit union service organization, ‘we’re kind of hippie’

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Despite a laid-back culture and a dress code which, during summer, could be as casual as shorts and flip-flops, the credit union service organization is very disciplined about treating everyone with the same level of respect.

While the company is based near Detroit, about 20% of its workforce is off-site, including a small percentage of employees at an office in Montana. And everyone who works away from MDT's Farmington Hills, Mich., headquarters is given tools to bring them into the culture of the home office.

Both of MDT's locations are laid out identically, and even company events are duplicated as closely as possible between the two locations.

“Anything like a luncheon or a Habitat for Humanity [benefit], we extend that to all the offices and do the exact same thing,” said Larry Nichols, the CUSO's president and chief executive. “We try to keep everyone parallel and in sync, and if they don’t have the same organization in their community, we let that office or that group of people pick something similar so we’re all doing something similar at the same time.”

All remote employees participate via video chat and pay regular visits to the home office. But once there, no one has to look or dress the same as anyone else.

"People have tattoos, they have different color hair, they have gauges in their ear — we don’t care," Nichols said. "As long as you’re doing your job and you’re respectful and treat each other fairly, the superficial way you dress is very low on my pecking order. I guess we’re kind of hippie.”

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In addition to a spot on this year’s Best Fintechs to Work For (a ranking compiled by our parent company, Arizent), the CUSO also regularly shows up high in the rankings for the annual “Cool Places to Work” from Crain’s Detroit Business. And after 17 years in business, the firm — a private cloud that services credit unions nationwide — is well known in the industry it serves.

MDT generally sees only about 3% voluntary turnover per year. One element that helps differentiate MDT is a young workforce, the majority of which is under 35 years old. The CUSO often gets job applicants even when it hasn't listed an opening.

“They’re not after that big culture name, that big Forbes 500 name,” said Nichols. “They want someone that cares about that balance of family life, their internal needs and wants. It’s really more about the individual now than the company they’re working for.”

The company’s headquarters reflects its laid-back vibe and modern outlook: game rooms, a massage area, fitness space, on-site café, open patio — complete with barbecue grills — a mothers’ lounge and more.

Home and away

Like much of the credit union industry, the CUSO puts a premium on culture and community, and Nichols said management takes pains to ensure the values practiced in Michigan get communicated outward to those who aren’t in the home office.

Along with regular use of tools like Slack and Trello, video-conferencing is in constant use so that “even though they’re not participating in the home office on a daily basis, they’re touching the office every day,” said Nichols. And those who are off-site are also required to visit headquarters periodically “so they feel blended in.”

New technology has been a boon to communicating the CUSO’s culture to those off-site, said Carol Kerr, vice president of marketing and communications, who likened those tools to sitting around a virtual conference table. The offices in Montana and Michigan both have large video monitors that tie teams in both locations together for everything from meetings to community activities and socialization.

“I really feel more like I’m down the hall as opposed to 750 miles away from headquarters,” said Kerr, who works remotely.

The wider credit union industry has been engaged in an ongoing conversation about increasing diversity and equity initiatives, and while MDT’s workforce is fairly evenly split between male and female, Nichols admits that "at the top we’re all male.” Still, as chief executive, Nichols said he’s making efforts to ensure the CUSO maintains a culture where anyone can get ahead.

“The world is changing and I’m trying to the best of my ability to change that stereotype where the boys are running the organization. I still look at it as the most qualified person gets the position, whether you’re a man or a woman," he said.

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