HOLLYWOOD, Calif.-Sandwiched between the 65th Emmy awards and surprise free concerts by Justin Timberlake and Paul McCartney, the 2013 CUNA Technology, Operations, Sales and Service Council Conference became one of the "stars" on Hollywood Boulevard last week.

"It has been an exciting conference for many reasons," said Heather Moshier, executive vice president of IT for San Diego County Credit Union. "We didn't know that Justin or Paul was going to perform so that was a nice surprise," added Moshier, who also served as the conference technology committee chair.

While tunes like "Hey Jude," "Lady Madonna" and "Cry Me a River" were a welcome backdrop enveloping the Hollywood Loews Hotel-which served as conference host for the 454 credit union attendees and scores of vendors-information sharing served as the foundation of countless forward-looking conversations.

"What is clear is that technology is playing an even more critical role in the future of credit unions," said Jeff Johnson, senior vice president of IT for the Vernon Hills, Ill.-based Baxter Credit Union. "With technology comes opportunities and challenges so it's good to bring together vendors and credit unions to brainstorm and find the best way forward," added Johnson who also served as the vice chair of the technology conference. He noted that the conference scored the highest attendance rate in recent years.

 

State Of The Industry

The four-day event kicked off with a keynote address by New York Times best-selling author Chip Heath who recently co-authored Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work with his brother, Dan Heath. "To break out of a narrow frame, we need options, and of the most basic ways to generate new options is to find someone else who's solved your problem," he noted.

It was in this spirit of finding new options that inspired conference presenters and attendees alike. Diane Dysktra, president and CEO of California and Nevada Credit Union League, offered some insights during her industry update speech. "Since 2008, credit unions have had to deal with 157 new regulations. No wonder you are overwhelmed."

Regulatory examiners, she said, are looking for "risk" and conceded that NCUA is "afraid of silver bullets and shiny objects" that stand out under inspection. But it wasn't just regulations and compliance that had a spirited Dysktra concerned, but also issues such as payday lending requirements. "We can't regulate good behavior on behalf of consumers."

Demographics also played a role in her speech. While she noted that the fastest growing age group is those 100-plus years, she was more concerned with the younger set. She noted that there are approximately 68 million under-banked Americans, 52% of whom are Gen Y. "Seventy-one percent of Gen Y have no idea what a credit union is," said Dysktra. "We have to find a way to get into their hearts and minds."

Conference attendees were offered a packed agenda with presentations on various topics including: Managing Mobility in the BYOD Era, Online, Mobile and ACH FFIEC Guideline Requirements, EMV: The Race is On, How to Prepare for a DDoS Attack and How We Solved the Disaster Recover Debate, among others.

On the latter topic, presenter Rich Griesser, vice president of IT for the Tucson-based Hughes Federal Credit Union, said: "A back up data center is just as important as your main branch. It does cost a lot of money and that will require a heart-to-heart with your senior executives to make the investment."

 

Speed Dating For CUs

For Moshier, the most interesting part of the conference was the "technology speed rounds." In total, there were three rounds with five vendors allotted 10 minutes to present respective services. "I was particularly impressed with those presentations dealing with payments," said Moshier.

After the final round, attendees voted via text message for the best presentation and service. Only a few votes separated Wescom Resources Group, with its Member Genius product that enables unified member communication and cross-marketing, and MoneyDesktop's personal financial management data-driven analytic tool. In the end, Wescom Resources Group won the award.

"We are excited and pleased with the award," said Gina Kovacs, client relationship manager and product specialist for Wescom Resources Group. And while MoneyDesktop presenter Alec Gustafson was hoping for a win, he was pleased with the experience. "This conference is a great way to better understand the needs of credit unions and their members."

Since vendors need credit unions and credit unions need vendors, collaborations between the two groups on best practices and regulations is a paramount concern of the Credit Union Financial Exchange (CUFX). An initiative of the CUNA Technology Council, CUFX is aiming to develop standards that would make product and service integration across the credit union industry easier and less expensive.

"We are not looking to change pricing or licensing models," said Brian Bodell, CEO of the New York-based Finivation Software. "We want to work with as many core providers as possible to make this vendor agnostic."

Bodell, who serves on CUFX's governing board, moderated a panel of credit union leaders on this topic that discussed leading issues in front of a well-attended audience. While he said there is growing support, he added that there is still a long road to hoe. "This movement will require time, knowledge and capital."

 

Looking Forward

While conference attendees were encouraged to vote via text message on where the next CUNA Technology Council should be held, with Belize and Hawaii offered as options, a "save the date" was announced for September 21 to 24, 2014 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

When asked why he thought this year's event was so well-attended, Baxter CU's Johnson, who turned 50 during the conference, said it could have been the location.

"This year was different as we were in Hollywood. There was a lot of excitement and activity with the music across the street, or maybe it had to do with the nice weather and all this fresh air. It was just a good vibe and the credit union industry is also coming off a good year overall. I look forward to continued growth."

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