PASADENIA-With $2.5 billion in assets and 747 employees Wescom Credit Union's IT platform is expansive.
It's supported in large part by Chief Technology Officer John Best Jr., who has held the post since 2007. "Prior to that I was the director of technology as the CTO position didn't exist," he said.
While Best began his career as a network specialist for Suncoast Schools Credit Union, his aptitude for all things technology runs deep.
"My father was a NASA scientist and I had been exposed to programming and technology from a very young age," said Best. "I worked in an elementary school teaching technology and also was a college computer lab supervisor."
At the age of 14, Best wrote his first software and sold the 5 1/4 inch disks from a Ziploc bag. "It ran on the Commodore 64, Atari 2600 and the APPLE IIE," recalled Best. "While at Suncoast I was lucky enough to work with some amazing minds in technology and got a chance to implement many first-time systems, such as e-mail, Internet and Internet home banking."
Today, Best is overseeing an operation far removed from sandwich bags. Wescom CU's IT department includes 98 employees, though Best said that number is "inflated" due to the support of its CUSO, Wescom Resource Group. And while smaller credit unions might think that a larger IT department provides the ability to execute more ideas, that theory is subjective.
"I wish we had more developers to accommodate all of the great ideas that come in from our credit union," said Best. "I feel like now more than ever there is tremendous opportunity for credit unions take the lead in some upcoming spaces like mobile and payments."
The Mobile Challenge
Wescom CU holds the unique distinction of being the first credit union in both the Android and Kindle stores. Yet despite being a front runner, issues still arise. For Wescom, the mobile trend has meant hurdles.
"The shift to mobile is our most current challenge with employees bringing cell phones to work along with new security paradigms and new devices to support," said Best. "This created the shift to the 24/7/365 support group, since users and members are using these channels around the clock."
To keep pace with all technology initiatives, Best explained that there is constant communication between senior management and various departments. "Our technology board, which is a subset of our board of directors, meets quarterly and we constantly update them on our efforts," he said. "For management we meet each Friday and review projects and other outstanding items."
For Best, the collaborative nature of the industry is its best characteristic affording cross-market growth. "Our willingness to share amongst each other is our greatest asset," he said adding that he regularly attends the CUNA Tech Conference and has attended Finovate forums. "I am constantly researching and chasing new technology and collaborate with many other credit unions to keep learning."
When it comes to pitching new products or services, there are protocols to follow. "We like to prototype and create a case for a service," said Best. "Upgrades are usually done in the name of new features or security. We place a high value on security and as a result many of our initiatives are security related."
The latest advancement is the deployment of a signature pad replacement product that was built in-house. This replaced the older "less functional" grey signature pads with IPAD mini's that are capable of a richer member experience, noted Best. "We think these devices will set the stage for more retail interaction at the point of engagement with a member."
The Member Experience
The member experience continues to be the benchmark for success, according to Best. That experience at credit unions is different and better, Best believes, due to a structural difference from banks. "The demand on credit union IT departments to have a hand in all aspects of the business is unique to our industry. In banks I believe that many departments have IT related resources that directly report in the various departments."
"We don't feel the need to make money as much as we need to serve our members," he added. "As a result, less emphasis is put on fee-based programming and more emphasis is on the member experience."