When Pam Brodsack graduated from the University of Northern Iowa in 1994, she was the only female student with a degree in management of information systems. And while women are still the minority in the tech sector today – and particularly at credit unions – it’s safe to say things have changed in the last two decades.
“It’s no longer taboo to see women in technology leadership positions,” said Brodsack, who in 2015 was named chief technology officer of TMG, a card processing and payment solutions firm (formerly The Members Group). “We are CTOs, CIOs, CISOs. We’re having an impact within our organizations. We’re winning awards. We’re starting our own firms and we’re innovating new solutions.”
In February, Brodsack was nominated for CTO of the year by the Technology Association of Iowa. The group recognized a number of her accomplishments, including her recent success in building a cross-functional team that develop a new enterprise-level application for TMG.
In Brodsack’s view, there is less gender segregation in IT today because technology is no longer an “industry” or “career path.” Rather, she said, technology is “woven into everything we do.”
New links in the blockchain
In an effort to benefit the payments industry, Brodsack participated in a joint study last year with CO-OP Financial Services and Mercator Advisory Group on blockchain technology. The end result was a white paper co-authored by Brodsack titled “Will Blockchain Change the World?” The goal, she explained, was to produce a strategic decision framework tool that will serve as an evaluation template for financial institutions exploring blockchain use cases.
“Blockchain is a bleeding-edge technology, so personally I’m intrigued by it,” said Brodsack. “It’s sort of like the beginning of the Internet, with the potential to change everything we know about operating a business, communicating with members, authenticating users, moving money. The sky’s the limit.”
One of the leading advantages of blockchain, she explained, is the possibility of injecting transparency and immutability into any situation, project or process its tracking.
“These qualities make it possible for us to imagine a single source of truth – one ultra-secure system that stores every piece of data we will ever need, never forgets it and makes it available to everyone,” she said.
While Brodsack conceded that it’s too early to definitively determine whether or not blockchain technology is right for credit unions, she said there is cause for meaningful dialogue.
“What we are telling our credit union clients as we continue to research blockchain – alongside both CO-OP Financial Services and Mercator Advisory Group – is to lead with the business problem. Rather than ask ourselves, ‘How can we use blockchain in our business?,’ we need to start with, ‘What are the problems we want to solve?’”
For blockchain to be successful, Brodsack said, four significant hurdles need to be addressed: interoperability, ownership, complicated history and integration.
“Blockchain technology is already working within the financial services industry – largely in beta or pilot, but it’s already here,” said Brodsack. “When the technology will become scalable, secure or standardized enough for mass adoption, that’s many years off.”
Staying one step ahead
Brodsack may be making waves in the credit union movement, but she’s still relatively new to the industry.
After graduating from college, she began her professional career at the Cedar Falls, Iowa-based CBE Companies, a global provider of outsourced call center solutions. Before departing in 2013, she rose through the ranks to become vice president & security officer of IT.
“My first boss invested in me and encouraged me to better my skills at any given opportunity and to go for an executive-level position at the age of 29,” said Brodsack. “I try to emulate that unwavering, and maybe even unpopular, support for the things and people I believe in because I saw how much of an impact it can have.”
Before joining TMG, Brodsack served as CTO for ERC, a debt collection agency headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla. During this time she also earned a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Southern New Hampshire University.
Over the last year, TMG’s technology department has grown from 60 employees to 99. “In line with national averages, 25 percent of our team is female,” noted Brodsack. “The majority of our employees are in their 30s and 40s.”
Brodsack's team is charged with being one step ahead of the technology curve. To this end, she continually meets with credit union executives to determine what their pain points are and what technology solutions would benefit their membership.
“Much of what we hear is about the need for better integration – better ways to plug systems into the core, better ways for disparate systems to talk with one another. Flexible, nimble application program interfaces (APIs) are the answer in part,” she said. “Our team has a lot of history and expertise with APIs. In fact, we like to say we were building APIs before APIs were cool.”
Sometimes the best talent isn't in-house
When asked what differentiates the credit union industry from the other industries she has worked in, Brodsack responded: “It’s conservative.” In her view, many credit unions are “lagging behind” when it comes to technology and seamless integration of disparate systems.
“It’s frustrating to see legacy tech, such as core systems still on mainframe, standing in the way of API integration and other exponential technologies,” she said. “Credit unions need a better foundation and standardization so evolving, adapting – even performing an update – doesn’t become too costly to deploy.”
Brodsack had additional advice for senior management. In order to evolve, she said, management teams need to include a “true chief technology officer,” even if that means hiring from outside the movement. In her experience, the person in charge of IT at a credit union often times is the person who understands “technology the best” out of the field of players. As a result, they are appointed the CTO position.
“Credit unions should go out and find this talent. It’s out there, and there are individuals – people like me – who would welcome the challenge of turning things around for an organization,” she said.