May 27 '21

Introducing Dr. Jeffrey Robinson, Innovation and Incubation Center Fellow

Filene Fellow, Dr. Jeffrey Robinson, joins the Filene Fill-In to chat about his history with innovation, why it's important for credit unions to innovate, and what he's most looking forward to during his time as the Fellow for the Center for Innovation and Incubation.

Holly Fearing:

Hello everyone and welcome to the Filene Fill-in. I’m Holly Fearing with Filene. The Filene Fill-In is the podcast where we fill you in on what’s been going on here at Filene’s home-base and out and about in the financial services world. If you’re a regular listener of this podcast, you know that we often bring our research fellows on so that you have a chance to hear directly from them, get to know a little more about the work they are doing and learn about the focus of the research centers they lead.

Since the beginning of 2020, Filene has been transitioning from our first round of research centers into their next evolution as we continually seek to provide valuable resources in response to market needs today while also taking a market leading approach to bring credit unions what they will need tomorrow to remain successful long into the future. In March, we officially launched our 6th and final research center of excellence on credit union innovation and incubation. This center studies current trends for how credit unions can respond to members’ desire for greater financial service innovations that meet their evolving needs and preferences. It also explores the general state of innovation across the credit union system.

This is important because 1 in 5 credit union members report that they would be willing to leave their credit union for a bank if innovation was not a priority. Now is not the time to hold onto a rigid system that doesn’t lend itself to innovation. Now is the time to double down on the idea of making progress by replacing the best there is with something still better. To help credit unions succeed in building cultures, processes and systems for innovation, Filene has enlisted Dr. Jeffrey Robinson, Associate Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship and Academic Director of the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development at Rutgers Business School to lead this Center. Dr. Robinson is a passionate advocate for social entrepreneurship, inclusive innovation and economic development. He has spent more than 20 years researching innovation and entrepreneurship, and during that time has consulted with more than 2,000 startups and numerous corporations seeking a competitive edge.

I’m excited to welcome Dr. Robinson on the show today. Also joining in our discussion and making his first appearance on the podcast is Filene’s Senior director of Incubation, Joshua Sledge. Together, Josh and Jeffrey are a tremendous resource for credit unions seeking ways to build their innovation muscles as well as give guidance to leading innovative credit unions on what’s on the horizon from their perspective. Let’s get to it!

All right. Well, welcome to the podcast, Dr. Jeffrey Robinson, and congratulations on being Filene's newest research fellow with us!

Jeffrey Robinson:

Yeah, thank you.

Holly Fearing:

And also welcome to the podcast, Josh, a new Filene'er. So, this is your first time being on Filene’s podcast. I'm really excited to have both of you on.

Josh Sledge:

That's terrific. Thanks Holly.

Holly Fearing:

So, let's jump right in. Jeffrey, as everyone who's been paying attention to our work on the center knows that you are working with Filene to lead our Center on Innovation and Incubation. This Center is ultimately aimed to support and grow the credit union systems innovation capabilities and capacities. So I wanted to start with a simple question, but I think it's important to define what is innovation and more specifically, what is financial innovation?

Jeffrey Robinson:

Well, that's a good place to start that, isn't it? I think we want to define innovation, best way to define it is new ways of doing things, hopefully improved ways of doing things from the way that you were doing it before. If you look back in the, sort of the economic history, and literature, you would find that a lot of this was being talked about back in even the 1930s. I refer to him as old man Schumpeter, one of the legendary economist, was talking about different types of innovation that was keeping the economy moving forward. He talked about businesses that were creating new products, or new methods of production, opening up new markets, new sources of raw materials, or new methods of organizing your firm or your industry, that those were the core sort of set of innovations.

And so, since then, we've certainly matured and have taken those concepts and ideas much further, but it all comes back to doing things in new and different ways. When we talk about it in terms of business, it's really about how we meet our economic and our social goals. And we're credit unions in particular in the financial industry, more cast broadly, we're talking about how you serve your members in the best way, and hopefully in better ways than they have been before [when it comes to] financial needs, how you can meet what the consumers are looking for, and then actually increasing their financial health. I mean, those are all areas where innovation is taking place right now in financial services industry and all of that would be considered financial innovation.

Holly Fearing:

And why is this so important for people or businesses to even seek innovation?

Jeffrey Robinson:

Well, it's important because that's part of the reason that you get new members. Sometimes it's what attracts people to your credit union because they see that you're competitive with the big banks out there, where your services are on par, or in many cases, better than others. And so those innovations, those little things that you do, and they're not always about technology and we'll talk about that, I'm sure. But those little things that make improvements help you to provide those services better.

And when society changes and the economy changes and other things change the it's the innovators that succeed in the long run. Of course we want credit unions to be successful.

So, from a big picture perspective, credit unions, just like any other business or any other industry, need to maintain some level of innovation to be competitive, to improve things and be in, there are lots of things that go into sort of causing innovation to happen. Sometimes you're leading it and sometimes you are reacting to things that are happening. And when society changes and the economy changes and other things change the it's the innovators that succeed in the long run. Of course we want credit unions to be successful.

Holly Fearing:

This has been a very interesting year for innovation I'm sure. So, can you share some examples of what types of financial innovation you're seeing evolve today?

Jeffrey Robinson:

Oh yeah. This has been one of those years, people would say, right? Well, certainly there is everything related to information and communication technologies and, broadly, we call this whole area of financial technology or FinTech. It's a big piece. We can do so much more with our phones than we could have done years ago without appearing in a branch or going to a place where these financial services are happening. You can do all this now through your phone. And so there, there's a whole host of innovations that go along with being able to do things that you used to have to do by telephone or in person. You can do all those things now via an app or by your phone in some way, so that's big. And there are lots of credit unions who are doing things in those space trying to improve services for their members. But it's also being able to provide services to people we haven't served before. I mean, that's innovation as well, or doing it in places where people haven't been served before. So was there's the geographical, don't forget that, even Old Man Schumpeter said that. He said opening up new markets, it’s the where are we doing it? In some cases, and I know some recent case studies in this regard the big banks are pulling out of rural areas or in certain parts of metropolitan areas and guess who's able to go in and open up new branches and provide services. That's innovation as well. Taking things that work other places and bringing them into a new market. And then of course there's what I'll call the gaps in the fault lines that are in our economy. How do we make bridges over these gaps or bridges across these fault lines? Whether it is people who are undocumented or people who are generally unbanked, those are innovations that are taking place in credit unions around the country. And that really speaks to the social aspects of the mission in the cooperative movement.

Holly Fearing:

And Josh, I wanted to get a little bit on Filene's point of view around the topic of innovation and incubation. Can you share why this was such an important research topic for Filene so much so that we put it into our portfolio of research centers?

Josh Sledge:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think it really keys up some of the things that Jeff was mentioning earlier about innovation really being key to credit unions abilities to continue to thrive, to exist, to grow, and to serve their communities well. I know when you look at the landscape overall, you see just so many things changing as it relates to our financial services and really the role of finance in our economy. Obviously the pandemic has really made a big impact on institutions, on individuals, on the way that we conduct our financial transactions. You see a lot more of the FinTech players.

Jeffery mentioned coming into the space with different types of products and services and you just see different ways of working and living that are really starting to come about. And between all of that, there's really a question around what is the role of credit unions and how do they continue to continue to thrive? How do they continue to provide their communities with these institutions for cooperative finance that can, can help them improve their financial health, but we have to figure out how to innovate, how do we respond? Both to the trends that we're seeing now, some of these trends around digitization and other things that Jeffrey mentioned, what are those strategies and tools that are coming about that represent opportunities for credit unions, which ones represent risks or challenges and at the same time how do we look at some of the connections with social, or think about credit unions as a piece of a broader ecosystem and think about where the opportunities might be to work with them. I think figuring that out is going to be key in the short term, but in the long term, it's really about just building that muscle for innovation. How do we build the cultures, the processes the systems that we need as credit unions to adapt to these circumstances and make sure that we're able to provide our members with the best experience and make sure that we're continuing to prosper as institutions?

Holly Fearing:

Yeah, this is really exciting. I know that this topic is going to be a lot of fun to work on and to research, and it's really important that we have the right person leading us in this work. So really excited just to get to know Jeffrey a little bit more. So Jeffrey, can you tell us just about what this means to you to be leading this Center of Excellence for Filene and talk to us about your background area of study and kind of what led you to Filene?

Jeffrey Robinson:

So, this is one of those areas that's sort of near and dear to my heart. I know I've said this to a few folks already, but my own personal history is related to a credit union. My first car loan came from a credit union, from an employee-based credit union at Merck & Company when I was an employee there. And it really shocked me how different it was from the traditional banking experience, what they were able to do, how they operated and that stuck with me from an early age. I was my first real job out of out of college. So it really stuck with me and I've been a member of a credit union pretty much ever since. So to me, it's exciting to actually be able to give back a bit into sort of contribute to the successes, at least that's my goal is to contribute to the success of credit unions. And I think I'm the right person to do it. My specialty after working as an engineer for a number of years, went back to school. And I studied at Columbia business school. I studied entrepreneurship and management and in particular I had a look at economic development in an urban areas, and yes, there again were credit unions. Credit unions were part of the space and the landscape. And some of the folks who are listening to this podcast will probably know how the credit union movement and the community development corporation movements have merged and been parallel to one another over the years, but all of these kinds of things related to some urban churches that I knew of in New York, and then certainly in other areas these kinds of economic empowerment initiatives have always been fascinating to me.

So make a long story short. My academic interest is certainly in entrepreneurship and innovation with a particular angle looking at economic development and how we keep America competitive but also keep America being a place of opportunity. And for the last 20 or so years, I've been teaching people how to be entrepreneurs and how to leverage innovation. So even my consulting work has been in the same space. So, I think all of those things bring me to a nice combination of what we call academic research and the practical application that I think is really, really valuable. It's much of what I see as already been done at a Filene Research Institute. And that's what attracted me to it. It's not just thinking about these kinds of things, but also being engaged in doing it and helping credit unions to facilitate some of the solutions that come out of the research. That to me is a home run. That puts everything in perspective.

Holly Fearing:

The other side of this equation Filene does a lot of vetting and really a robust search for the Fellow to lead our Centers. This is such an important role. So Josh, can you tell us a little bit more about maybe a chance to just brag on Jeffrey, talk about why Jeffrey was the right fit for this role for us?

Josh Sledge:

Absolutely. And in a room when for Filene, we had a great slate of candidates that express interest in working with us on this Center of Excellence, but Jeffery really stood out from the pack in a number of ways. One is just the depth of experiences, as he mentioned, he's really been at this for a while in terms of working with entrepreneurs, working with companies, working with business leaders to both teach innovation as well as to participate in it and get that practical experience and in a number of different contexts as well. We also love, and Jeffrey's mentioned this before, but that experience as well as his perspective, I think really aligns with ours as it comes to thinking about innovation as being broader than technology and thinking about the different ways that institutions can innovate. I think that that broad approach is something we're really interested in knowing that with credit unions, there are just so many opportunities that are in front of them.

We want to be able to figure out quickly which ones really hold the most promise, but make sure we're casting a wide net. And I think Jeffrey's approach to thinking about innovation really aligns with ours in that regard. And then lastly, I think Jeffrey's work teaching executives on the process of innovation was also something that we thought was really key and was going to be a real asset to his role as a Fellow here, given the work that we do when the tight ties and try to create between our research Fellows in the members of the Filene members. So really bringing together those credit union leaders with Jeffery where we can kind of have that back and forth and think about how we can work together and get smarter about how we innovate.

Holly Fearing:

Jeffrey, I know you've already been speaking with a number of Filene’s credit union executives that are engaged with us in a number of ways about innovation. And you recently gave a great presentation around just the essentials of innovation and the ways to be successful in your innovative methodologies. Can you tell us a little bit more about the essentials of innovation?

Jeffrey Robinson:

Sure. Innovations is really applied creativity. And when you think about being creative and people sometimes talk about it as thinking out the box and other things like that. It's nice to have these ideas but making those ideas or turning those ideas into business practices and different products and services and approaches that work. That's really where innovation is and being someone who is innovative is really important.

Innovations is really applied creativity.

So, to me, I think about credit unions, just like any other organization or institution you can get set in your ways. So, what you want to do is realize that rigid systems don't lend themselves to innovation. Because you think about it, it's the way you did it yesterday, it's the way you think you're going to do it tomorrow. So there's no reason to change. But if we always do things the way we've done it, then, what happens next? Well, things change around you and you're not ready for those changes, or other people change other organizations change and people gravitate towards them because they have something that is useful and helpful. And so some of the things to think about, or essential things to think about when you think about innovation is whether you want to be proactive about it, or whether you want to be reactive about it.

So let me just list off three things. So the first one is if you're going to be proactive, then that also means you got to be deliberate about innovation. And that means you've got to build a team that's creative or has innovative people on it. And that that team has to use it using an approach that allows them to be creative. They have a process that they may be using. It's about design thinking, that’s one of the ways that people and organizations will take as an approach to innovation. And what's the product of that is the idea of getting out of the box. So, one thing is you gotta be deliberate about it. If you want to be proactive about it, then, you gotta actually invest in it. You gotta invest in not only the people doing it, but once they come up with something often, that means you gotta try some things out. And then a little bit of experimentation, you've got to scan the environment, adapt to things that you see out there to your own situation. Maybe you test it out with a pilot or an experiment that we like call them. And then if it works, then you make the pivot. If it doesn't work well, maybe you go back to the drawing board. And that process is being proactive often about this, trying to get ahead of the trends as opposed to being reactive. And it often involves co-creation as a term we like to use, where you are bringing different groups of people or stakeholders together. And trying to think about what solutions will work to make things better for the beneficiaries. So, that's two, let me give you a third one. The third one is often you are reactive and that's not the best position to be in, but sometimes it happens. Just like this past year, nobody predicted this COVID-19 period of time. So now you have to adapt, you have to react to what's happening in the environment, whether they're economic changes or technology changes, or maybe the members or the customers in this case, the members, they are demanding something else or looking for other services or require it, and innovation comes into play there. Because now you are rapidly trying to adapt and change to what's happening out there.

So, that's just a few things to think about. But all in all of those cases I just said, we're really thinking about how to break out of the molds that we often, and the routines that we often establish and a high performing organizations, and really start to think about what the next thing might be.

Holly Fearing:

This research Center. It's not just only about innovation, but we also have a side of it all about incubation. Josh, can you tell us about what we mean when we say incubation in this context, and why was it important for a Filene to include both of those concepts in this research Center?

Josh Sledge:

Yeah. And that's a great question, Holly. And when we think about innovation, as Jeffery mentioned earlier, it's really oftentimes about how we're changing the way that we do things based on, either new opportunities or, or in response to something that we're seeing happening in the broader ecosystem. When I think about incubation, I think about, if you think about an incubator, it's really about, you put eggs in and it's bringing chickens to life. So for me, incubation is really about creating those new solutions and especially in the early stage, giving them a place to grow.

So for instance, this could be about if we identify a need or an area where there is some opportunity for credit unions or new techs solution that could potentially play a big role, you could innovate, you could tweak what you're doing within an individual institution, or we have an opportunity to actually start to cultivate some solutions, build them, test them and see if we can get them to a stage that might have application, within a particular institution, or have some broader application to the credit union system. This is where you see a lot of CUSOs have kind of come through this process previously and really grown to provide a lot of value and become really key cogs in the in the credit union system.

So, this, I think is also the piece that relates to Filenes Incubator our program, where we have the capability to run pilots in partnership with some of our the credit unions in our membership to actually, get some solutions or new ideas to the table and, build some prototypes, get them out into the real world and see what happens. that piece of the puzzle is something we wanted to make sure we included. So as we think about ways that we can adapt, we can also think about ways we can build something new

Holly Fearing:

Jeffrey, you've stated when we first brought you on that you're excited about doing research in this function, because you want to study, specifically in the credit union business model, what aspects of the model are changing, how they're changing, who's changing them, and what kinds of innovations are coming out because of those changes. And in light of the recent year, this whole pandemic, I'm curious to know from your perspective, how the pandemic has influenced this change and the concept of innovation and initial ideas around what's changing, who's changing them. What are your reactions to that?

Jeffrey Robinson:

Yeah, there's a lot to that. The big thing to think about is the pandemic has made innovation even more important. When things really shut down here in the US back in March of 2020, and nobody was prepared for that. So then it was, well, how do we do this? How can we maintain the same operations? Should we, how do we get things done when people can't come to the branch? And while there had been, may have been some dabbling in that before it really precipitated a whole lot more. I can't remember a busier time when I was using all these E-sign, electronically signed documents over a period of time. That technology existed. There've been apps and all kinds of services out there that would do this kind of stuff, but we weren't using them. And now we are. And particularly talking about a credit union, I know I applied for a home equity line of credit during that period of time. I know a lot of folks did all kinds of home improvements, just like we did during this period. And in doing that we didn't have to do much going into the branch because we could do these things electronically, not only the application process, but then of course, signing off on the final documents. And that it's just one example. So every business, every industry had to figure things out, credit unions were not immune to that. So there was more of a need for innovation.

And then we've changed the way that we interacted. We changed the way that we what our expectations are and how we use video conferences. What we would like to have in terms of services and service delivery. So all of those things are part of the picture. And so for me as a researcher, that's fascinating, we've had this, this this economic and societal shock. So what was happening before, what's happening during, what will happen afterwards in terms of innovation? That's a question that nobody knows the answer to because we haven't, we haven't really asked it, and now we have a chance to actually look at it and better understand what people are thinking about and how they react in some very peculiar situations. I'm curious, who does this kind of innovation in the credit union industry? I want to know, what's their motivation for doing it? What was their timeline? What are the outcomes? So these changes can’t, are these changes for forever, or these were these temporary changes? Were these things last, I mean, there's so many unanswered questions. And as a, researcher, as somebody who talks about this stuff, thinks about this stuff, getting some real data, talking to real people who were making these decisions in real time, it'll be interesting and fascinating to hear what they have to say. And then to communicate that back out to the industry or to my students or other people's students. I mean, I love them make some case studies out of some of these things, because this is the leadership and business leadership, under duress. What do you do and how do you do it? I don't know that there'll be other pandemics coming forward, but there's always some shock economic or societal shocks. And it's understanding how we as business leaders function under those times again as another fascinating research topic.

Holly Fearing:

You bring up a really good point and a case for innovation. I bet the credit unions that were already pretty far down the road in creating solutions for their services to be conducted digitally without needing to physically be present, for example, for signing documents. I'm sure those organizations were so glad that they had already invested in that kind of technology, that kind of thinking, and it set them, ahead when the pandemic hit and you couldn't have predicted it, but in a way you can prepare by imagining if what the future might hold. Josh, I'm also curious from your perspective around the idea of testing and incubating, because of what's all changed over the last year from the pandemic. Are you seeing anything different in what credit unions are wanting to explore or test or look for solutions to?

Josh Sledge:

Yeah, it's a great question. I mean, I think what we've seen is the number of questions has multiplied, right? There are just so many things going on at the same time with credit unions, trying to respond to the pandemic, both in terms of how they serve their members, but also their employees and staff and how they're managing their, their branches and buildings and making sure they're taking care of all the different stakeholders that they're working with. There's this digital transformation happening at the same time. Before the pandemic, we were seeing a lot of attention being paid to, the emerging gig economy and changes in the way people are working. A lot of attention being called the economic inequality and a lot of struggles we were seeing with income volatility and other issues that were particularly affecting low-income and underserved communities. So, you've got all of these questions in front of you right now in ways that I think makes incubation and innovation, like Jeffrey said, so much more important. And in particular, as we think about it at Filene what we hope to be able to do is to be able to help all of our members navigate those different opportunities, different pathways together, so that they don't have to do it each on their own, right. If we're going to make some mistakes, we can use the incubator to do that. Let's run some pilots and tests. And if we learned that it didn't work, hopefully we can avoid others go from going down a path that may not bear a lot of fruit and vice versa, where they direct their energy and time and attention to the things that really have the highest level of potential.

So, I think that this idea of how do we innovate, how do we incubate? There's just so many different questions that are on the table. And each one of those really serves as the basis for testing some new things and trying some different approaches and really thinking about how to innovate. So, I think at this moment, that we’re excited to dig in, but we know that the stakes are pretty high in a lot of credit unions are looking for that type of guidance and opportunity for so that they can make the best bets with the time and resources they have.

Holly Fearing:

Jeffrey, can you tell us a little bit about what some of those early projects that you're about to start working on, or what you're most excited about getting to work on?

Jeffrey Robinson:

Sure! There are several things we're going to bring into the launch in the next six months. I'm really excited just to get sort of the lay of the land. What have credit unions done that have been innovative over these, this last year and even the year proceeding that? Because that's becomes a baseline and we'd be able to see how things change. And we have some, some evidence that innovation is up, but of course you say innovation, well what do we mean by innovation? One of the things that I've been using with executives at different companies, when we talk about innovation, is a framework that's called the 10 types of innovation. And it comes from the consultancy called Doblin. And the folks at Doblin have a really nice research paper and a book about this. And it's evidence that there are so many different ways in which a company or an industry can be innovative in terms of how they approach the experience, what kinds of products and services they offer, or how they configure things internally that have some implications for how they work externally. And I'd love to see how the credit union industry really looks when compared to other industries, each industry would have its own profile. And I don't think anybody's ever done that when I'm looking at credit unions. So that, is an exciting one because, we can do as a survey and start to get to some answers. We can also see how things change over time.

I think I mentioned the case studies before. There's certainly some great case studies out there that would be useful for the industry useful for the movement of credit unions to understand and to see but I teach classes on social innovation and entrepreneurship, and I'd love to be able to bring some of this into the classroom. And I also think one of the other things we've talked about is that we know there are some real stars out there who have been very good or very effective at leading innovation and love to interview some of them and bring their experiences and their knowledge back to all the members of the Filene Research Institute and anyone else who was willing to listen.

Holly Fearing:

Josh, what is Filene's ultimate goal with this research Center and the impact that we hope to see it have on the credit union industry?

Josh Sledge:

Yeah. I think the impact is twofold. One is making sure that we are informing and digging into the questions that really matter to credit unions the most when it comes to setting their innovation agenda, right? We want to do the research to understand some of the current trends that are really driving the conversation, or really might service some options that our members are thinking about and be able to kind of, lay the landscape out in front of them, show them where there may be some opportunities and kind of give them that intel. But also we want to use this as an opportunity to, again, innovate together, bringing together our members, to make sure that as we go through this process collectively, and we think through and share our learnings and even our mistakes. I think this is a chance for us to make sure we're getting further, faster by working together.

But also we want to use this as an opportunity to, again, innovate together, bringing together our members, to make sure that as we go through this process collectively, and we think through and share our learnings and even our mistakes. I think this is a chance for us to make sure we're getting further, faster by working together.

We really want the Center to serve as a hub, right by bringing together those people and institutions to are really leading innovation strategies to not only again, look at those innovation areas, but also think about how we innovate and how we build those environments and cultures that really allow credit unions to be adaptable and flexible. At the end of the day, we really hope to see our members and others that are engaging with our research really increase their innovation competency, their innovation expertise, and then have that ultimately reflect and better products and services that help credit unions in their communities grow and thrive.

Holly Fearing:

Unsurprisingly, I'm a huge fan of credit unions, much like everyone else at Filene. Jeffrey, you mentioned that cooperative finance is more than just a business model to you that it's a movement and that you like to be involved in movements that matter. Can you elaborate on why do, you believe that credit unions are a movement that matters?

Jeffrey Robinson:

Yeah, that's a great question. When I think about the cooperative finance movement and credit unions, it just reminds me that we have a different way of doing business. And that really starts to think about more than just the financial bottom line, it’s a double bottom line.

There's this dual mission that you're not just thinking about financial or economic returns, but you're also thinking about the communities that you serve the members, thinking about how increase their and their wellbeing. So, one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century is economic inclusion. And I think the cooperative finance movement matters because it has some answers to the question, how do we address economic inclusion? How do we include more people in the economy? When, in the current way things are set up is there's lots of reasons why people could kind of drop out of the formal economy or aren't able to be able to use the tools of the economy to help themselves and their family. So what do we do? How do we do that?

Well, I think the cooperative finance movement has some answers to that. For example, credit unions, don't charge people exorbitant fees to use their own money, or when they make a mistake, they charged them on all these amounts of money. That's one of the solutions, I mean when I think about credit unions, credit unions figure out ways to increase the financial health of households and communities, and they think about how to invest in those communities. And that matters, that matters to the businesses, that matters to the to the individuals and their children, and again, overall to the community. Credit unions help people get access to capital whether it's for home loans or car loans like I had, or for other kinds of loans that lets them get to work or buy a house or build a business. That's the kind of thing where we're talking about that lets people drop down roots in communities and build neighborhoods. So that, to me, those are the kinds of things that matter. It's not about just exploiting or extracting money out of the communities. It’s how can we invest how can we include and that matters, that matters to me, and I'm sure for credit unions that matters, but I think it needs to become a something that other people realize matters as well.

Holly Fearing:

A lot of times we speak about our research appealing to both the head and the heart and the credit union movement is certainly one that is overflowing with the aspects that speak to our heart. And it's easy to see why that matters. I'm curious though, if you have experience with innovation or entrepreneurship in other industries that you think credit unions can learn from that you've worked with.

Jeffrey Robinson:

Oh yeah. I've done some work looking at tech ventures that are in or around Silicone Valley. And I've looked at the companies that are doing international business, but they're based out of the United States. I mean, there's lots of different groups I've studied over the years and work with a lot of entrepreneurs. And when it comes to innovation, I mean, I'll repeat myself from some things I said on a think tank a meeting we had a few weeks ago, you gotta be intentional. It doesn't happen, innovation doesn't happen by accident. At least not with not with big established companies, especially if your credit union is, 20, 30 years old. You're like, oh, why don't we just do new stuff we been successful for all these years? Well, there's some good reasons why you need to always think about improving business processes and improving things for your members, but it doesn't happen by accident. It happens intentionally. So that's number one, you gotta be intentional about it.

Secondly, you can't think that innovation is only about technology. And I love tech, I love tech as much as the next person I've got the smart phones and smart watches and all these things that are out there it's like anybody else. So I'm not anti-technology. But I also realize that technology is a tool. And you gotta have, you don't just do technology for technology sake, you gotta think about these different types of innovation. There are plenty of companies who've realized that the customer experience is really important and it might have a technology aspect to it, but it also might be how you figure out ways to engage your members and do a phone call or engage them via email that you think about how to deliver the services in different ways or think about how your customers value these other dimensions, like social aspects. There are a lot of conscious consumers out there. And there are, frankly, there are other financial institutions out there who are presenting themselves as very eco-conscious or society conscious type of financial institutions. And the reality is the originators of all of that were credit unions, so what's old is new again, maybe, right? You got to think about how you're presenting that to your members as an example of other ways beyond technology that innovation is important.

That said the research that's been done on this is my third point, and the research that's been done on this by Doblin and others shows that it's not just innovating on one dimension that makes sense, but the best innovation seemed to be combinations, combinations of types. So, it's not just about the customer experience. It's also about how you're configuring things internally. And the combination makes for something that is really effective or advantageous. And that, it's those kinds of lessons that they can learn from other industries, that a credit union can learn about and adapt to their own circumstances. And I'll really look forward to doing some of that work and facilitating it and exposing it to folks and giving it to them and in different forms and formats.

Holly Fearing:

Yeah. And I'm excited that we are going to have an event coming up late this summer, focused on cultivating innovation. That's going to be combining our Center of Innovation and Incubation together with our research Center on Emerging Technology. So Josh, can you talk a little bit about why somebody might want to tune in for that event and maybe how else they can get involved in our innovation and incubation research and ideas in the meantime?

Josh Sledge:

Absolutely. I'm looking forward to that event as well. I mean, I think this is a as almost kind of a preview for what we’re going to be talking about and digging in deeper in August with both Jeffrey, as well as Dr. Bill Maurer, who leads the Center for Emerging Technology. It’s a good opportunity for us to look at that innovation landscape and a lot of these types of emerging products in the financial services space, as well as what we're seeing more broadly. I think we'll get a chance to look at that, but then also work together and hear from a lot of the members and attendees at credit unions, particularly to learn about how they're instituting innovation and incubation within their own their own institutions. I'm really fascinated to learn more about how credit unions, many of which thought may not have thought of themselves as innovators found themselves, being able to react quickly and adapt when the cost call for it, right, in the moment of the pandemic. So, this upcoming event will really be a chance for us to dive deeper into some of these areas we've been talking about here, where we see some potential where there's some big questions that need to be answered and really return to some of our experts, as well as leaders in the credit union space to hear about what's on the horizon. And again, do some of that innovation together.

Holly Fearing:

Fantastic. Yeah, we'll put the information on that event in the show notes for this episode. So we just have a couple of minutes left and I would love to use that time to get to know Jeffrey a little bit more. So we ask all of our fellows some personal questions at the end of these podcasts. Jeffrey, can you tell us just a little bit more about other professional or research pursuits that you find most interesting in your work that's maybe tangential to innovation or just not even related at all?

Jeffrey Robinson:

Oh, yeah, I do some other things. I mean, some of the research that I've done and I'm doing relates to social entrepreneurship, so these are those great and interesting people who are trying to solve social problems but use entrepreneurship as their means to do it. And that’s taken me around the world really talking about that, because I’ve looked at it and explored it in Russia, in South Africa, all across China, and also looked at it here in the United States. And so that’s one of the big areas that I do some things in. And then the other one is specifically around innovation and entrepreneurship and the diversity in this space or in this case, the lack of diversity in the space for technology entrepreneurship. So I've done some work, I'm doing some work right now with national science foundation trying to better understand how they can diversify and be more inclusive in spaces around what we call STEM innovation, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and the entrepreneurship that goes along with that for me, that's like a national priority because we've got to meet if we want to maintain our national competitiveness in terms of technology. We gotta make sure everybody who wants to contribute can contribute. And that's just not the case right now. So there, various efforts that I'm evaluating and trends that we're seeing and pilot programs that are being worked out right now that I'm monitoring and doing some research on to better understand how we can do that better.

Holly Fearing:

And in your time outside of your academic research work, if you have any leftover, what do you like to spend that time doing?

Jeffrey Robinson:

Well, I spend a lot of time with family. My wife and I have teens and tweens right now. So, three children, 16, 13, and 11. And, they keep us busy. We prepare one for college and follow the other one around for soccer and the other one around for Boy Scouts. That takes a lot of time. But when we can, when we travel, I love to travel. I love to listen to jazz, go to jazz clubs. So I'm looking forward to the pandemic being over so that I can get back to going to some nice jazz clubs in different places.

Holly Fearing:

What has been one of your favorite places to travel or visit?

Jeffrey Robinson:

Oh, I mean, I've done a lot of traveling. I really liked going to Kenya. I really had a connection when I was traveling in South Africa and in Ghana, I have some favorite jazz spots in London and I really enjoy traveling in China, Shanghai, Beijing, and Chengdu. So I mean, those, all those places surprisingly had jazz spots that I found. that's really cool. I can't even imagine, like,

Holly Fearing:

That's really cool. I can't even imagine, like, I wouldn't expect jazz clubs in China. That's really cool. Yeah. Well, I hope we can get back to traveling again in some sort of near future timeframe. Okay, so just one final question. Do you have any last parting advice for credit unions that want to make a difference in their members' lives? And that, we say that stat often enough that one in five consumers have considered changing financial institutions to a more innovative institution. So those credit unions that don't want to lose their members to somebody that may be perceived, or a financial institution that may be perceived as more innovative, any advice that you have for credit unions.

Jeffrey Robinson:

Yeah. The one thing I would say, and this is, maybe this isn't surprise folks, but it surprised me, is that you need to take advantage of the resources that Filene has. And you might say, okay, yeah, that's because, he's a Fellow and he's got to say that. That's not why I say it. The reason I say it is because number one, there's a lot on the website. And much of it publicly available, that's available for people to read and just to get a different perspective. Sometimes when I deal with the executives, they're all caught up in their own head. They have people who say yes to them a lot, and what you need are some folks to think who think differently to give you some different perspectives. So, the convenings and the think tanks and the opportunities to talk to other business leaders and other credit union leaders, that is so valuable. So, I'm encouraging folks to get engaged. If you know that this is something you need to work on. then you definitely get engaged with the Filene Research Institute. And then my last thing is, my advice to CEOs all the time is when you find those passionate people inside your organization who are well connected to different parts of the credit union, who were innovative give them some resources and give them some room. You'll be amazed at what comes back to you, because those are the folks who, with the right training and the right mentoring, can really be impactful in your organization.

Holly Fearing:

I love that. Give them resources and room. That's fantastic. I couldn't have said any of that better myself, right Josh?

Josh Sledge:

Absolutely. Absolutely. I get that. You can all see why we're really excited to have Jeffrey on board. So thanks Holly for the conversation.

Holly Fearing:

Yeah! Well, that's a wrap, so thank you so much, Jeffrey. Thank you so much, Josh. This was a really great conversation.

Josh Sledge:

Thank you.

Jeffrey Robinson:

Thank you.

Holly Fearing:

Alright, that’s it for the Fill-In folks, thank you for listening. And of course – a huge thank you to Dr. Jeffrey Robinson and Josh Sledge for taking the time to talk with us today. We hope you’re JAZZED (pun intended, Dr. Robinson) about flexing your innovation muscles and if you are, I recommend you reach out to Josh at [email protected] right now while the endorphins are flowing to learn how you can get more involved in the work we’re doing with around credit union innovation and incubation. While you’re at it, take a moment to register for our Innovation research event, in which Jeffrey is teaming up with another podcast fan favorite and Fellow for our Center for Emerging Technology, Dr. Bill Maurer. This one is double exciting because on August 9-10, in partnership with DCUC's annual conference in Naples, FL., we’ll be holding our first in-person event of the year. In the spirit of innovation however, it will not be held strictly in-person but rather in hybrid with a virtual opportunity to attend as well. Visit filene.org/events to register now for that event, called “Cultivating Innovation and Humanizing Technology”

Before we go, I want to give a shout out to the sponsors of our Center of Excellence for Innovation and Incubation for making all this work possible -- American Airlines Federal Credit Union, BECU, 4Front Credit Union, Christian Financial Credit Union, Coastal Credit Union, Corporate Central Credit Union and WEOKIE. If you liked this episode, please do rate us on Apple Podcasts so more people can find us! And make sure you’re Subscribed to the Filene Fill-In Podcast so you can keep up with what’s going on at Filene! You’ll find us on APPLE PODCASTS, Stitcher, Soundcloud, Google Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts! To get in touch about today’s show email me at [email protected] or find us on Twitter at @FileneResearch.

Until next time. Thanks everyone!