Feb 25 '22

Out of the Comfort Zone

Hear from My Community Credit Union's Chief Information Officer, Randy Stolp and his unique journey to i3.

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. Let's take a trip back in time to big.bright.minds, 2021, where we ran into a very enthusiastic supporter of the Filene i3 program, Randy Stolp. Now Randy promised he had a very unique and interesting story about how he came to be part of i3 and he definitely delivered. But before we get more into that, let's look back in time again. This time, if we look all the way back in history, we see the organizations that implement innovations are the ones that succeed, but to be that kind of organization, we need to grow and develop innovative people. This is exactly what Randy is doing. And he serves as a model for not only how organizations can develop their people, but how individuals can take hold of their own destiny, push out of their comfort zone and get there even faster. Filene's latest edition of the Asterisk magazine is all about innovation and incubation. I recommend that everyone interested in Randy's story, well, first keep listening to it here, then as soon as you're done, go check out the Asterisk volume nine on Filene's website, at Filene.org/theasterisk. In it you will learn how Filene fellow Dr. Jeffrey Robinson of our Center for Innovation and Incubation defines innovation. He says that innovation is really applied creativity, and that it's nice to have ideas, but turning them into practices, products, or approaches that improve upon something else is really what innovation is about.

If you know much about the i3 program, you know that it is comprised of the industry's most innovative leaders. So this episode is dedicated to the ones that push boundaries and expand their comfort zones. The secret sauce of Filene's recipe for innovation is not just talking about ideas, but rather taking them to the next step into incubation, and maybe even if they prove worthy, into implementation. Dr. Robinson works with all sorts of organizations from start-ups to Fortune 500s and he reminds us that credit unions will need to focus on innovation within their organizations to remain competitive. He's never been subtle about this point. If we don't innovate, we die. This may be true and Chief Information Officer Randy Stolp from My Community Credit Union is doing something about it. Here's his story.

All right, thank you Randy for joining us. So we have Randy Stolp from My Community Credit Union. You are a first year i3er, and I wanted to bring you on, we're here at big.bright.minds, and I wanted to grab you to have you be able to tell your i3 story, your journey, you have a unique story to tell. So let's just kick it off by, you know, talking a little bit about, well, first of all, how did you even get involved in the i3 program?

Randy Stolp

(03:22): Sure, thanks Holly, I appreciate you having me on. You know, I've had several friends that were i3ers over the years. I've been in credit unions for about 20 years now and I have a couple friends that did it, and it was always kind of on my list, out there, but it seemed like life just kind of got in the way. And when we were all sitting around and working from home during the pandemic, the opportunity came up and I threw in my application. I just decided it was time.

Holly Fearing

(03:49): That's awesome. And so you got accepted obviously. And when did you start? When was your first meeting?

Randy Stolp

Our first meeting was in March of this year.

Holly Fearing

March of this year. Okay, so that must have been a unique experience to start a group like i3, when everything was virtual. And so how did that impact the experience?

Randy Stolp

(04:10): It was, but if you think about it, you know, that's kind of what we're about. We're innovation and we're resilient. And so it really wasn't much of a stretch to think, okay, well, we're gonna just all start on zoom meetings and we're gonna see each other with video conferencing for the first few months until we can have live conferences again.

Holly Fearing

(04:29): Yeah, and how did that go? Did you feel like you guys were just disconnected? Was it a disadvantage or was it an advantage even?

Randy Stolp

(04:37): I think it was both. Like you said, by that time we had been, you know, over a years worth of pandemic, so I think we were all pretty comfortable with the video conference scene and we were able to see everybody. It was interactive still and at the same time, I think it did give us that flexibility as much as we're just craving the human attention and being in person, it gave us that opportunity to connect more often and see each other more often, where if we were just relying on the regular meetings, that we probably wouldn't have been using the video as often.

Holly Fearing

(05:08): So is this the first time that a lot of you have met each other in real life?

Randy Stolp

(05:13): I met about 10 of our team members in Naples, in August. I was one of the ones that was able to go to that conference. But for most of us, this is the first big event that we've been to together.

Holly Fearing

(05:26): And I know you have kind of a unique journey that you've had to take to be able to do this program and what it means to you. So can you walk us through a little bit of that?

Randy Stolp

(05:37): Sure. You know, my whole journey as a CIO, it feels like has been interesting. IT is not necessarily my background. I've been around IT growing up my whole life. My dad is a programmer, brother is a programmer, my uncle is a programmer, so I've been around it and I've tried it a few times and frankly, I probably like to talk too much that I can't sit still in a room and code programs by myself. So I never really, that wasn't my career. I was in sales and operations. And when I came to My Community, I interviewed to be our chief operating officer. I would've been over our branches and marketing and call center, all things that were much more are in line with my experience. And after the interview process was over and our CEO called to make the offer, the first thing she said was we just finished our strategic planning and everything we're doing for the next three years hinges on technology and I don't have anybody in charge of technology at the credit union. I think I need a CIO more than I need a COO. I think I can get by without that position. We've got a great VP, really strong in that area of operations and are you still interested?

Holly Fearing

(06:50): So you interviewed for a job and then you were offered a different one?

Randy Stolp

(06:54): I was. You know, it was strange. I was sitting in, I was living in Phoenix at the time, I'm in Texas now with My Community and you know, after I picked myself up off the floor and sat back in my chair, I said yes, and just started. You know, we went through expectations clearly and things aligned and I took a deep breath and I took a leap of faith and I jumped in. I like doing things that are different and help me think differently. and that's kind of, you know, I tell that story because I think that's kind of how I got to i3 eventually.

Holly Fearing

(07:27): Right, cause you needed to look to resources for, okay, how am I gonna do this job that's maybe not what I've naturally been doing before.

Randy Stolp

(07:37): Right and you know, Filene has such great information, is such a huge resource for credit unions and there's just so much value being around people that think like this. I've said these two conferences that I've been to of Filene's are so different than anything else that I've been to. And it's really, as crazy as my life is and as busy as I am, this actually recharges my brain a lot, to sit here and to have these kind of discussions. So, you know, again with i3, I kind of had to take a leap of faith. It came up and I was interested in doing it. I've been looking at joining for quite a while and you know, a pandemic kind of made me rethink all of those things. I actually restarted, I started my MBA, at the end of summer 2020.

Holly Fearing

That's right. I remember we talked about that.

Randy Stolp

(08:28): And then i3 came up and, you know, I threw my name in for i3 as well. But I've been able to balance it. I'm a big believer in work life harmony. I'm kind of all, you know, I try to do what I love and find that if I focus on balance, then it's one or the other, and something's always out of balance. When it's work life harmony, it's kind of integrated and it's easier to flow in and out of everything. And it doesn't feel quite as taxing. I do get a little bit stressed and tired sometimes.

Holly Fearing

(09:04): Cause you thought that a good balance would be to take a new job, join i3 and get your MBA at the same relative time.

Randy Stolp

(09:13): Well fortunately I've been in this role for about seven years now. So that part of it was not so new anymore, but I'm always looking to grow and continue to learn. And even during the pandemic and even during some challenging budget times. Our credit union is a little under 500 million in assets, which is a pretty good size credit union, but it also means that we don't always have a travel and conference budget and a training budget when other things are happening. And we were faced, we're based in west Texas, primarily. We do have an office a little bit north of Dallas and Allen, Texas, but we're really kind of constrained by the oil economy still. We're balancing that out with the move to the Dallas area where it's not as driven by the oil industry, but we were facing, you know, low oil prices, which affects all of our members that are working in that business. And so we had really cut back on expenses. We weren't doing a lot of travel and conference and training and then the pandemic hit and we really, we thought we had, you know, cut back before and we really, all of our employees just pulled together and cut back some more. But I felt that it was important enough, there's no more important time when those kinds of things are going on to get involved in those kinds of things and to look at, you know, how are we gonna solve the future problems of our credit union system? I think when I went through the i3 interviews, that was the first time I'd heard credit union system instead of credit union movement and that meant something, a little different to me. And it was really interesting. And so I just decided to all in and I actually pay for my i3 out of my own pocket. Filene has been gracious and generous in providing some scholarship that helps offset some of that, but I pay for all of my own travel, my hotel, and I take PTO. I take my vacation time to do this because it's just that important to me and I didn't wanna wait to start. My credit union and our CEO has been very supportive of all of the opportunities I find to continue to grow and develop, but it might have meant waiting another couple of years until our financial statements had rebounded and oil prices were back and the pandemic was over, you know, if it's ever gonna be over, right? So I didn't wanna wait and I've always kind of taken that idea from John Maxwell, I think is where I heard it first, but I'm sure a lot of other leadership greats have said it, if you're not gonna invest in yourself, why would, should anybody else.

Holly Fearing

(11:51): Right and that's pretty proactive of you to take control of your own growth trajectory and say, you know, I want this now and if I meet one roadblock over here, I'm gonna be innovative and find another way around. And fortunately for you, you found a way to make it work despite the challenges, which is exactly what i3 is kind of all about it

Randy Stolp

(12:16): It is. It's exactly right. So it fits. All of it's fitting together, right?

Holly Fearing

(12:21): Yeah, that's so great. I mean, I think it's wild to even think though that somebody would do this as your PTO, but obviously this is your passion and it's probably, I mean, you know, the cliche saying is, if you love what you do, then you don't have to work a day in your life. So do you feel like this is worth it? Is this your vacation for your brain and your heart to come to these types of events?

Randy Stolp

(12:52): It really is actually, as busy as I am and you would think adding a conference into that on vacation time would make it worse, it actually makes it better. It's the way that I recharge. Being around this, this kind of thought leadership in our industry and in our system, it's just, it reenergizes me and it gets me back into the game, so, yeah. I'm excited to use my vacation time for this. It's fun.

Holly Fearing

(13:18): Well and it's a commitment. So you're locked in for doing that unless things change. Unless your credit union starts to be able to, you know, maybe you grow, maybe things change, maybe the environment is better and in a year or so, they can cover it for you maybe, but you've committed to doing this. So, I mean, that's such a huge testimony to the quality of this program that you feel that that's what you need to be doing.

Randy Stolp

(13:47): It is. I mean, it's MBA level education easily. It's easily as challenging and as rewarding as my MBA program is. The curriculum that we go through, what we're learning to do and the relationships that we're making. I mean, everything we do in credit unions is about relationships and we're making great friends and great colleagues and we'll have that forever. It's like a second family. You know, I went to CUNA Management School, we always said, you know, we gained a family and I feel like I've gained another family with Filene and i3.

Holly Fearing

(14:20): So what is next for you on your i3 journey?

Randy Stolp

(14:24): We just finished our environmental scans. That was a really interesting, kind of eye opening look at what's affecting credit unions in our environment from outside. And my team looked at FinTech as both disruptors and as partners. And really the thing that came across that was the sense of urgency that we all need to have in addressing that so that we don't lose members and that we can continue to have a great member experience. One of my partners on the team, Mai, she put it really well earlier today when we were talking that our members don't really care. They like us, right? Don't get me wrong, but they like us, but they don't really care. A bank, a credit union, a FinTech, there's just kind of a, there's a base expectation there. They expect base cyber security and information security.
They expect the experience to be a certain way. So they just want it to be easy and they're gonna gravitate towards whoever makes it the easiest for them. So we need to pay attention to that and we need to find ways to either develop our own FinTech or use our partners that can help bring that to us and really put a sense of urgency around it. That was the thing that came out of it. So next up, we're focusing inward and we're looking at credit unions that are innovative. So I'm excited that we get to keep our same team together, cause we worked really well together, we had a lot of fun, and we are going to look for credit unions that are doing some really innovative and different things in their market internally and externally for their members and then we are gonna put together a campaign to highlight the best of the best credit unions, innovation wise, and have a huge social media voting campaign. And the top winner of that is going to be presented at GAC at the Filene Breakfast.

Holly Fearing

(16:21): Oh, I love that. Yeah, that is very cool. Now I'm curious to know what kind of value you're bringing back from this program back to your credit union in the ways that you are improving in your own role, but then also influencing a culture of innovation and bringing new ideas back to your credit union. Have you seen already that that's starting to happen as a payoff of you being part of i3?

Randy Stolp

(16:48): I have actually. We're just getting our feet wet. We just two years ago went through a core in home banking and digital conversion, so that was quite a big effort, several years leading up to it and then a good full year of preparation for the actual conversion and then the following, you know, all of the work that goes on for, you know, another year after that. So we're kind of coming out of that and we're coming out of the pandemic like everybody else, but we've been able to take it back. And we've already talked to Megan at Filene and looked at one of the incubator projects to see if we could do one of the AI based lending things that's in the incubator right now. And we've done some things on our own to just start talking to some of the different FinTechs. We actually, our CFO was, I talked to him about GoHenry and Chime and some of the things that my environmental scan team was finding and he took it upon himself to start trying to reach out to them and contact them and he was successful. We spoke to the United States president of GoHenry about partnering with them. Didn't go as well as we would've liked for it too. As we learned in our environmental scan is we talk about partnering with them, we have to make sure that it's truly a partnership and not one sided. Some of these relationships are true partnerships, especially with the smaller FinTech startups, but some of the more established ones, they're looking to own the relationships and that's not something that I think credit unions should be really considering right now. As much as I like to look ahead and say, well, maybe we should be changing the model, maybe we need to think differently about membership and all of these things, there's something that doesn't feel right about losing the relationship. You need to have the base, you have to have that expectation that who owns the relationship and a lot of the bigger FinTechs without naming too many other names, you know, that's kind of their relationship and you're along for the ride.

Holly Fearing

(18:57): Yeah. Okay, so I wanted to kind of tap into your expertise in finding your own path cause you found your path and it has been having payoffs personally and professionally and for your organization, that's clear. So do you have, do you have any advice for others that are potentially meeting roadblocks or they are struggling to get access to a network of people like i3. What kind of advice do you give people to not give up at the first roadblock that they meet cause inevitably they'll meet them.

Randy Stolp

(19:38): Right, I mean, you're absolutely right. And that's where I think your resiliency comes into play. I really think that's one of the most critical skills that somebody can have, especially somebody that's looking to be a leader and continue growing in their leadership roles. You're gonna get knocked down a lot and you're gonna get told no a lot and you just have to decide how important that is to you to find those things. And everybody's on a different timeline. So, you know, if you're having trouble, the fortunate thing for us is that credit unions are so easy to network with, right? We can pick up the phone and call any other credit union in the country and talk to them about anything. So, you know, I think you start small sometimes if you're running into that. You can form some groups within your credit, just your peers and, you know, have lunch and talk about some of these things. The more you talk about them, the more natural they start to become. And then you can kind of find your way. Just sticking with i3, as an example, there's a whole list of alumni out on Filene's website, go through that list. Chances are pretty good that you, or one of your contacts knows somebody on that list. And all of the people that went through i3 that I know were super encouraging to me to get involved and help me in any way that they could to get involved in i3.

Holly Fearing

(21:02): Yeah that's a great idea, cause I think that we even have their LinkedIn profiles linked right on that alumni page on the Filene website. So you can just go in there and introduce yourselves as somebody that's interested in i3 and you wanna talk to them about their experience and I'm sure that they would be more than willing to do so.

Randy Stolp

(21:21): Absolutely. I promise you if you reach out to anybody that's an i3 member and say you're interested, what do you think about me applying? What do you, you know, should I? Shouldn't I? What's your advice? You will get a call back really quickly. In fact, one of my friends, I haven't talked to her for probably a couple of years and she reached out last week, you know, just before coming to big.bright.minds and said that she's thinking about applying to i3 and I mean, the first thing was like, yes, you're the perfect person for this. She was one of my graduate assistants at Western CUNA Management School a number of years ago and I just thought she'd be perfect for it. We had a bunch of, yesterday, I was fortunate enough to crash the Crashers and listen to Hazelmae Overturf talk to them about her personal journey. And there was a moment when they gave us an opportunity to say, you know, what do you like about the program? What advice would you give us? What I told them is no matter how ready for change you are, no matter how much you like change, the i3 program will push you out of your comfort zone and it just doesn't matter who you are and I think that's a really good thing.

Holly Fearing

(22:44): Yeah, yeah, I do too. And you brought up the Crashers, so there's a lot of Crashers here at this conference now, too. And there's this clear path that we're starting to see with people crashing, crashing multiple times. Now we have the Crash Course online curriculum for Crashers to go into, which kind of steps them up and gets them ready for i3. So we see these people progressing and the really cool thing about that is not only is it gonna bring back value to your organization because of the networks and the ideas, but we see more and more Crashers becoming i3ers and more and more i3ers becoming chiefs or even CEOs of their organizations. So this program really has the potential to change the industry, change the type of leadership that is at the top of the credit unions and brings that innovation mindset that's needed for what credit unions are gonna have to evolve into in the future. So it's really amazing to watch that happen.

Randy Stolp

(23:42): Yeah, it really does. And there's at least, just off the top of my head, I know at least four of my classmates are former Crashers and a couple of them multiple times, you're right. So yeah, it is a great program. It's a great progression. It's just so interesting to me as I go around as we're starting to be able to travel now and as I talk to other credit unions, the recognition of i3. It is a little frustrating to me that I feel like sometimes as credit unions, we don't always utilize all the value that Filene brings to us. There's so much research available too and there's so much data and information out there that we really should be using to make our decisions. It's good to see that when I mention I'm involved with i3 and Filene, head's kind of turn and they're like, oh, well tell me more about that. Or, you know, listen about that and they wanna know more about those things. So I think there, my goal as part of this too, and you know, I've already started with my credit union is to get us utilizing that information and to get us, just start something. You have to start somewhere, just start doing something with it.

Holly Fearing

(24:59): Absolutely. A lot of our own members at Filene don't know that if you are a member organization of Filene, every single person at your organization has access to our research. So you're getting your value out of it, if you encourage everybody to go use it. And right now it's a really cool time because the Crash Course applications are open. i3, the next wave of i3 applications is just opening up. So now is your time to either get in as a Crasher or get in as an i3er. The possibilities for where you can take it, as you've demonstrated, you don't have to take the road block in front of you as the end of the journey. So you hurdled over that one and because of that, I feel like, you know, you're a great value to your organization because you're gonna be able to overcome challenges that your credit union might face and tap into people that have done it before, have had those similar challenges and you'll find a way around, and that's really like, innovation is the way you're gonna have to, you're gonna have to tap into innovation to continue to grow in the future. It's just simply what it is.

Randy Stolp

(26:20): We really do, yeah. I mean, I think our, you know, a couple times at this, you know, people have asked, well, what's next? Mai and I talked to Mike Lawson earlier today, what's next for you guys? What are you gonna do with this environmental scan information? And i3 in general, right? You know, we have to be the evangelist. Now we have to go back out and kind of repopulate the credit union world with this kind of thought and this, you know, I thought it was really interesting to me, we talk so much about innovation, right? And it's part of the name of i3 and then we're in our first session and we start hearing about entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship, and it's kind of innovation on steroids. It's a whole other level. And for so long, we've talked about innovation, can be incremental. It doesn't have to be a completely new product or service. But when we were listening yesterday at the beginning of the session, you know, it's almost like we've waited too long in some cases. And now with this entrepreneurial mindset, it's taken it beyond that, you know? Stop thinking incrementally and start thinking about changing the system. How can you think differently? How can you partner with community organizations in different ways? I was just in a couple sessions before we started talking and it was so interesting how, the opportunities that there are in agricultural means and in affordable housing and partnering with the organizations that are doing those kinds of things. I've thought for years, there's so many, we're just one cooperative, right? We're a financial cooperative, but there's so many other types of cooperatives out there and there are a few credit unions that have made it, their mission to partner with those. I think that that's another area of opportunity for credit unions to get into their communities is to find those other types of cooperatives and to start partnering with them too.

Holly Fearing

(28:21): Yeah, I love that. I mean, we started the day today talking about this concept of fractured habitat and we were talking about it in the sense of ecological habitat, but I think that social habitat and the credit union habitat is the same thing where there's little pockets of credit unions, each connecting with those community organizations that are helping to uplift the credit union, the community that the credit union serves and that'll keep growing and growing until it networks up with the next little community of a credit union, uplifting their community. And little by little, you're gonna be across the world, uplifting everybody that needs it.

Randy Stolp

(29:08): Right. I mean, I think the biggest thing I took out of that, it was just so great I wanna go back and watch the whole Ted talk and the biggest thing out of that was, you know, we were talking about how can you get started? You know, start small and I think it applies to your question about like, how do you overcome roadblocks, right? Just overcome one small one, right? Do something and you start connecting these, you know, dispersed networks together and you don't have to populate the whole world. You just have to populate enough of it. You just have to have enough of these pods that can connect with each other, and then we can lift everything up.

Holly Fearing

(29:47): Yeah, that's awesome. Well, I love your story, your journey of how you got here. Everyone has their own different journey and I'm trying to collect a bunch of different stories of their journeys and put it out there for people to, you know, find themselves in somebody else's journey and hopefully it inspires them to take their own. So thank you so much for, for sharing your journey. Is there anything else that you would want people to know about your involvement in i3 or your credit union life in general?

Randy Stolp

(30:15): I think one thing, if anybody is around me for very long at all, is that they learn really quickly that I'm a collaborator and I'm a lifelong learner and I like to foster those things in other people. I like to say I'm an aspiring poet gardener, and it's a term I got from John Maxwell and I've seen it in some other things. I don't think he coined that term, but it has to do with telling people's stories and it has to do with enabling people to tell their story. And so I'm always interested in helping others. And if I can, I hope I appreciate the opportunity so much to get a chance to talk with you today, Holly and if it has inspired anybody or if somebody needs help with their journey, I would love for them to reach out I'm out there on LinkedIn. I'm pretty easy to find and I respond to messages pretty quickly. I'm, like I said, I'm work life harmony guy. I'm kind of in everything all at the same time. So I usually get back to people pretty quickly and respond to connection requests or something. If somebody jots me a short note, I'd be happy to help anybody else with their journey.

Holly Fearing

(31:21): That's awesome. Well, thank you Randy so much, and I hope you enjoy the rest of this conference and then your whole other two years of i3 and beyond. It'll be a blast.

Randy Stolp

Thanks. I appreciate

Holly Fearing

Alright, thank you.

Holly Fearing

(31:37): Alright, that's it for the Fill-In folks. Thank you for listening and thank you so much Randy, for sharing your story with us. Did you know that our next big.bright.minds event is in Denver, Colorado on October 25th through 27th, 2022? Our newest class of i3ers will be debuting some of their work there, and we'd love to see you and have you help us welcome and congratulate the new wave. Head over to Filene.org/events to register now for big.bright.minds and check out the new i3ers on Filene.org/i3. If you can't wait until then, we've also got a virtual research event for you featuring research and experts from the Center for Innovation and Incubation on April 5th through 7th. You know what to do, that's right, check out Filene.org/events for more details. We hope you can make it. We also have some exciting stuff to tell you about how Filene is here to help your credit union test ideas and solutions for growth and community impact through The Lab at Filene. Learn more about it at Filene.org/thelab and again, be sure to read about it in our Asterisk magazine at Fileneorg/theasterisk. Before we go, I wanna give a shout out to the sponsors of our Center of Excellence for Innovation and Incubation, 4front Credit Union, American Airlines Credit Union, BECU, Canvas Credit Union, Christian Financial Credit Union, Coastal Credit Union, Corporate Central Credit Union, Envisant, GECU, State National, University of Michigan Credit Union, WEOKIE and Zeal Credit Union. If you like this episode, please do write us on Apple Podcasts so more people can find us and make sure you are 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 @Fileneresearch. Until next time. Thanks everyone.