By W.B. King
While there are a number of reasons to attend an industry conference, Daniel Rathfelder, vice president of card services at Coastal Credit Union, said his second trip to Co-op Solutions' annual THINK event was based on learning payment “strategies” not hearing “sales pitches.” Listening to keynote speaker Linda Kirkpatrick, president of North America Mastercard, he noted, was a perfect example.
“Seeing how Mastercard is approaching the changing payments world, employer ecosystem and how she has spent significant time in Washington, D.C., educating our legislators was extremely insightful,” he told Finopotamus.
“Typically, most vendor conferences are all about the upcoming roadmap, new product offerings and performance,” he continued. “THINK takes the sales pitch away and focuses on the industry as a whole and delivers content that can influence strategy and change at your credit union.”
The Invisible Revolution
Rathfelder was among approximately 700 credit union industry executives who attended THINK 23, which took place in early May 2023 at the JW Marriott/Starr Pass Resort in Tucson, Ariz.
Co-op Solutions’ Senior Vice President of Marketing Carrie Stapp told Finopotamus the theme this year was “The Invisible Revolution,” which included investigating ways in which consumers purchase goods and services as well as their ability to remain current within the digital age.
This noted capability, she added, impacts long-term financial wellness and is of the “highest importance” to the credit union industry, because “it is causing a need to transform financial services.”
The Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. -based Co-op Solutions, a credit union service organization (CUSO), provides a financial technology platform that connects credit unions to the technology, strategic partnership and scale needed to serve their members.
As a first-time THINK attendee, Michael Broughton, CEO and founder of the Los Angeles, Calif.-based Altro, said the gathering was a “great mix” of industry leaders and “up-and-coming startups,” which led to a “unique conversation centered” on one shared mission: supporting credit union members.
With its motto, “We Exist to Bring Financial Power to All,” Altro offers a free app that helps users build credit and financial power through the recurring payments and subscriptions they use every day.
Broughton was among participants on the “Putting the Member at the Center of Growth” panel, which he said resulted in a “purposeful and captivating” discussion.
“One of the key goals of the discussion was to explore how many different industry leaders and startup founders think deeply about their audience. Throughout the conversation, it became clear that these leaders are constantly striving to understand their users better and to keep up with changing demands,” he continued. “In particular, many of the panelists spoke about the ways in which technology can be used to deliver a value proposition that meets the evolving needs of users.”
As the credit union space faces increasing competition both from traditional banks and neo-banks, Broughton said credit unions should embrace technologies that provide an edge.
“We must find innovative ways to engage with members and prospective members in a way that aligns to the new normality of teach led innovation,” he said. “Emphasizing what makes us unique and adopting technology will be key to remaining relevant and competitive in this ever-changing world.”
A Conference Designed for Credit Unions
Among takeaways for Coastal Credit Union’s Rathfelder was Invisibly’s CEO Jim McKelvey’s talk on the “perfect problem,” which he said continues to reinforce a common “misstep” in the credit union space.
“Even as an almost $5 billion credit union, we like to think we know the solution rather than focusing on the data or member research to guide us,” Rathfelder said, adding that the Raleigh. N.C. -based credit union supports more than 323,000 members.
Founded by McKelvey (co-founder, Block, formerly known as Square) and backed by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, the St. Louis, MO -based Invisibly is billed as a team of dedicated, innovative and optimistic people, building a new way to access content.
“But the reality is the problems we identify are often not the problems our members are facing,” Rathfelder continued. “This was further validated by the research that Ron Shevlin, from Cornerstone Advisors, shared about how the flywheel of the credit unions’ growth is fueled by better data and identifying the needs of the members to help power other initiatives for that growth.”
Co-op Solutions’ Stapp explained that the driving force behind the THINK conference is “inspiring growth” through networking and “digging deeper” into the issues impacting credit unions of all sizes.
“We seek to create a culture of both learning and enjoyment. This enables attendees to interact with peers so that they get more out of the conference beyond just the content,” she told Finopotamus. “This helps to level-up the individual as a professional as well as benefiting their credit union.”
Stapp added that Co-op Solutions' THINK event is designed specifically for the credit union industry.
“We, as a company, realize every day that if our credit unions aren’t successful, we aren’t successful – so this event is solely designed to foster credit union success,” she continued. “We focus on relevant industry trends to help our credit unions think outside of the box, and start to consider new ways of problem solving.”
This credit union-centric approach resonated with Rathfelder who said the “growth advantage” credit unions collectively hold is steeped in collaboration.
“Many of the operational enhancements I took away from the event were not found in a keynote or breakout session but rather from my peers and other attendees of the event,” he said. “There are also valuable insights I shared with other credit unions that I know will improve their member experience and growth to help the industry as a whole.”
Rathfelder continued. “By sharing best practices, strategy decisions and honest feedback, the THINK events can help credit union attendees carve a path and continue to move both up market and gain market share ultimately giving our members a better experience then they can receive at a bank.”