Hanging 10 with CUbroadcast’s Jack of all Trades, Mike Lawson

By W.B. King

If you have been in and around the credit union space for the last 10-plus years, chances are you’ve seen the enthusiastic host and creator of CUbroadcast, Mike Lawson.

From technology coverage to lending to security to social media, his video interviews cover a broad range of topics. The show’s guests are comprised of in-the-know credit union executives, industry experts, seasoned vendors and folks from up-and-coming fintechs.

CUbroadcast's Mike Lawson.

Lawson’s staunch support for the credit union movement began in high school. When in search of a loan for his first car, his father brought him to their family’s trusted credit union. Soon after, with his father as the co-signer, Lawson had his first set of wheels.

Years later after graduating San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Science in broadcast journalism, Lawson began his career in communications. He served as a reporter and photographer at The Coastal News and Ranch, the San Diego Union-Tribune and SURFING Magazine before becoming the associate editor of Copley News Service.

Fintech Evolution

It wasn’t until 1993 that Lawson would officially enter the credit union space. At the time, he was hired by Finopotamus co-founder, John San Filippo, who, as Symitar’s then marketing manager, brought Lawson on in a communications capacity.

“Symitar was definitely the hot core back then and credit unions, the forward-thinking ones at that time, were looking for advantages to start their path in staying ahead of the tech curve,” said Lawson. “It’s fun to look back and see the evolution, or even the beginnings, of financial technology and being in the middle of it in its infancy.”

During those early days, he remembers interviewing many product designers about upcoming technologies and was “blown away” by what was on the horizon: mobile banking.

“One of the people I would consistently talk to had an Apple Newton and he told me people would be doing their banking on a mobile device like that someday,” said Lawson. “It gave us all an idea of how important technology had to be and was going to be to compete and serve the masses that were discovering how important technology was in their lives. Financial services had to coincide with that trend. It still has to, as we all know.”

While the world of banking and technology has drastically changed since the early 1990s, the credit union ethos of “people helping people” has only strengthened. Lawson believes the industry is truly unique and creates an attitude of generosity, compassion and sharing.

“Having a journalism background, working at different publications prior to stumbling into credit unions, getting people to talk to you was sometimes a challenge,” said Lawson. “I worked in the semiconductor industry before credit unions and nobody wanted to say a word for fear of a secret being leaked out to give the competition an advantage. It was understandable but frustrating.”

The job he referenced was a two-year stint as the public relations manager for the Oddo Group, a position he accepted after leaving Symitar. He next founded DML Communication in 2003. While a separate entity from CUbroadcast, his first company’s mission is to work with financial tech services companies to enhance their exposure within the credit union and banking industries.

“DML Communications is still doing a bunch of marketing and public relations projects for folks out there. It’s a lot of fun,” said Lawson. “But the journalism bug bites hard and I had to get my big toe back in the storytelling waters and start CUbroadcast — just to see if video interviews would work.”

‘You Want to Talk with Me On Video?’

It was in November 2010 that Lawson began recording video interviews and positing them online. He had discovered an app that would work with Skype to create a split-screen format and he was off to the races.

“The kicker was that nobody had to leave their office — or wherever they were. We could connect on Skype, do the 10-minute interview and get right back to work,” he explained. “There were no lights, cameras, or mics to physically move in and out of buildings, as well as travel. Time and costs were almost nothing.”

From the start, Lawson said he wasn’t trying to compete with other credit union industry publications nor was he looking to “step on anyone’s toes.” Rather, he wanted to provide content that would complement the breaking news of the day.

Initially, Lawson interviewed friends in the industry who he endearingly called “guinea pigs.” The idea was to get a few episodes in the queue to see if there would be interest. And at first, he said the only people watching were his wife, kids, a few other family members, and his dog.

“It was pretty meager for a while. Even getting interviews in the beginning was challenging. I would ask them if they wanted to do a video interview on CUbroadcast via Skype,” he said.

“The general response was: ‘You want to talk to me with video via…what is Skype?’ It took a lot of explaining in the beginning,” he continued. “But the more episodes I did, the more examples I had to show them as well as credibility.”

While the app and Skype combination worked well theoretically, there were significant bandwidth issues. At best, 50% of the interviews would work with the balance disconnecting or having extreme pixilation issues.

“I remember interviewing Bill Cheney when he was CUNA’s president and CEO and our connection probably dropped 10 times,” said Lawson. “He had so much work to do, but he stayed with me until we completed the interview, which probably took an hour for 10 minutes of actual footage. That told me right there he was a good dude.”