Tech People in the Know: Ascend Federal Credit Union’s Rik Reitmaier
In what is a recurring feature, Finopotamus will profile interesting and intriguing tech professionals who are positively impacting the credit union industry.
For this issue, we visited with Ascend Federal Credit Union’s Vice President and Chief Information Officer Rik Reitmaier. The Tullahoma, Tenn.-based credit union supports more than 266,000 members at 27 branch locations.
By W.B. King
Before landing at Ascend Federal Credit Union in late 2022, Rik Reitmaier spent nearly 25 years as a tech executive. Posts included chief information officer for Genesco (a global footwear company based in Nashville) and senior vice president and director of project management with Harrah’s Entertainment.
Working in tech, though, wasn’t his first calling.
“Though I have a degree in finance, at work, I was always drawn to IT,” said Reitmaier who graduated with a degree in finance and statistics from Stockton University.
“When new systems were being implemented, I was always volunteered to be the business analyst or tester,” he told Finopotamus. “After 10 years in the finance field, I had an opportunity to become an IT project manager. I jumped at the chance, and it was the best decision I ever made.”
While he explained technology shifts have been historically driven by the need to improve efficiency, productivity and quality of products and services, there are additional variables to consider in today’s market. These include the ability for an organization to create new value propositions, business models and competitive advantages in a rapidly changing and uncertain environment.
“They involve the adoption of new platforms and paradigms that transform the existing capabilities of the organization,” he continued. “The emergence of social technologies, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, blockchain and other digital innovations enable leaders to connect, automate, and augment practically every aspect of work, enabling organizations to become more agile, flexible, collaborative and responsive to progressive ideology and management style."
Shifts in technology, he added, also require leaders to adopt an adaptive, decentralized and creative management style. In the same respect, organizations, he continued, have to adopt a new “culture and processes that is more transparent, diverse, innovative and responsible.”
The Six Ds
When investigating new technologies and determining if a solution might be a good fit for Ascend Federal Credit Union, Reitmaier told Finopotamus he follows The Six Ds: discover, define, design, develop, deploy and disengage. These steps include continuous team project updates and gate reviews.
“We focus on the ‘define and design’ phases. These phases create/validate business and technology requirements. Once requirements are known, we can then test those requirements against any new technology we are considering,” he noted. “This helps us pick the right technologies, as well as providing a better understand of level of effort and cost to implement and support the new technology.”
With a total of 625 employees, Ascend Federal Credit Union has 37 tech-facing folks on staff, with the majority being male (34). The demographic breakdown is 17 Gen Y/millennials, 11 Gen X, 6 Gen Z and 3 baby boomers.
When asked how he inspires and guides the tech team, Reitmaier said “being a coach” is an important part of being a modern manager.
“The team likes getting regular feedback, guidance and mentoring, which helps them develop their skills, strengths and potential,” he noted. “In addition, it fosters a culture of learning, growth and building trust.”
Reitmaier also draws on the “methodology of human motivation” developed by New York Times bestselling author and host of The Pinkcast Daniel H. Pink. “He encourages leaders to provide a purpose (what do we do for our membership) and autonomy (allow for an environment to experiment and to find a solution and mastery - this provides resources and time to learn and build experience),” Reitmaier offered.
A Deep Focus on Member Needs
Data analytics, automation and artificial intelligence capabilities are solutions that most excite Reitmaier these days as he believes these technologies will best serve the credit union’s valued members.
But other tech trends are on his radar, including modernizing legacy enterprise systems and migrating to the cloud to “unleash the power cloud’s digital potential.” He also noted “machine data revolution,” which “allows us to leverage the vast amount of data generated by machines to create new insights and value propositions for our members.”
Another IT platform he is studying is multichannel automation. “Using automation to streamline and integrate our omni channels that focus on online banking, mobile banking, call centers and branches and provide a seamless and consistent member experience across all touchpoints.”
As Ascend Federal Credit Union’s vice president and chief information officer, Reitmaier said the main difference between credit unions and other financial institutions is that credit unions are nonprofits that place a “deeper focus” on member needs.
“This allows us to provide more favorable interest rates, charge fewer and lower fees and be more community oriented and socially responsible to meet our customer’s needs,” he shared.