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 spent time with MSU Federal Credit Union (MSUFCU) Vice President of Software Development Mark Schultz. Founded in 1937, the $6.6 billion East Lansing, Mich.-based credit union support more than 320,000 members.
By W.B. King
From an early age Mark Schultz was intrigued by technology. And as he grew older, his fascination became wedded to the idea of using tech to benefit the greater good.
“I went from general business studies to computer science while in college and haven’t looked back,” Schultz reflected, who holds a master’s degree in information technology management from Carnegie Mellon University and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and computer science from Lawrence Technological University.
Beginning his career in 1987 as an application development manager for Valassis, Schultz spent the following 13 years working for the media company.The next stop on his journey was OnStar where he worked as an engineering group manager. He later led large-scale digital, omnichannel and agile initiatives at General Electric and Domino’s Pizza where he served as IT leader and e-commerce senior technology manager, respectively.
“I started my career working for a mid-sized marketing, advertising and promotions company. We were very early adopters of agile practices, embraced transparency, team work, empowerment and collaboration,” Schultz said. “Our project teams were made up of IT and business representatives that would work together. That type of partnership helped us develop a wonderful supportive culture that delivered solutions together. This is a practice I still embrace.”
Commitment to Service
Somewhat of a newcomer to the credit union world, Schultz said there were “several things” that attracted him to the industry, and MSUFCU in particular, but the “key factor” was being able to tap into his passion for helping people.
“When my daughter was a student at Michigan State University, I saw first-hand the credit union’s commitment to service. I immediately thought this organization was different. I recognized the supportive culture I embraced early in my career,” said Schultz, who assumed his current post in 2021.
“So when the opportunity opened up at MSUFCU, I jumped at it,” he continued. “Working at MSUFCU allows me to embrace my passion for service, work with wonderful people with a shared passion, lead continuous evolution of technology and innovative solutions, and work with leaders who are open, collaborative, and supportive. I feel very fortunate to be part of this team.”
Always eager to learn, Schultz tries to stay current with how business and technology interface by reading publications such as Fast Company or Medium. Along with attending regional and national IT-focused meetups and conferences, he is also always eager to take “deeper dives into technology strategy and implementation” and often references Gartner Research and McKinsey reports or “interesting reads” on LinkedIn.
To better understand the credit union market and possible tech offerings, he continually investigates what other MSUFCU partners or credit union service organizations (CUSOs) are involved in, but he doesn’t stop there.
“I also follow the trends in technologies even outside of the financial space. I focus on areas of solution platforms, development tools, cloud and other enabling technologies,” he explained. “And, I make sure I understand the impact to our current processes. I review organizational impact, including how roles and responsibilities may change with the implementation of new technologies for things such as the move to cloud.”
Schultz’s dedication to market research doesn’t happen in a vacuum. He regularly collaborates with colleagues and team members at MSUFCU, including Benjamin Maxim, vice president of digital strategy and innovation.
“We share information with each other. If there are articles, blogs or whitepapers any of us find particularly interesting or relevant, we openly share with each other,” Schultz explained. “Our teams do a lot of independent reading and research on emerging trends and technologies, and at times, develop some proof of concepts with new tools and share these results in ‘Community of Practice’ meetings, ‘Tech Talks’ and ‘Lunch and Learns.’”
Senior leadership, Schultz added, is “very open to new ideas, innovation, and continuous improvements as a means to better serve our members.” But he noted that these executives are also “keen on making sure we remain focused on service to members, ensuring security and compliance are reviewed for all ideas, and making sure we’ve aligned and collaborated on our technology changes with the business units that would be involved or impacted by changes.” When these bases are covered, he said “the rest of the discussion often happens naturally.”
Your Credit Union Has an In-House Software Development Department?
Schultz admits it was a “little surprising” that MSUFCU is considered unique due to its in-house software development team. But he chalked that up to being “new” to the industry. But despite this differentiator, he said the credit union follows “similar models to other credit unions,” such as having a core platform and partnering with CUSOs.
“When it comes to innovation, we primarily focus on how we extend those platforms with value-add features and develop our own unique services on top of them, with the addition of mobile applications and financial education features,” he explained. “These are the areas we focus on for innovation.”
Currently the software development department has 27 employees, but this figure, Schultz noted, is growing. Noting that MSUFCU embraces diversity, equity and inclusiveness, he said there are a higher percentage of millennials and Gen Xers, but added, “We also have a pretty good percentage of baby boomers, myself included.” And as a way to attract the next generation of innovators, the department has an intern program.
“I try to instill an innovation mindset across my team, encouraging them to really think differently about our approach to delivering value to members,” Schultz said. “One of those ways is changing our thinking away from large projects, and more into continuous delivery of features, getting feedback on those features to see if they are delivering the value intended, and then using that information to inform us of the next set of features we want to deliver.”
When it comes to the practice of innovation, Schultz said the process is similar to the credit union’s approach for adopting new technologies. To this end, he and his team encourage “out-of-the-box” thinking, while studying member and employee feedback related to opportunities in emerging technology trends.
“As we are looking at new ways to implement technologies, that frequently opens the door to what-ifs,” he explained. “And as we move to more enabling technologies and processes, it becomes an accelerator for new innovative ideas as it opens the door to many new technology platforms and integrations that were closed to us previously.”
What’s in Store for 2022?
With a continued concentration on enabling technologies and processes, Schultz said that MSUFCU has “many initiatives in motion focusing on expanding our offerings.” Noting a “great relationship with membership,” he said many ideas that are submitted to his department are from members suggesting ways that banking services can be enhanced.
“We are also focusing on speed to value so we can quickly turn those ideas into new services,” Schultz said. “I am really focused on the trends in modernization and I am looking at them from a few different perspectives — mainly technology, processes and organizational change.”
As Schultz looks at 2022 and beyond, he and his team will focus on evolving the credit union’s architecture so that beneficial tech solutions can be “safely and rapidly” rolled out to membership.
“We are also shifting to a platforming strategy and implementing low-code and no-code solutions to really enable and accelerate developing new features,” he noted. “AI and automation are also part of the equation and we are looking at cloud-smart strategies for improved resiliency, scalability and speed to value.
If you enjoyed this article, you might like reading these Finopotamus articles as well: