In what is a recurring feature, Finopotamus profiles interesting and intriguing tech professionals who are positively impacting the credit union industry.
For this issue, we spent time with NCR Corporation’s President and General Manager of Digital Banking Doug Brown. Counting more than 600 credit unions and banks as clients, the Atlanta-based consulting and technology company provides professional electronic products, including ATM software and hardware services, in 160 countries.
By W.B. King
When Doug Brown landed an e-commerce job in the 1990s, he began a long journey traversing the topography of what is known today as the fintech industry.
“At the time, it was known as electronic billing and payments. I took an opportunity with a startup and helped champion online statements and billings,” said Brown, who earned a marketing degree from Georgetown University. “I later went out to work for Bank of America in mobile product strategy, which fueled my passion for driving how digitization could shape and propel financial services.”
Prior to his nearly five-year run with Bank of America, Brown, who also earned a master’s degree in business administration in marketing from the University of Virginia at Darden, held a number of positions, including director of product marketing for Oracle. He would later go to work for FIS, first serving as senior vice president and general manager in the company’s mobile division, and later as head of digital and mobile.
Over the years, he said there has been a “seismic shift” in how technology departments are viewed and operated.
“Previously, technology was a bit of an afterthought; it was secondary to other areas of the business. Now, the organizational relevance and importance of technology has grown exponentially,” noted Brown, who joined NCR Corporation in 2018 as senior vice president and general manager of digital banking. Two years later, he was promoted to his current role as president of the division.
“With the advent of changes like cloud computing, technology is now in the driver’s seat and top of mind for C-level executives, paying a part in most major business decisions and strategies,” he added.
When asked about changing demographics in the fintech industry, Brown said there is greater diversity than in years past. Women, he noted, are increasingly assuming tech leadership roles, a trend NCR supports and champions.
“We have seen a healthy onboarding of millennials and Gen Z into credit unions’ technology departments in recent years,” he continued. “Right now, there is a fairly even split when it comes to age. In fact, we are seeing an acceleration of diversity across the board in our credit unions, which is very encouraging. Representation matters.”
Another interesting trend, he said, is organizations hiring employees who do not have traditional technology backgrounds for tech-facing positions.
“For example, an organization that wanted to develop more robust voice-based interaction capabilities prioritized sociologists who understood the communication paradigm above hardcore technologists,” he said.
When it comes to NCR and its approximate 38,000 employees, Brown explained that the company facilitates a culture of “comradery and inclusion,” one that “engages employees across the board” from younger entry-level employees to senior-level managers.
“It’s important to have healthy, active communication and an engagement model of winning as a team,” he explained. “At NCR, we have a constant ethos of wanting to challenge the status quo and drive innovation, netting out what is possible and prioritizing the most impactful options.”
Tech Trends that Excite
While there are always a number of new tech developments on Brown's radar, he offered three that are currently piquing his interest: humanization of digital; democratization of technology; and heightened application and use of data/analytics.
“As digital-first continues to expand into all touchpoints of member service, there is a massive shift toward humanizing elements, such as artificial intelligence (AI) assistance,” Brown said of the humanization of digital. “Being able to speak in natural language is becoming more important than binary clicks on a mobile app. Members want credit unions to see them, understand them, and facilitate natural, human interaction and conversation.”
Regarding democratization of technology, he noted that the “openness of technology platforms based on the power of the cloud and APIs is helping to enable more cumulative innovation, creativity and involvement from different players in the industry.” Credit unions, he added, should keep a careful eye on open banking.
Data analytics and related applications are also critical components to forward-leaning digital strategy, Brown offered.
“Being able to know and understand member data in real-time in a way that makes credit union stand out is exciting to watch,” he said. “Credit unions must continue to identify and invest in actionable ways to leverage data to strengthen member relationships and expand wallet share.”
In Brown’s estimation, credit unions should be “aware of the trends and updates in technology and the potential impacts” on respective business models.
“The credit union should encourage every employee to be engaged and understand how technology can be applied to benefit how the organization runs. It’s a great practice to be immersed in what others in the industry are doing and brainstorm with peers to learn what best practices are out there,” he continued. “This goes beyond just other credit unions; having a network of technology partners to consult with can help credit unions leverage technology to its full potential and deliver maximum value to members.”
Brown practices what he preaches by regularly attending industry events to “bolster” his network and suggests that whenever possible, credit union executives do the same.
“I was at CUNA GAC earlier this year, and the variety of firms and organizations represented really covered the gamut across all functional areas and technologies,” he said. “Those types of events are unique opportunities to deeply immerse yourself in technology in just a couple of days.”
If credit unions have an advantage over other financial institutions, Brown said it’s the “trust” credit unions have earned with their member base, especially when it comes to important attributes, such as security and privacy. The credit union industry’s community-centric philosophy, he added, is also a differentiator.
“By their nature, credit unions have curated a member base that shares some commonality of interest, and the reputation for excellent support and putting people first,” Brown said.
The challenge for credit unions, he posited, is delivering the “powerful digital experiences modern members want, translating that community and brand equity within digital channels.”
To overcome this hurdle, he said credit unions need to embrace a digital-first strategy.
“This means facilitating digitally optimized, compelling experiences across all touchpoints, including online, mobile, branch and the ATM/ITM,” he continued. “Credit unions have the power to offer members more optionality and choice, while still personalizing interactions. Digital-first is the imperative.”
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