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  • Writer's pictureW.B. King

Tech People in the Know: Suncoast CU’s Michael Parks

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 Suncoast Credit Union’s CIO Michael Parks.

By W.B. King

When Michael Parks was introduced to the Apple II in middle school during the late 1980s, he quickly became fascinated with the possibilities of programming.

“Even though it was basic stuff like getting it to solve simple math problems based on user input or placing squares on the screen, I could see the potential that it had to offer,” he told Finopotamus.

Michael Parks

Years later while earning his bachelor’s degree in business management from Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Parks continued his pursuit of all things tech by taking Pascal, FORTRAN, and Db2 courses.

“I spent many hours looking at green-bar paper to find the errors in my code,” he shared. “During it all, I knew that computers were going to significantly impact the way we worked and speed at which we worked.”

Importance of Soft Skills

Parks began his tenure at Suncoast CU in 2000 serving as the vice president of information technology, before quickly advancing to his current post of CIO. The $17.5 billion Tampa, Fla.-based credit union supports more than 1.1 million members and 78 branch locations.

“Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was common for individuals to secure IT positions with associate degrees or even high school diplomas with certifications,” he said, reflecting on his career. “Today, many IT roles require a bachelor’s degree or higher, reflecting the increased complexity and specialization within the field.”

Along with his CIO responsibilities, which include overseeing the credit union’s enterprise applications, information technology, and data analytics departments, Parks serves on the Executive Board of the CUNA Technology Council and is an Advisory Board Member for Jack Henry’s Symitar core processing platform. These posts and responsibilities encourage the pursuit of knowledge.

“Due to the rapid pace of technology, change means that IT professionals must engage in continuous learning to keep their skills current,” he noted. “Additionally, there is growing recognition of the importance of soft skills, such as communication, teamwork, and problem solving.”

Another industry change, what he called an ideology, is a shift from proprietary software to open source. “IT departments were very centralized and have shifted to decentralized,” Parks continued. “Hardware and software have gone from the ownership model to the subscription model, and companies today place a focus on work-life balance versus the early years.”

Turn the Ship Around

When asked about his approach to investigating or offering innovative technologies, whether member-facing or back office, Parks said several approaches are usually considered.

“This could include looking for opportunities to up-skill or re-skill employees, using an ambassador program to help employees feel more comfortable with new technologies, engaging employees in the decision-making process so they feel a part of change, and making a game out of it to create excitement and engagement,” he shared.

To motivate his team, Parks often leans on one of his favorite books, Turn the Ship Around by L. David Marquet.

“It describes the approach that he took to take one of the worst performing nuclear submarines in the Navy to one of the best. In the book, he describes how he implemented the leader-leader model, which empowers every crew member to take initiative and leadership roles,” he told Finopotamus. “This shift from a traditional leader-follower approach to one where every individual is encouraged to think and act like a leader led to remarkable improvements in performance and morale.”

Relationships Come Before Technology

What differentiates credit unions from other financial institutions, Park noted, has more to do with relationship building than it does with adding bells and whistles to a tech stack.

“In the credit union industry, we can make relationships with our peers and use these relationships to have conversations around any issues or topics that we would like to discuss,” he said. “That is something that is unique to our industry and what sets us apart from others.”

To remain competitive, credit unions can’t go it alone, he added, and therefore must be open to partnering with fintechs that are also focused on the member experience.

“Just a few years ago it seemed that everyone viewed fintechs as the competition, and that has started shifting to partnerships,” Parks said. “By partnering with fintechs, it provides the opportunity for improved innovation and efficiency, meeting the expectations of the modern consumer, providing a competitive edge, and aiding us in our digital transformation.”


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