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 Vergent LMS’ Chief Information Officer Brad Tompkins. The Ridgeland, Miss.-based fintech offers financial institutions a comprehensive, customizable lending solution designed to cover the entire loan cycle, from loan origination to servicing.
By W.B. King
Spending the first half of his career as an auditor in public accounting, Brad Tompkins said he always appreciated the role that technology played in business — the processes it supported and the efficiency tech brings to executing core objectives.
“When I was transitioning out of the accounting space, I wanted to be a part of a technology company that was striving to bring time and cost saving technology to market to help organizations work better,” Tompkins, who graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a degree in accounting and business management, told Finopotamus.
“Vergent was that place, for me,” he said. “I get to work daily on both the internal processes that make us more efficient in software delivery so that the platform can be that for our customers.”
Prior to assuming the role of Vergent LMS’ chief information officer in 2020, he spent nearly seven years as the company’s vice president of strategic planning and development.
Over the last nearly 20 years, the manner in which companies and financial institutions approach technology, both back office and public-facing, he said, has changed.
“I have definitely seen the maturation of the technology space. In the beginning, technology was leveraged as an add-on to the in-person experience. Institutions were hesitant to ‘poach’ their location traffic and push consumers online as they felt that it reduced barriers to portability and increased competition,” he continued. “As time passed, they were forced to increase the availability of online services more than they innovated to leverage the powerful tool that fintech is. That is still somewhat the case; however, COVID and consumer demand has pushed innovation at a much faster rate.”
Tompkins explained that Vergent LMS’ 90 employees, all of whom have a “working knowledge” of its tech stack, share a common goal: looking for ways to help its customers lend money in more efficient ways.
“We are frequently presented with opportunities to leverage new, emerging technologies from third-party vendors or opportunities to develop that technology ourselves,” he said.
As an example, Tompkins explained that one of the company’s developers recently built an artificial intelligence (AI) engine to predict payment success. “It is 70% accurate upon retroactive testing,” he noted. “She did this on her own time and wanted to show us in the hopes we could help our customers save their customers the financial impact of missed payments.”
Vergent LMS also views its customer base as a “huge resource" in our customer base. “We keep those relationships close and really drive the partnership aspect of that because if our customers are successful, we are successful,” he said. “Listening to our customers helps us keep the software on the cutting edge and ensures we stay abreast of innovations in the industry.”
In Tompkins’ view, one of Vergent LMS’ “strong points” is that the company is 100% U.S. based and “invests in employees” from all backgrounds and experiences.
“The varied demographics represented provide us valuable differing viewpoints that permeate how we do things as an organization, how we interact with each other, challenging each other to do better and to be better every day,” he said.
Tompkins’ leadership style is based, in part, on the following motto: Do the right thing, all the time. If a team member follows this ethos, he shared, that employee will have a long, successful and enjoyable career at Vergent LMS.
“We give a lot of autonomy with decision making and let people stretch their mental acuity daily. I feel that if you have hired someone, you should trust them to do the job that you hired them for,” he said. “Trust goes both ways, and if you get that right you can really build something special.”
As the economic landscape continues to shift, Tompkins said it is essential that solutions offered to consumers provide opportunities to better manage their finances. To this end, "financial inclusivity" is a trend he is watching.
“These types of solutions can include the usage of AI and alternative data for loan approvals and installment loans. Prices are continuing to increase nationwide, and as a result, people need better access to extra funds in order to make ends meet, he continued. “Financial institutions that do not have this on their roadmap for 2023 are going to be leaving revenue on the table and losing market share to more tech-focused competition.”
Many organizations, he added, are enhancing services with platform updates that make the digital experience faster and more convenient for their customers.
“You cannot be complacent with your retail customers because there is a real shift to the expectation of not just a digital experience, but an excellent digital experience,” he said. “They prefer easy-to-use services that they can access from the comfort of their home, or anywhere via a mobile device.”
Fintechs Can Help CUs Better Understand Member Insights
The key factor that differentiates the credit union industry from other financial institutions, Tompkins contends, is that credit unions “strive to create deeper, meaningful connections” with membership.
“Credit unions don’t bring in new technology simply because it is the latest and greatest innovation; they bring in new technology because they have a thorough understanding that the community they serve could benefit from that technology,” he said. “At the end of the day, nothing is about bragging rights with a credit union; every choice that they make is filled with positive intention to make people’s lives easier.”
By using key member insights, he added, credit unions can play a “prime role in promoting financial inclusion,” while offering members a “better and more accessible experience” that addresses unique user needs.
Fintechs, he said, are also playing an important role in the aforementioned process as they are “constantly growing and adjusting” to address consumer needs that align with the ever-changing economic landscape.
“Similarly to credit unions, the decisions that fintechs make are made with the best intention for a consumer,” he said. “Fintechs help financial institutions help their consumers, and they can serve as true partners, assisting them in providing in-house solutions that their customers want and need.”
Noting that relationships between credit unions and fintechs has “shifted for the better” in recent years, he said certain obstacles remain.
“One pain point that still exists is that fintechs move much faster when it comes to adopting new technologies than credit unions do, often causing a clear divide,” he said. “Credit unions and small financial institutions can often see this as a threat instead of a partnership, when in reality the rapid advancement of fintechs can be used to a credit union’s benefit.”