Women in Technology: Afena FCU’s Karen Madry
Updated: Jan 12
In what is a recurring feature, Finopotamus spotlights innovative women who are positively impacting technology applications in the credit union industry, and beyond.
For this issue, we visited with Afena Federal Credit Union’s President and CEO Karen Madry. The $88 million Marion, Ind.-based credit union serves over 8,100 members at three branch locations.
By W.B. King
Beginning her career as a controller in 1992 and later serving as a capital markets finance manager, among other posts in the financial services industry, Karen Madry eventually realized that working at banks wasn’t the right fit for her.
“I got into banking in the early 2000s before switching to the credit union industry,” Madry, who also taught business communications at Prairie State College in Illinois, told Finopotamus. “I felt working for a credit union was a better fit given my personal values. I’m very passionate about financial equality.”
Prior to being “inspired” to move to Marion, Ind. in 2014 to become president and CEO of Afena Federal Credit Union, Madry served as the vice president and chief financial officer for USA One National Credit Union and executive vice president, chief operating and chief financial officer at York Country Federal Credit Union.
While her current role isn’t principally defined as technological, the skills she aggregated over the last 30-plus years have placed her more often than not in the tech space.
“As far as technology goes, prior to working for a large bank, I worked for small companies and somehow even though I was the controller, that job description seemed to include being the resident IT expert,” she offered. “I handled many responsibilities and used a consultant for larger projects.”
The current industry move toward digital, she added, is accelerating more quickly than at any other point in her career. “Ways to transact are continuing to evolve, leading to employees taking on new roles and responsibilities,” she continued. “Being tech savvy is no longer the responsibility of the IT staff; our employees are learning how to incorporate video, texting and other digital applications into their daily responsibilities.”
Merging Human Compassion with Tech
Noting that she has always had a “natural curiosity and eagerness to learn,” Madry also counts herself lucky to have had many inspiring mentors.
“The most significant mentor in my life was a gentleman by the name of George Bethel, who took me under his wing when I was 19 years old and remained a supporter and contributor in my life until he passed away more than 30 years after our initial meeting,” she reflected.
“Recognizing that I would not be where I am today without the support and encouragement of others, I pay it forward by imitating the behaviors of my mentors,” she continued. “Be encouraging; acknowledge successes; provide feedback that is beneficial; engage people in conversations; strive to understand their aspirations, goals and motivation; and provide resources and insights that will help them embark upon the right path.”
With a population of just under 30,000 people, the city of Marion hasn’t quite kept step with changing demographics in tech like other larger markets have experienced, Madry explained, adding that she is hopeful that similar positive changes are coming.
“In the city I work in, it is still largely male dominated. However, I have many friends and peers in other regions that report the tide is starting to change,” she said. “Technology has more of a social element today than it used to, and women tend to be natural leaders when it comes to merging human compassion with the technical. I am confident the representation of women will grow and that they will continue to make a great impact in this space.”
Afena Federal Credit Union has 32 employees, one of whom comprises the IT department, but Madry explained that her team is currently seeking a second tech member to join the cause.
“Our current employee is a male in his early 40s. We are intentional in our efforts to build a diverse workforce,” she said. “Therefore, we are working with an agency that will run a blind advertisement in an effort to attract a larger and more diverse pool of applicants for our open position.”
Using Tech to Better Membership
Despite being a “smaller credit union,” Madry said she and her team “strive to be innovative and keep up with our members’ evolving expectations.”
This noted approach includes the recent implementation of three interactive teller machines (ITMs) at Afena FCU’s headquarters, an initiative aimed at “providing members with the ability to have a more convenient, frictionless experience at the branch.”
Along with the ITMs, and in a concerted effort to improve communication with younger members, the credit union is also in the process of deploying text messaging, live chat and chatbots.
“This will ensure that our members can reach us when they need us rather than sitting in a phone queue. Video chat will also help us eliminate the barriers caused by lack of transportation and inconvenient hours of operation,” Madry told Finopotamus. “Eventually we hope to expand our hours of operation and expand the geographical radius from where we pull our talent, as technology will make it easier for us to create remote positions for member service functions.”
An Open Mind Equates to Staying Current
Pointing to Afena FCU’s partnership with its core provider, the Farmington Hills, Mich.-based Member Driven Technologies (MDT), Madry said this relationship allows the credit union to operate more efficiently, which has improved productivity.
“Freeing our employees from having to manage software updates and maintenance gives them the bandwidth to spend more time with our members,” said Madry, adding that the credit union is Grant County’s only Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). “This is especially important since we serve low-income members, and we are dedicated to providing them with as much guidance and support as we can.”
Madry keeps a watchful eye on tech updates in the industry, noting that credit unions are known for being “nimble” and having the “ability” to quickly offer services that meet member expectations. Customizing offerings and staying current, she added, often requires being open to working with like-minded fintechs.
“Non-traditional competitors such as fintechs are continuing to flood our industry so credit unions must adapt. What differentiates credit unions is that they have the trust factor,” she said. “Consumers would rather bank with their trusted, reputable financial institution, but in return credit unions have to provide the modern technology and 24/7 accessibility they expect.”
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