Women in Technology: Amber Harsin
Updated: Jan 12
In what will be a recurring feature, Finopotamus will spotlight innovative women who are positively impacting technology applications in the credit union industry, and beyond.
For this issue, we spent time with Prodigy’s CEO, Amber Harsin.
By W.B. King
In a career spanning more than 15 years, Prodigy’s CEO Amber Harsin held a myriad of interesting positions – from a junior loan officer at Goldenwest Credit Union to clinical trials coordinator at the University Of Utah Department Of Neurology to conversion specialist at Wasatch Peaks Credit Union. Being a leader in the tech space, however, wasn’t planned.
“I wouldn’t call my career in tech intentional. In 2010, I was designated the lead for several mergers and subsequent core conversions with my credit union at the time,” said Harsin. “I was introduced deeply to core processing technology as a result and found something I rather enjoyed.”
Small Steps Toward Gender Diversity in Tech Senior Management
When it comes to women in the field of technology, Harsin said not much has changed since she started her career. In her view, the fintech industry is “very male dominated,” especially at the executive level. But, she is starting to see signs of positive change.
“I know of at least three female CEOs of successful core processors, which I find very exciting,” she noted, adding that she has benefited from encouraging mentors throughout her career and intends to pay it forward.
“I’m lucky that I can say that I have had champions in every leader I have worked with in the last 15 years. Each leader has shared a common value and that is a desire to bring those around them up with them,” she said. “This belief system and practice really instilled in me the desire to do the same thing, especially with young female leaders. I seek out intelligent, determined, hungry people that wish to make a difference.”
With 30 employees, 26 who are tech-focused, Harsin explained that Prodigy has six women serving in tech roles, four of whom are millennials and two who are Gen X. The balance of the staff breaks down to 20 men: three baby boomers, three Gen X, 11 millennials and three Gen Z.
“We have a larger number of men in each demographic. I noted in our last three job postings that 90% applicants were men across the following disciplines: network architect, project management and IT support in the Gen X, millennial and Gen Z populations,” Harsin explained. “As a result, we have taken all of our job postings down and are having them reviewed to see if we are using language that would deter more women from applying for these positions.”
A Journey Through the Clouds
Over the last 10 years, Harsin said the biggest tech shift she has experienced is the credit union industry embracing and understanding cloud-based technology and the benefits derived from it.
“When I first started, I spent a lot of time defining what the ‘cloud’ was and why credit unions should take cloud computing into consideration,” she reflected. “Over the last five years, that movement has become more of an expectation. Credit unions of all sizes have a greater familiarity with the benefits, such as speed, security, maintenance, capacity, scalability and disaster recovery benefits.”
When Harsin left Wasatch Peaks Credit Union in 2014, she was hired as Prodigy’s director of product management. She next held the positions of chief product officer and EVP of market engagement, before being named CEO in March 2020.
“I saw core processing technology as a way to support all credit unions with technology that will help them maintain relevance to their communities,” she said of her career trajectory.
A core and cloud credit union service organization (CUSO), Harsin noted that the Salt Lake City, Utah-based Prodigy was created when “several credit unions banded together with a vision of collaboration and desire to own their future.” What differentiates the company, she explained, is its fintech open architecture native browser-based model that creates a modern, cloud API-focused core software platform.
“I’m very proud of how we chose to change pricing in core data processing to a SaaS based model and make it public — like you see so many other cloud technologies do. Think Stripe or DocuSign where you can go to the website and see exactly what each tier of service is going to cost,” said Harsin. “Since we did that a few years ago, several others have followed suit because it just makes sense! It’s not specific to a technology feature, but I find that it was very impactful to the way this industry interacts with credit unions because it is the most important piece of software they are going to buy.”
COVID-19 Lessons Inform Future Business Practices
If there is a silver lining to the havoc caused by COVID-19, Harsin said that “going fully remote” tested Prodigy’s ability to keep “silos dismantled, focus on work in the face of home school and uncertainty, and maintain the social benefits that are realized in an office environment.”
Among lessons she learned as CEO is that employees have been upwards of 25% more productive from home on a consistent basis. As a result, Harsin said the company is allowing employees the option of permanently working remotely.
“They can work flex hours if they choose,” she said. “Ultimately, it does not matter if code is written at 1:00 p.m. or 1:00 a.m., as long as it is written at a time of that person’s peak performance.”
Over the last several months, like many organizations, Prodigy has used video conferencing to ensure business objectives are met and that employer/employee morale remains high. Adjusting to Zoom culture has been an enlightening experience, Harsin said.
“We will continue to cultivate the more social nature of remote work with Zoom social hours, Zoom game days and video lunches. We have also removed the stigma of kids, pets and video meetings,” Harsin said. “We welcome them to our internal meetings. Kids get to feel important and involved in mom’s and dad’s work, we get to see a glimpse of real life of our employees and in some cases, it sparks an interest in kids to learn more about what we do and ultimately makes them more supportive of mom and dad.”
When asked what continues to excite her in the fintech space, Harsin said the cooperative and innovative spirit that thrives within the credit union industry.
“Credit unions’ focus is on helping members, which leads to really creative ideas that make their lives easier. I also feel that credit unions have to be more creative in funding of technology,” said Harsin. “Most do not have the deep pockets of for profit business. In my opinion, their willingness to collaborate with each other and all share in both expense and reward of developing new technology creates a unique advantage.”