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 spent time with Education Credit Union’s Senior Vice President of Information Systems, Jacque Bagot.
By W.B. King
When Jacque Bagot joined Education Credit Union in 1993, the technology department consisted of three computers and a mainframe core system. These were the signs of those long ago times.
“When we were a smaller institution in the early 1990s, we didn’t really need a strong technology focus; personal tech and home computing were just starting to explode,” reflected Bagot.
At the time, the Amarillo, Texas-based Education Credit Union had just one branch and 30 employees.
“That is about 180 degrees different from today, where technology is a key support of our strategy and member experience,” said Bagot, adding that the credit union has approximately 120 employees with more than 200 work stations at seven locations.
“As you can imagine, our journey with technology over these past decades is similar to that of the broader industry,” she said. “We’re now looking at virtualizing, having moved away from single physical servers to virtualized servers, and are focused on automation throughout all operational processes.”
Finding a Career in Technology
In this day and age, it is rare for a person to stay at one organization for 27-plus years, but that’s exactly what Bagot has done. While still in high school, she began working in the credit union’s lending department.
“I was tasked by Claudia Burkett, the head of our credit union’s information systems department at the time, to figure out the new lending platform and train the rest of the lending staff,” she recalled. “Claudia locked on to my knack for sorting out complex processes, learning and training others on new technology.”
After this successful joint venture, Bagot said that Burkett “lobbied” to bring her into the IT department, where she soon found her niche.
“Like most young professionals, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be: A horse trainer, maybe; I grew up on a farm. But this new role helped me find something that has really been a near perfect fit for my passions, personality and talents,” she said.
For a period of time, it was just Burkett and Bagot operating the IT department, with the latter assisting with the learning of the credit union’s core system. She then trained staff members on how it interfaced with banking operations.
“This was gratifying because it allowed me to make a difference in other peoples’ lives,” said Bagot. “Tech is all about people in the end, not just code, APIs and hardware. I like bridging that gap.”
When asked if she sees more women working technology today opposed to the early 1990s, Bagot said she can’t speak for the industry, but only from her experience.
“Our team was all women when I first started. There had been men in tech positions prior to my joining the team, but we were a very small credit union at the time and for a while it was just Claudia and me,” she said. “One challenge that I have observed with more women entering our field is that there is little growth in the number of available technology leadership positions. If that’s flat, there are only so many positions available. I think some of the newer tech trends we’re seeing, data and analytics for example, might help open more doors for more people.”
Today, Education Credit Union’s technology department employs eight people, including Bagot, and spans across many different generations (three millennials and four GenXers).
“While my team does consist of more men than women, all of us bring a different dynamic to the team that makes us all successful. One of the team dynamics that I instill in each of my team members is that their voice matters. I want each of them to feel comfortable agreeing or disagreeing when we are discussing solutions and processes, even if that means disagreeing with me,” she continued. “Keeping open dialogue that is free from ego and title dynamics really helps us to come up with the best solutions, while continuing to learn and grow from one another.”
When Bagot began her career, she noted that tech wasn’t paramount to member service, member experience nor was making internal operations smarter and more efficient. The sea change occurred when the now $330 million Education Credit Union surpassed the $200 million asset mark.
“The sync between our growth and tech became much more urgent, natural, and frankly, easier because we could invest more,” she said. “Now, it’s a top-of-the-agenda item when our leaders gather. It must be, especially when situations like the pandemic mandate a tech-centric response.”
And while Bagot is the credit union’s tech leader, she is not the “only driver of tech as a tool” to serve the credit unions roughly 28,000 members.
“The entire executive team and much of our staff are involved in some way,” she stated. “Tech doesn’t mean much if frontline staff isn’t teaching members about it, or back office staff isn’t empowered and efficient because of it.”
When looking at new tech initiatives, Bagot said she has a few focuses, including cloud, although she is still considering the merits.
“My experience and (attending) recent security events have me torn when considering the use of cloud-based solutions. There are tradeoffs to these models versus being more in-house. With cloud or SaaS, there is a certain dependency on your provider(s) that requires a high degree of trust and coordination,” she said. “I’m not saying this is a no-go in any case, it’s just a different model. I think credit unions need to be strategic and analytical here – do what makes sense for the organization and, more importantly, its people and the members that depend on it.”
Machine learning and artificial intelligence are also on Bagot’s radar. The pandemic, however, has placed urgency on another category: digital.
“Every credit union in the United States got to see what business was like without branches for at least a short period of time – and how that often boosts digital adoption and acceptance,” she said. “Our branches are open now, with proper measures in place, but our members are very willing to try things like remote deposit capture that maybe they hadn’t wanted or needed to use before. We’re going to ride that wave, because self-service technology frees up bandwidth to use elsewhere.”
While all industries encounter hurdles when it comes to adopting new technologies, Bagot said credit unions share certain “built-in” challenges due to regulation and a fiduciary responsibility to keep data and services secure.
“Data is colliding with privacy right now, and this dynamic is going to continue to evolve. It’ll be slower moving in the credit union space than say social media, but these dynamics will evolve in time,” she said. “We also must be more selective in the technology we choose to purchase because we normally don’t have endless amounts of capital resources to spend. Tech and toys are great. I love new tech, but if it isn’t backed by sound strategy, we shouldn’t take the plunge.”
Positivity and Flexibility
During COVID-19 times where emotions, stress and change have run rampant, Bagot said it is more important than ever before to be positive, flexible and communicative.
“We’ve worked hard to build a positive outlook and to project that outward. Communicating – in fact, probably over communicating – with members and staff has been important. There is a lot of noise out there, and people gravitate toward confidence, structure and calm,” she continued. “Our workplaces are conservative in nature, slow to change and careful. Keeping the team aligned, keeping communications direct, concise and detailed - all of this takes work."
And like many peers in senior leadership positions, the pandemic has provided Bagot with important lessons, including how best to move forward in what has become a changed operating environment.
“The pandemic has forced an inflection point, a time for us to look at all our products, offerings and approaches to member service with fresh eyes," noted Bagot. "We have a unique moment to reflect and ask if we can make things better for staff and members, and see gaps that need to be filled operationally. That’s a good thing in the end."