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 Marty Wye, chief executive officer and president for the Alexandria, Va.–based InFirst Federal Credit Union.
By W.B. King
While she doesn’t consider herself to be a “tech” person, Marty Wye has been in and around banking technologies since the 1980s.
“When I entered the financial services industry, the number of individuals required to manage the product and write the code was incredible. Technology departments (product-specific software programmers) took up two floors of the building,” recalled Wye who started her career working at Virginia National Bank. “Those that interfaced with the consumers used ‘dumb terminals’ with day-old information to view account balances.”
These were the days, she noted, before Check21 when physical checks were “bundled” and sent by cash letter for presentment at the local clearinghouse. Checks drawn on banks outside of the local district were sent to the Federal Reserve Bank (FRB) for processing, sorting and presentment to their local bank in that district.
“The chilly computer room, with raised flooring for cabling and servicing, consisted of over a dozen strategically placed IBM checking processing units,” she said. “The check processing equipment captured the check image, front and back, and sorted the checks by the ABA number that appeared in the MICR line.”
To be sure, these were different technological times, but Wye paid attention to the details and was eager to learn. In 1992, she entered the credit union industry by accepting a position at Congressional Federal Credit Union. From that point forward, her career path has provided opportunities to touch all aspects of banking operations.
“Each product – savings, checking, money market, certificate, credit card, installment loan, mortgage and home equity – had its own programming team that held the software together by ‘band-aids’ until it blew up again. One could predict day-old account holder information would be unavailable on Tuesday mornings given that the volume of transactions processed every Monday evening,” she recalled. “I knew that it was important to be able to work with the programmers to solve problems and incorporate regulatory changes in the software. Having a positive approach resulted in a positive resolution to programming issues.”
The Importance of Team Work
When Wye began her career, she said there were a “significant number” of women programmers, a career path she believes today still appeals to those with attention to detail. Women in C-level positions, however, were not the norm.
“The senior managers were primarily men [then],” she said, adding that today InFirst Federal Credit Union has just one male millennial employee in its IT department. This is due to the credit union’s partnership with the Farmington Hills, Mich. – based Member Driven Technologies (MDT). The CUSO, formed in 2003, counts more than 100 credit unions as clients.
“We rely heavily on our IT employees and on MDT to help us with our technology strategy,” said Wye who has been InFirst Federal Credit Union’s CEO and president since 2011. “MDT is nimble and they have supported us throughout numerous projects, which is why we have become a one-person IT shop.”
Wye explained that the credit union’s partnership with MDT began on March 1, 2013. Since that date, InFirst Federal Credit Union has converted to a new phone system, changed its name, added recyclers becoming a cash operation and purchased new branches, including one located in a shopping center in Maryland that primarily serves as a shared branch to guest members.
“Given the number of employees, we never would have been able to accomplish so much without the support of our IT department, the staff at InFirst and MDT,” said Wye. “The best decision that I ever made was the partnership with Member Driven Technologies. Their team of professionals understand the critical role that they play in helping their credit unions thrive in an ever-changing financial services environment. The leadership vets the potential vendors before committing to the product.”
Being able to make sound business decisions was a skill Wye honed over the course of her career. And as she looks back, she points to one person who was her champion.
“Bob Hess, the former CEO and president of Congressional FCU, was a great mentor to me. He appreciated my diverse banking background and positive approach to the challenges that one faces daily in our industry,” she said. “He truly recognized my talent and was instrumental in helping advance my career.”
What initially attracted Wye to credit unions, and remains an inspiration to this day, is the industry’s motto: “People helping people.” She said her team “lives, loves and believes” in the philosophy wholeheartedly.
“Our belief that we can make a difference in our members’ lives runs throughout the credit union,” she said. “When a member cries because you have approved their emergency loan, car loan, mortgage, or saved them from losing their home, you know that you have done your part and made a difference that will impact that family forever. Nothing could be more rewarding.”
The pandemic has proven to be Wye’s most challenging time period since she started her career in banking, but she said positive lessons have been learned. These include the ability for more staff to work remotely and the realization that the credit union doesn’t need a large operation center or multiple buildings to meet the needs of its membership.
“We must, though, have branches that are open, safe and secure to protect the employees and the members,” said Wye. “The staff at InFirst knows that we have helped an incredible number of our members survive financially and that we care about our employees and their children. We will get through this latest bump in the road. We are resilient.”
So as Wye guides her team into 2021, she said she has formed a new strategy, which she calls “Covid Brain.” This approach includes managing employee and member expectations during the challenges of an unprecedented and ongoing pandemic.
“We are all overwhelmed with the situation and the issues,” she said, before adding a positive parting message with enthusiasm: “Think big; start small; scale fast; decide and execute. And whatever you do, never look back!”