Women in Technology: Thrive’s Anne Legg
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 Anne Legg, founder and CEO at THRIVE Strategic Services. The San Diego -based company’s mission is to simplify data activation processes that help credit unions harness their data to identify new revenue sources, lessen member friction, increase talent productivity and ultimately improve members’ lives.
By W.B. King
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is a metaphor to understand the challenge credit unions face when determining how best to use aggregated data. This was the premise of Anne Legg’s book Big Data/Big Climb: A credit union playbook for leveraging data and talent to achieve revolutionary member relationships. The catch is that prior to the book being published in 2020, Legg actually climbed the tallest freestanding mountain on the planet.
“What drew me to credit unions is there passion to provide financial services in a cooperative framework,” Legg told Finopotamus. The book, she noted, was recently added to America’s Credit Union Museum’s Ensweiler Research Library located in Manchester, N.H. where the credit union movement began with the St. Mary’s Cooperative Credit Association.
“In terms of data, credit unions being a financial institution are data robust that gives them an amazing amount of knowledge about their members and how they can continue to help them as their financial partners to achieve their financial dreams,” she said. “Being part of an industry that helps positively impact people’s financial lives is not only inspiring but rewarding.”
Legg has spent the last three decades working with more than 600 credit unions in the space. Receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Iowa School of Journalism, she went on to earn a Master of Business Administration degree from National University (her thesis, published in 2011, was centered on understanding data in the credit union industry).
“Shared value is the concept of understanding that there is more than just financial value to an organization,” Legg explained. “Credit unions exemplify this and my MBA thesis talks about ways that credit unions can harness this uniqueness leverage their data and increase the value they deliver to the member, the credit union and their community.”
Prior to founding THRIVE Strategic Services in 2016, she served as vice president of marketing at both Financial Partners Credit Union and Cabrillo Credit Union. She later was vice president of strategic marketing at Fiserv and then director of client strategies and advantaged analytics at CUNA Mutual Group.
“I’ve been so lucky to have so many wonderful people in the credit union space to have had the opportunity to learn from and so many that I continually learn from today,” she told Finopotamus. “To highlight just one person feels like a disservice to all of the many people that I have experienced in my 30-plus years.”
Legg did offer one standout: Robin Lentz, former CEO at Cabrillo Credit Union. “She really encouraged not only me but all of her leadership team to be curious and to explore, which allowed me the opportunity to widen my understanding of credit union data and how it can impact the members’ lives,” Legg said. “She was also and early adopter to technology which was a huge driver in my exposure and experience to technology.”
As a current faculty member with the Southwest CUNA Management School, Legg said she enjoys the “opportunity to help propel the consumption of data by current and future credit union leaders who are the students of this three-year program.”
Educate, Accelerate and Elevate
Over her career in the credit union industry, Legg said technology has advanced exponentially; including biometric, wearable technologies designed to keep people connected 24/7/365.
“Not only has this changed the data and data infrastructure that credit unions have but this also changed the relationship that the members have with their money,” she said.
With change comes opportunity for credit unions to gain more access to members' via digital outreach and engagement, Legg noted. “From the credit union management perspective, credit unions needed to be able to work in much more nimble and proactive fashion,” she continued. “Learning how to scale fast with an eye on the member and reducing potential frictions that they may experience.”
The main mission of THRIVE Strategic Services, Legg explained, is to “educate, accelerate, and elevate” credit unions in the pursuit of leveraging data to improve members' lives. This is achieved, in part, through a data activation educational series, which has been completed by over 240 students since its inception three years ago.
“This series allows credit unions to gain the foundational knowledge they need to harness and leverage their data to improve their members’ lives,” she explained. “The final project is to build out a one page strategic data road map. It has been an absolute joy and delight to see all of these students come through and fill knowledge gaps and build road maps and basically launch their data journeys from this course.”
It Takes a Village
On Legg’s tech radar is language models that provide “incredible amounts” of generative artificial intelligence (AI), which she said is a game changer.
“It really allows for the democratization of data as well as a huge increase in productivity and efficiency. Credit unions have been struggling the last few years in the talent wars, so they are constantly pressured to find new ways to improve the productivity of the talent that they have,” she noted. “Generative AI can help with this problem as well as create many new capabilities to help propel a credit union forward.”
In order for credit unions to complete in an increasingly competitive tech landscape, Legg said they need a healthy technology ecosystem. This often requires assistance from third party fintechs.
“Most credit unions do not have the luxury of building their own technology, both in time and in talent as well as financial resources. An ecosystem built with fintech solutions will allow credit unions to scale and deliver the technology that they need to continue to improve their members’ lives,” she continued. “I like to think that no credit union is an island and that they need a village and part of those members of the village are going to be fintechs.”