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 Bankjoy’s Co-founder and Chief Operations Officer (COO) Weiwei Duncan. The Detroit-based company delivers a seamless digital banking solution that includes mobile banking, online banking, online account opening, loan origination and conversational artificial intelligence (AI).
While not the usual trajectory for a fintech chief operating officer, Weiwei Duncan began her career 10 years ago as an organic chemist in the medical field synthesizing and finding applications for organic molecules.
“With a fascination in science and technology, I knew I wanted a career in technology, but I also wanted to build something,” Duncan said. “By nature, the biomedical field requires a lengthier product design, development and testing compared to the IT industry. Because of this, it’s often hard to see the impact of what you do for 10 years or more.”
After graduating the University of Science and Technology of China with a bachelor’s degree, Duncan took a material development position in the auto industry and later earned a master’s degree from Wayne State University. During this time period, she met Michael Duncan who was working as a software developer at Michigan First Credit Union. Now husband and wife, Duncan said that Michael, Bankjoy’s co-founder and CEO, “was able to see firsthand the challenges and pain points experienced by credit unions.”
Proponents of community financial institutions, the couple became especially “fascinated” with the credit union movement. Together they set out with a mission to create a fintech that allows credit unions to compete with national banks. The goal of Bankjoy’s end-to-end solution with seamless user interface (UI) and user experience (UX), she said, is to deliver an “Apple experience” to the banking industry.
“Because fintech moves at lightning speed, we’re able to build solutions and then almost immediately see the impact,” said Duncan, who co-founded the Detroit –based Bankjoy in 2015, the same year she was named chief operating officer.
“We put our ears on the ground and constantly work with our clients and their members to understand exactly what they need and want, allowing us to quickly respond to the market with the right product designs,” said Duncan.
Diversity in Tech Still Needs Improvement
When Duncan was attending graduate school, she “primarily” worked with men. Being the only women in the laboratory, for example, was not uncommon. The lack of diversity, she noted, was frustrating.
“Compared to then, there are certainly more women in technology today, but there remains much work to do,” Duncan said. “There is still room for greater diversity. For instance, there are far fewer female developers.”
In an effort to increase opportunities for women in the fintech space, Bankjoy is making a concerted effort to recruit more women and expand opportunities for this demographic.
“We are firm believers that increasing the diversity of ideas and viewpoints naturally leads to creative ideas that fuel innovation,” she noted.
The idea of “paying it forward” for women in technology was inspired, in part, by Duncan’s experience in the industry. She singled out two women who served as mentors and role models.
“The first is Theresa Benavidez, president and CEO of Corelation. She has been tremendous in keeping me focused on what’s really important within an organization,” Duncan noted. “The second is Linglong He, the former chief information officer of Rocket Mortgage (Quicken Loans) and the current president and COO at Rock Central. She has offered exceptional advice on how to structure my team.”
When asked what her proudest technology-related accomplishment has been to date, Duncan didn’t hesitate: “Launching Bankjoy.” The company’s mission, she said, is taking credit unions to the next level.
“As consumer demand for digital climbs, the experience must improve with it, including personalization,” Duncan said. “As an example, Gen Z currently represents the second largest generation in the U.S., making up nearly half of America’s purchasing power. They present a huge opportunity for credit unions, but failing to deliver a personalized digital experience is a deal-breaker for them.”
With more than 50% of its workforce in tech-facing roles, Bankjoy’s engineering team works closely with its product development and delivery department, Duncan explained.
“We recently expanded our reach to more than one million members nationwide, demonstrating a growing demand for our digital platform,” Duncan said. “We expect to see a continued emphasis on better digital tools and stand ready to support these initiatives. Operating with a true startup mentality, we’re able to evolve and create solutions that credit unions need – today and in the future.”
Among industry trends Duncan is keeping her eye on are blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies.
“Blockchain is being integrated into government agencies as well as the retail industry for supply chain management and inventory capabilities. The use cases continue to grow, helping organizations to increase efficiencies,” she said. “Cryptocurrency is also exciting. In just the last decade, crypto has become a highly profitable investment – more than stocks, oil and gold – and is forecasted to see massive growth in 2022.”
She continued. “Over the last year or two, we’ve seen big brands like Starbucks, Microsoft, Home Depot and Whole Foods accept Bitcoin payments for purchases, and this will likely increase.”
The Credit Union Value Proposition
Among reasons Duncan left the medical field and joined the fintech movement was due to the credit union industry’s “strong mission” of serving its members. And while she noted that “some people” are under the “misconception” that credit unions are “old-school,” she said this notion couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, Duncan likened credit unions to start-ups.
“The credit union industry is poised for innovation and disruption. There is tremendous opportunity to build technology that supports credit unions and the communities they serve,” she said. “Credit unions have a strong collaborative mentality. Rather than viewing each other as primary competitors, credit unions work together for the greater good. They are always connecting with each other to share ideas and lessons learned, either through general networking or CUSOs.”
While credit unions are often celebrated for championing collaborative ideologies, there are instances where improvements can be made. In Duncan’s view, for example, COVID-19 should have taught executives the perils of “holding off” on technology investments and implementations.
“With the pandemic, it became immediately clear that those who were lagging were not prepared. In response, many institutions frantically updated their systems to better serve their members as the in-person world seemingly came to a halt,” Duncan said. “Today, we all know that digital is more important than ever. Financial institutions need to be even more aggressive with technology upgrades. They simply cannot afford to wait for another pandemic.”
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