Starting a Business Intelligence Team Featuring Honor Credit Union’s Deb Slavens


Recently I had the chance to sit down with Deb Slavens from Honor Credit Union. Deb serves as Vice President of Innovation Technology and has been invaluable in building a data analytics team at the credit union as well as aiding the CU*Answers Asterisk Intelligence team come to life over the last few years. She has worked with the CU*Answers Data Boot Camps on multiple occasions and continues to be a driving force within the world of data.

Keegan Daniel: As an original member of the CU*Answers Data Boot Camp 3 years ago, how have you been able to incorporate data initiatives and concepts into your team?

Deb Slavens: When I first walked into boot camp, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that building a team that was focused on data was a priority for our credit union, but I wasn’t sure I was qualified to lead it. I didn’t have a degree in Data Analytics, and I was certainly not some kind of data scientist. I had experienced a few wins with data and it had ignited a passion in me that I had to pursue. When I met the participants of the boot camp and heard their stories, I was shocked how similar we all were. I learned that I just needed to START. Create a team, define their job descriptions, use the tools that are available, and build an audience. Boot camp was instrumental in the launch of Honor’s Business Intelligence team.

Deb Slavens

Keegan: I know that between myself and the rest of the Asterisk Intelligence team, we have spent a great deal of time working and collaborating together on initiatives related to data. What have been some of your favorite achievements over the course of these interactions?

Deb: I love passing ideas and sharing knowledge between our two intelligence teams. While AI’s scope is much larger, with many credit unions to focus on, we are aligned with the same credit union challenges and opportunities. In the early days of building our teams, we were challenged by [CU*Answers CEO] Randy Karnes to write a catalog of services that a data team would offer. This was the first time I really began thinking of Honor’s BI team as a business. It helped me rethink our offerings and begin to put a price tag on our work. We started asking, What would be done with the insights provided? What would be Honor’s return on investment with each data engagement? It helped us avoid runaway curiosity and report hoarding just for the sake of comfort.

Keegan: Building a business intelligence team is no small feat. How did you sell your CEO on the concept?

Deb: This might be cheesy, but one of my favorite movie quotes is from the movie The Patriot, “Aim small, miss small.” I didn’t ask our CEO for $1M to outsource the construction of a data warehouse and hire a team of data scientists. We started small, selling it by the slice. Taking full advantage of the multitude of free tools available to CU*Answers credit unions, we stepped slowly into building the culture. Our team continues to evolve and prove the value proposition with each step of the journey. In order to compete in the future, you won’t be able to dismiss the power of data. At Honor, data is a top-down supported business.

Keegan Daniel: The Asterisk Intelligence team is offering a data warehouse to all CU*Answers credit unions, but Honor Credit Union has invested in a data warehouse on its own. What are some of the highlights and challenges that have come along with having your own data warehouse?

Deb: Building an internal data warehouse has really tested our teams. I wanted our BI team to own the process from beginning to end, meaning I didn’t want to outsource any of the development. We opted to invest in training and certifications for our team to become experts with the warehouse. Becoming a database administrator doesn’t happen overnight and there has been some trial and error in our ETL (Extract, Transform, and Load) programming. It’s always a challenge to be patient during construction phases, especially when you are anxious to run! The team has come so far since we started and is building more confidence every day. They have been able to automate the creation and delivery of hundreds of recurring report requests. They have also been able to quickly integrate new solutions with data from CU*BASE directly from the warehouse. The heavy lifting of automation has paved the path to refocus Honor’s Business Intelligence team from being story tellers of what already happened, to begin telling the organization what is going to happen or what should happen. Diving into Data Analytics and pushing out insights that drive action is our new challenge. We are jumping in with both feet this year and I am excited to see where it takes Honor.

Keegan: As a data-minded professional within the credit union industry, what data interests you and gets you excited?

Deb: My first reaction was ALL of it. However, once you chase imaginary rabbits too deep down the hole a few times, you realize that effective teams have a dedicated focus. Don’t overcomplicate what is needed to make your credit union succeed. Our BI team works closely with the leaders of the organization to understand our guiding principles: grow the membership, increase each member’s relationship with us, and grow a financially sound cooperative. It excites me to work with data that supports this strategy and deliver solutions for members to be financially successful.

Keegan: The goal for credit union professionals is to find and create opportunity for credit unions to earn. What projects have you and Honor completed that resulted in the opportunity for the credit union to earn?

Deb: Our aim is that all projects we undertake result in the credit union earning or finding/creating efficiencies that save the credit union money. Some of the biggest ones that come to mind are analyses on fees, rates, branch transactional activities, underwriting, line of credit increases, outbound calling campaigns, and other targeted marketing approaches. BI = Opportunity to Earn.

Keegan: One of the most difficult decisions is often deciding what to do for lunch. What are you doing for lunch?

Deb: Great question. After cross analyzing the totality of travel costs, rising restaurant expense trends, and productivity reduction implications, I determined it was best to eat the turkey sandwich and grapes I brought from home.

Keegan: Now that we have the lunch questions out of the way, how do we continue to ensure that our careers as data professionals are not at risk? Do we need to continue to create new data? Or do we continue to harvest new opportunity organically through data that already exists?

Deb: The answer is both. The world will never stop producing new data. It will be crucial to build due diligence processes around the data we create to determine the value in retaining, refining, merging, and mining. As our industry knowledge, technologies, and skills progress, new ways of viewing old data will emerge. As we identify new ways to view and analyze data, we will build automated machine learning to do it for us in the future. I believe that evolution cycle could be endless.

Keegan: What projects will Honor’s business intelligence team be working on in 2019 and beyond?

Deb: In a lot of ways, 2019 feels like a big unveiling. Over the past year, we have been a little quiet while we put on our construction hats and dove into the development of our data warehouse and report automation tools. We wrapped up that heavy lifting at the end of 2018 and have established new goals to jump both feet back into data analytics. It was hard to pause, but necessary to get ourselves out of the cycle of looking back at what already happened, to looking forward at what we will recommend, predict, or prescribe to happen. We will begin connecting with the credit union in ways we never have before, creating a new audience of customers relying on our insight. Our goals for 2019 include:

  • Monthly “Intelligent Tips” – Working with Branch and Deptartment Managers to educate on tools available for self-service that will help them keep a better pulse on their business, make quick adjustments, and celebrate success
  • Quarterly analysis projects – Mine and analyze data to present opportunities for leaders to grow our membership, increase each member’s relationship with us, and grow a financially sound cooperative
  • Research and development of new business intelligence and data visualization tools

Honor Credit Union has a business intelligence team of three: one team lead and two analysts. This team spends approximately 50% of their time working on data analytics to be consumed by internal resources, as well as teaching others about data. The remaining time is spent administering the databases that Honor uses in their everyday operations and ad hoc reporting. One thought worth pointing out is that the Honor Credit Union Business Intelligence team has done a great job of vetting data projects (whether they be a request from a fellow credit union employee or with a third party…). This allows the team to keep scope creep down and allows them to make sure that there will be a valuable action taken on the project/analysis.

Keegan: Thank you for your time, Deb. I’ll let you get back to crunching the numbers.

Deb: You’re welcome and thanks for the opportunity to share my passions for data analytics!


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