Dashboards and other analytical tools seem to be everywhere nowadays, each promising to change your life, increase speed to insights, and help you shift through data to locate value. But with so many options, approaches, and varying functionality, it can become difficult to look past the marketing and inflated sales hype to truly understand what is being presented to you and the pros and cons of the data within the tool. Here are my tips and tricks to avoid common data pitfalls while maximizing value and minimizing disappointment.

Tip 1: Understand where the raw data is sourced from

If you are new to credit union data strategies, you might be surprised at how much secondhand data you are presented with, and all the data transfers you likely have in place. Generally speaking, the closer to the raw data you can get, the more accurate your results will be.

By contrast, being further removed from the data source can create a cloudy look at the presentation layer. Imagine a credit union with an off-trial balance credit card portfolio and that’s using an asset and liability management vendor for operational trending and analysis. In this case, the credit card portfolio data originates from the 3rd party. Any credit card data on the core system is secondhand data, and it’s only what the vendor decided to send.

Now consider the ALM provider. This vendor is likely fed by a periodic file transfer from the core. The credit card vendor filters their data and sends a subset to the core provider, the core then filters the data again and sends it off to the ALM vendor, who then filters it yet a third time and presents it as an operational dashboard. The further removed you get from the true data source, the greater the odds of errors, omissions, and ultimately, misunderstandings.

Asterisk Intelligence Actionable Tip: Stay close to your data sources.

Tip 2: Knowledge is only powerful if you use it

I love the saying “knowledge is power.” This phrase always hits close to home for me, and speaks to some life lessons I learned early in my life. But despite my appreciation for this phrase, I wish it went one or two steps further. Knowledge is only powerful when you use it. Knowledge without action might earn you $100 at trivia night , but only if you walk through the door to play. A truly effective data strategy will not only provide you with operational knowledge of your credit union, but will also enable you to take action and leverage it in new and creative ways to generate value.

Asterisk Intelligence Actionable Tip: Always look for a way to take action on your analytical findings.

Tip 3: Simplicity, clarity, and documentation

Some people get frightened by simplicity, fearing that simple means unintelligent or imprecise. I disagree. I’ll choose simplicity over complexity almost every time! Simplicity means that the process is sustainable, repeatable, trainable, and understandable. I coach clients towards simplicity as often as possible.

There is a time and a place for complexity… NASA, United States tax code, health insurance, or quantum physics, for example. But in our industry, complexity often just boils down to inefficiency, additional expense, slower responses, smaller audiences, and data uncertainty. Do not get sold on complexity or an entity’s proprietary “special sauce.” These are typically justifications to charge you more money, and the creation of barriers to exit.

You might ask, “How am I ever going to perform those calculations without my vendor?” Not to mention a long-term reduction in your internal IQ. You’ll find the more you outsource out of the credit union, the lower your internal staff’s operational IQ becomes. An effective data strategy will be well documented, clearly defined, and simple to use and comprehend. Some projects will require complexity, so enjoy simplicity when you can.

Asterisk Intelligence Actionable Tip: Keep your analytical strategies simple, repeatable, and understandable.

Tip 4: Expand your audience for data, share the knowledge

Some things in life are just hard to share, like your toothbrush or explaining “the birds and the bees” to your kids. Operational knowledge or insights should not be one of them. Guess what: everyone has a bad quarter here and there, every portfolio has both ‘ebbs’ as well as ‘flows’. Some credit unions find profitability naturally, while others need to consciously work at it. Where you fall on this spectrum should not be private or kept on a need-to-know basis. In my opinion, every credit union stakeholder should have access to operational insights, because after all, knowledge is power.

When you find a valuable dashboard, or valuable information (good or bad), share it! Get others engaged. You have no clue from where or whom the next great idea will come, so engage everyone! Show it to your board, management team, department heads, even the front line. As more and more stakeholders become engaged, you will begin to see a shift in culture. More individuals will take on accountability, and individualism itself will begin to give way to teamwork and improved communication. Knowledge is intended to be shared. What would our world look like if the best historical thinkers kept all their knowledge to themselves?

Asterisk Intelligence Actionable Tip: Share your findings and engage other team members—you never know where the next great idea will come from.

Make the most of your data

We have no shortage of data these days. As technology continues to grow by leaps and bounds, so will our opportunities to interact with data, using it to generate operational insights, maximize results, or cut waste. But it also opens the door to poor assumptions, translation errors, partial/incomplete datasets, and countless other data pitfalls. To stay clear of these common problems, start by understanding your true data sources, as data closest to the source is the most reliable. The most important part of the process is taking action! Keep procedures simple and easy to understand, and finally, share your findings, engage staff, and develop a culture of data.


  • Thomas Hull

    After joining the CU*Answers family in 2011 as a staff accountant, Thomas’ passion for data and analytics became immediately apparent, and he quickly grew to become the corporate resource for data trending and forecasting, financial analysis, and data visualization. In 2017, Thomas joined the Asterisk Intelligence team as a business intelligence analyst, playing a vital role in new service development.

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