CU*Answers held its week-long CEO Strategies Week November 10-12, online and at the DeVos Place in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In light of the on-going coronavirus pandemic, the CUSO shifted gears to continue the long-running event. Using a studio environment, CU*Answers held interactive webinars on Tuesday and Thursday. Wednesday featured a socially-distanced in-person event for those interested. Credit union CEOs were given a unique opportunity to participate in creating the solutions that CU*Answers and the cuasterisk.com network will take to market.

Randy Karnes, CU*Answers CEO, was grateful for the lively interactions that took place, saying, “It is easy in these current times to fall into a ‘what’s the point?’ mindset. As CEOs and developers, it’s our responsibility to constantly challenge that mindset. While some might have wondered why bother having CEO Strategies, we instead thought ‘what might we learn?’ I’m thankful to all those CEOs who attended and participated, and with whom I share that same drive of forward progress in uncertain times.”

To encourage interaction and dialogue during the web conferences, registration for the six webinars was limited to fifty CEOs. The webinars covered the topics of BizLink and business servicing; new teller platforms rolling out in 2021; DIY mobile capabilities; mobile first revolution; the next generation of data analytics; and what credit unions need to know about the CUSO’s national cuasterisk.com agenda. Wednesday’s event took a look at three topics affecting CEOs and their credit unions in the near future: post-COVID business responses, software headlines for their 2021 business plan, and credit union operational challenges for the network to consider.

I’m thankful for those that were able to attend and for the spirit of perseverance all our credit unions carry that inspires me every day. – CEO Randy Karnes

BizLink sets eyes on expanding business servicing

In the first webinar of the week, Karnes was joined by BizLink’s Keegan Daniel from Studio B who shared his team’s ambitious goal. Like many other teams at CU*Answers, BizLink is a consulting team, a client service help desk, and a business unit focused on being the catalyst for credit unions developing programs for business members.

Daniel said BizLink wants to inspire 100 credit unions to start business member services. To help, the team has set out to address three primary items missing for credit unions:

  • A ready-made toolkit that can blend easily with the core processor tools credit unions use for their retail members,
  • A plan to evolve retail member tools into intuitive alternatives for the business member, and
  • Strategies that allow the tools to flex between the unique layers of business member profiles.

To accomplish this task, BizLink teamed up with ten leaders in business servicing to form an advisory board. Together, they identified five projects for 2021 and 2022 to tackle.

  1. Business Sweep Accounts: Maximize earnings by moving operating funds to an earning account each day…then back again the next morning. Optional monthly fees can be tied to the investment $$ balance.
  2. Corporate Credit Card Program: Starting with an optional summary statement for business credit card programs.
  3. Business Online Banking Tiers: New business online banking solutions will let credit unions offer multiple options. Each based on the specific need of each business (small, big, and in between).
  4. ACH Services: Working with Magic-Wrighter to dive deeper into services for credit unions and their business members. Creating a full toolbox with a preferred solution, optional solutions from Vizo Financial, Jack Henry, and Corp One, and the credit union’s solution.
  5. Positive Pay for Check Clearing: First introduced in the July 2020 CU*BASE release, cashier services via teller in-house checks will be coming in 2021.

Karnes concluded the section by stating BizLink is not a one-and-done, tactical development project. It is a comprehensive, 3- to 5-year initiative to inspire the network to build 100 business programs among their 300 clients. “To truly innovate, it is said you need to increase on the status quo by 30% . . . BizLink is about innovating within our network.”

Teller 3P positions CU*Answers for the next decade

The second segment of the week focused on teller approaches, and how credit unions will shift the role of lobbies and teller lines in the wake of a global pandemic. First introduced a few years ago, the Teller 3P (three platform) initiative was to set the stage for a three-pronged approach to teller strategies.

The first encompasses the existing robust teller platform within CU*Answers’ core system CU*BASE. The second, Xpress Teller, envisions a new thought process for teller interactions. And the third involves dreaming and prototyping radical new solutions and investments to support even further transformation via integrations.

Xpress Teller was the star of the show, as CU*Answers’ VP of Software Design Dawn Moore showcased the new concepts. Per Moore, Xpress Teller is meant to achieve the following: a shorter learning curve, simpler step-by-step processes, high configurability at the branch level, and new engines to achieve it all.

Handing credit unions a DIY system for mobile capabilities

Kristian Daniel of the Mobile Technologies Group (MTG) joined Karnes for the final webinar of Tuesday to discuss mobile strategies. Unlike the core platform CU*BASE, which offers client credit unions a high degree of customization and configuration options for core services, mobile app development has been held more tightly by the CUSO.

Last year, CU*Answers threw down the gauntlet to challenge this. They set out to accomplish the following:

  • Development of modules tools for features
  • Master navigation tools for independent look-and-feel navigation
  • Project to include both in MTG’s CU Publisher self-service platform
  • An aggressive development calendar to present a new future with Mobile 5.0 and the new “mobile first” online banking foundation coming out in 2021

Since then and on into 2021, credit unions will gain access to new means of controlling their mobile app development. With the CU Publisher program, users will be able to use tools to update credit union info, manage their mobile apps from a display standpoint, set mobile alerts, create custom secure forms, and process them in the request center.

Before credit unions jump in though, Karnes suggested CEOs consider the strategy. “Every credit union has a staff member who says they should take control and manage these options. But should you? Only a CEO would know. Speed to change is a preference—how active do you want to be? The important thing is that either way you make a commitment to the investment.”

Shifting online banking development to a “mobile first” mindset

In Thursday’s first segment, Karnes was joined MTG’s Ken Vaughn to discuss design that starts from the mobile end—which has more restrictions—then expands features to create the tablet and desktop versions.

Karnes said a mobile first mindset gives the marketplace insight into the evolution of CU*Answers’ products, the direction of its investments, and some insight into the priorities as they invest in people, ideas, and the evolution of software products.

“It signals that we now believe that the marketplace defaults to appreciating software from a mobile buyer’s standpoint, and that we will push to be seen in that light,” added Karnes. “Mobile experiences become the new compass for consumer expectations and measurements for what to do next.”

Vaughn took the reins from there, displaying a wide variety of new web modules and master navigation features. The key takeaway: CEOs can expect CU*Answers to be a valuable partner in creating the future that this generation of members is expecting from credit union technology.

“Go to work selling that future to your team, your boards, and ultimately your members,” concluded Karnes. “Remember both your team and your members are developing the same expectations for tech—you are a partner in the manufacturing approach.”

The next generation of data analytics and Asterisk Intelligence offerings

One area credit unions may be falling behind in their data analysis efforts is in the use of data warehouses and non-transactional data. Per the Asterisk Intelligence team of CU*Answers, non-transactional data will be the mainstay of business intelligence teams for years as it presents new chances to see the member, see the opportunity, and see the optics for channels yet to be harvested like ever before.

Moving on from that, hosts Pete Winninger of Lender*VP and Karnes dove into database lending, which they see as the power behind credit unions’ future financial success. With the release of 1Click loans (instant loan offers, approval and opening) and Flex Loans (putting the power of modifying loans in the hands of members), CD-secured loans, CLR Path Decision Advisor, and on-demand ACH posting, credit unions have more ways than ever to drive loan growth and give members more possibilities.

Said Karnes, “This is a two-pronged analytical focus to shift the priority and angle of attack to the production of opportunity. This will drive credit union success who have need for modern operational approaches.”

Innovation and cooperation at the center

In the final webinar of the week, CU*Answers shared its national cuasterisk.com agenda. “Many people think collaboration is a social trait, so they miss the boat on earning from a business skill and drive,” said Karnes. “Success can fool business leaders into the sense that collaboration is something you grow out of.”

When asked the question how the cuasterisk.com network expanded so much outside the classic core provider persona, Karnes pointed to five key factors:

  1. Ownership: 100% credit union-owned, with more than just a cooperative spirit – we are driven by a cooperative business charter.
  2. A mandate to build and maintain a win-win between the consumer-owner alliance.
  3. The focus on every owner as equal as to vote, voice, and the importance of their individual organization’s agenda; we join their agenda more than they join ours.
  4. In balancing our diversity of agendas, we balance the importance we put on diverse challenges and opportunities.
  5. We are interested in everything, every influence on the spirit, design, and tactics that credit unions deploy to win.

It was this sense of collaboration at the core that drove CU*Answers to create the Innovation Center, which will open in Las Vegas November 2021 for CEO Strategies. Karnes and CU*Answers EVP of National Sales and Marketplace Relationships Scott Collins invited attendees to visit wecanbeyourwildcard.com to learn more about the Innovation Center and what it will bring the credit union industry.

Roundtable is small but not less important

Sandwiched between the two days of engaging webinars, CU*Answers held its traditional roundtable, giving participating CEOs an opportunity to discuss pressing topics. This year covered the topics of post-COVID predictions and business responses, software headlines for your 2021 business plan, and credit union operational challenges for CU*Answers to consider.

Although participation was light due to COVID, Karnes considered the event a success. “Rising to the occasion is what has made credit unions thrive since their inception. If 2020 has shown anything, it’s that the credit union spirit is alive and well. We face conflict head on and fight through it to be there for our members. I’m thankful for those that were able to attend and for the spirit of perseverance all our credit unions carry that inspires me every day.”


  • Esteban Camargo

    As a supervising editor of CUSO Magazine, Esteban reviews and edits submissions, assists in the development of the publishing calendar, and performs his own research and writing. His experience provides CUSO Mag with a seasoned writer and content curator, able to provide valuable input to contributors, correspondents, and freelance journalists. Esteban has worked at CU*Answers since 2008 and currently serves as the CUSO's content marketing manager.

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