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CU*Answers held its 2024 Annual Leadership Conference and Stockholders Meeting on June 26th in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. The event brought together credit union leadership from across the country for a briefing on the organization’s overall direction and major projects for the coming year.

This year’s conference theme was “Blazing the Trail” The event marked the third hosted by Geoff Johnson, who has served as the organization’s CEO since October 2021. “I was fondly remembering my own personal life, cross country skiing up in Northern Michigan with my family. And when we had a good snow—12, 18 inches—that person out front always got to be the trailblazer. The one who cut the trail that the rest of us followed. Some of the hardest work, but the most rewarding. What that looked and felt like, I will never forget. We use that theme and apply it today in the technology, investments, and the development that we’re doing for the network.”

The day-long conference was attended by over 320 leaders credit union leaders. Geoff gave a run down on the state of the CUSO and of its growing number of network partners. Over the course of the last year, CU*Answers conversions teams worked to convert 20 new clients to the CU*BASE core processing platform. Those credit unions reside in 10 different states, as far wide as Hawaii and New York.

Joining Johnson on stage were leaders and experts from Lender*VP, AuditLink, CU*Answers Management Services, and more, as they discussed the latest and greatest in the CUSO’s software and product development, as well as some major foundational projects that will set the stage for the long term success of the cooperative.

“I’m excited that you’re joining us on this adventure. That you’re working with us on the trail. But your feedback and input is priceless. We’ll have discussions and mention many times throughout the day about Conversations On. This is about our ears being open, engaging with our credit unions throughout the development of the toolsets that we provide. Your voice is critical in everything that we do.” – CEO Geoff Johnson

An update on the world of cards and payments sets the stage

As the day moved forward into deeper dives of software and development, CU*Answers Cards & Payments Manager Nicole Cooper joined Geoff on stage to discuss developments in the EFT world, including the hard work going into digital card issuance and the challenges of working with the myriad card vendors.

Then EVP of Client Experience Dawn Moore came up to dive into instant payments. With RTP® Receive from the Clearing House now available, and receiving funds via the FedNow® Service coming soon, Dawn urged credit unions to hop on both rails. Members will find the services they want, but they won’t choose the rail that service uses. As such, credit unions can best support their members by giving them more options that comes with relatively few risks.

Sending via RTP® and the FedNow® Service is still in development, and will require deeper consideration, Moore warned. She urged credit unions interested in learning more to attend an upcoming Conversations on Instant Payments event the CUSO would be hosting.

But instant payments don’t end with the aforementioned services, and Moore shared that credit unions can take advantage of Payrailz P2P today and Zelle soon.

CBX sets the foundation for the core

Next on stage was Amanda Grieves, Technical Project Coordinator, to share the latest updates to CBX, CU*Answers’ upcoming core platform transition. CBX will replace the existing platform CU*BASE GOLD in the near future, as has been a major undertaking for the CUSO over the past few years. In all, 20,000 GOLD screens had to be converted to the new web-based platform.

Although CBX will provide an exciting new look and interface, Grieves stressed that for staff, it will have a familiar feel with little education needed to make the transition. But though it will have a familiar feel, it will come with many upgrades to the existing platform, with larger screens, a web look and feel, and future possibilities in internal and external API integration.

Credit unions will begin beta testing the platform in late 2024, with all credit unions on CBX in 2025 and CU*BASE GOLD sunset.

Then Imaging Solutions Manager Kyle Karnes joined Geoff on stage to share how their team’s work will further build on CBX’s move towards fewer installed items on workstations.

Among the most applauded developments were the upcoming ability to print any report to PDF, FormFLOW for CU*Forms and its ability to create audited membership checklists, and the recent integration of MemberPass for multi-factor authentication.

How data analytics and artificial intelligence are shaping the future

Following a brief intermission and short section on CUSO Magazine from our very own editor Emily Claus, AuditLink was asked to speak on abnormal activity monitoring.

AVP A.J. Schalk joked with the crowd about auditing and compliance being credit unions’ favorite topic of conversation, and urged credit unions to start taking advantage of CU*BASE’s existing abnormal activity monitoring toolset today to get a head start on some exciting developments in the work. Chief among those is Stop-No-Go, CU*Answers’ solution for stopping fraud at the point of attack by evaluating suspect transactions and preventing posting when appropriate.

Then Business Intelligence Analyst Matt Collins shared the latest and greatest in Analytics Booth, the CUSO’s web-based data analytics platform for credit union management and boards of directors. A major development just released is the introduction of a new reporting function in Analytics Booth, which gives users a quick and easy way to dissect their credit unions’ financials, create ratios, and build reports that can be viewed on screen or printed with ease for board reports.

Then in December, the team will release another major update with a new financial statement toolkit to build balance sheets and income statements, including making separate versions for the board, the credit union website, etc.

EVP of Software Development Brian Maurer then joined Collins and Johnson on stage to have a discussion about artificial intelligence, its role within the credit unions community, and what CU*Answers is investigating with respect to its use.

Among the things CU*Answers is looking to, is applying artificial intelligence in coding and quality control work, in creating member-facing applications (such as intelligent chat bots), for client-facing applications (making it easier for credit unions to find the answers they need), and in predictive analytics.

A.I. comes with a caveat, the two warned though: it’s easy to jump in with an exciting new vendor, but they come and go with the wind. And credit unions must be wary of what data they give up to A.I. and vendors, and what they expose to the public, as real-world examples have shown artificial intelligence can by tricked by the savvy.

A brief presentation the work being done in Client Services and Education to build a strong team was given by VP Kristian Daniel before lunch.

Tune-ups, Lending, and Online Banking

The afternoon kicked off with VP John Beauchamp sharing the development of a consulting and custom training portfolio. Over 80 engagements meant to ensure credit unions are getting the most out of their core platform investment.

Then Vice President of Lender*VP Ashley Melder came up to share what the CUSO’s been working on in the world of lending, from 1Click loans, to marrying 1Click Offers with CLR Path (Character Lending on Reputation), a touch up of Retailer Direct, and the recent integration with Auto Financial Group (AFG).

1Click Offers have been a huge success since their implementation back in 2020, with many updates and enhancements only strengthening the product. At its most basic, 1Click Offers are vetted loan offers placed directly in online and mobile banking for members to quickly and easily take advantage of. They began with credit cards, and have since moved to lines of credit, unsecured loan offers, and most recently, unfunded offers (to provide pre-approvals letters to show dealers). As the CUSO continues to build on its success, they’re researching 1Click Secured offers and some form of pay-over-time.

The final two guests for the day were Online Banking Manager Seth Longcore followed by Dawn Moore again to discuss the latest in online and mobile banking, as well as how CU*Answers is working to improve online loan and membership applications.

Although the last year has been one of integrations into online banking, from simple SSOs to full product integrations, the online banking team has also been hard at work on revamping the online credit card loan application.

Speaking of, Moore spoke about how the online membership application and loan applications, though individually great, have not always worked seamlessly together. As the CUSO tackles this, they hope to build a sophisticated model for managing both, and having them work hand-in-hand to provide a best in class member onboarding experience.

Wrapping up the day

With the day’s festivities beginning to wind down, Johnson took center stage again to award two leaders within the CU*Answers family. First was Jarod Bach, CEO of Bridge Credit Union in Powell, Ohio, who was awarded the 2024 “Spirit of CU*Answers” Ambassador Award for his work in fostering a growing and thriving community of credit unions on the CU*BASE platform. Said Geoff of Jarod: “Incredible growth in his credit union, that network development, and truly a passionate participant in out network.”

Following an update on the state of the cuasterisk.com network of CUSOs, which today supports 376 credit unions in 42 states on CU*BASE, Johnson gave out the second award to Keith Stone, CEO of two start-ups: The Finest FCU (New York, NY) and New Jersey State PBA FCU (Woodbridge, NJ). (And a third coming soon!) Stone shared an impassioned message about the importance of the credit union industry, urging leaders to never lose the fire that drives them: “Complacency kills us! Take advantage of all of this stuff, we have to use it, we have to learn it, we have to make a difference. What’s the value proposition we offer our members? Cause otherwise we’re like everyone else. We could be boring. Everyone’s got the same stuff, what are we going to do different?”

As Geoff closed the festivities he thanked the community for its spirit of collaboration, the staff for helping make the day a success, the board for its support, and the attendees for challenging him not just with easy conversations, but the hard ones as well.

Author

  • 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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