Meet… Brandi Stankovic of CU Solutions

Brandi Stankovic shares her thoughts on credit unions in the UK and the USA – and what they can learn from each other

Dr Brandi Stankovic is senior vice president (strategic advisory services) at CU Solutions Group, a credit union service organisation in the USA. An executive coach and motivational speaker, she works with credit union executives, touching on issues such as member satisfaction, strategic thinking and growth. She also hosts the leadership podcast The Strategic Hotbox designed to help executives reach their greatest potential. In March, she facilitated a townhall consultation process at the Association of British Credit Unions (Abcul) conference, looking at the future of the British credit union movement, and also led sessions at July’s World Credit Union Conference, looking at diversity and inclusion.

When did you become involved in the credit union sector?

I have been involved in this sector for about 20 years – both inside a credit union and from a business partner or supplier perspective. I have worked for Harland Educational Services, Ventura County Credit Union in California and consultancy firm Mitchell, Stankovic & Associates. I am heavily involved in the industry in the USA and well as globally, through the World Council of Credit Unions. I just really believe in the credit union movement.

Are the challenges faced by credit unions in the UK similar to those faced by the sector in the USA?

There are three main areas. Firstly, in technology and its impact on the financial services sector, particularly the ability of an institution to leverage technology, update legacy systems and increase the literacy of their staff.

The second is what we in the US call enterprise versus management, and that’s a broader, more strategic focus of risk, so not just looking at market-type risk like liquidity or interest rate risk, but also strategic reputation and compliance risk – because those are overlooked by examiners and can cause the greater losses to an institution.

The third is governance. Here, the challenges are both internal – from succession, young leadership personal development standpoint – and also strategic, since the good board governance and structure is essential for leadership. So those are challenges and those three areas are shared between the two nations and sectors in different capacities.

I admire what is happening here with Abcul who organised a townhall to discuss about relevance, purpose, sustainability and co-operation – these are the keys to success for all credit unions across the world. That is the future and Abcul is asking for the voice of their membership and that’s admirable and I was very thankful to be part of it.

What could the UK sector learn from the USA when it comes to credit union service organisations?

CU Solutions group is a credit union service organisation, which is made up of 100 different investors, credit union service organisations and credit unions. Those investors come together in a co-op way to provide, create and develop leading edge solutions for other credit unions in the industry. It’s a collective opportunity for institutions, for people to have access to a different level and a revenue generation opportunity and a non-interest income offer for credit unions.

Yes, it builds on the co-operative spirit and it’s tapping into this wider range of synergy because, as an industry, we’re better together, stronger together. At the most micro level, a credit union service organisation at a credit union might be a surplus. A credit union happens to be very good at collections so then they recognise that they have a surplus; they could offer those collection services to other credit unions. At a broader scale, with CU Solutions we might focus on issues such as technology, marketing, human resources performance and advisory services.

There is a wide range of what credit union service organisations can provide and the USA is further down the line in that, but I urge the sector to not be afraid of what the possibilities can be.

Some credit unions in the UK have really small budgets for member engagement, marketing or social media. How can they make the most of this?

That’s when we have to work together. Small budgets are a reality, tight margins are a reality and that reality isn’t going to change. You can’t do it alone; the only way we can survive is if we have collective voice and resources, more collaboration and a co-operative spirit. I think that requires engaging and energising the existing team to be the best that they can be, to reach their full potential, to not just allow, but also encourage not just permit, but also promote and it starts from the board. 

What is your advice for UK credit unions that are cash-rich? Are any credit unions in the USA in similar positions?

Advocacy for broadening their abilities to have a greater breath of product service offerings will strengthen that. My advice would be to educate the membership on existing offerings, take a look at the member service experience and make the lending process as frictionless as possible. If you can only offer unsecured personal loans, then it better be easy to get that unsecured personal loan and looking at the full member relationship, not just the credit score.

Related: Reports from the World Credit Union Conference

Are credit unions in the United States in that same boat? Sure. They are. In the USA’s case, it’s about really making sure that they’re tapping into two emerging markets through product positioning. So unsecured to somebody in the baby boomer generation might be an unsecured loan for home improvement, while an unsecured loan for somebody who’s in a younger demographic could help them prepare for the next chapter in their life, for example, furthering education or starting a family.

In the USA’s case, credit cards might be unsecured debt. A credit card to someone who’s younger might be an opportunity for them to build credit, establish credit and pay off things in a small way.

A credit card for somebody that is of an older generation is a means to book travel or to have access to convenience. It’s the same product but different positioning.

Can you tell us more about your world with the World Council of Credit Unions (Woccu)?

There are two programmes I’m involved in. The first is the Global Women’s Leadership Network, who are looking to make a measurable difference by doing professional and personal development, as well as making an impact in the community. We’re in many different countries around the world. I have been involved as a USA ambassador, which means I help with the creation of different sister societies – they are called chapters – or local extensions of the network. There are many chapters all over the world and that has helped the growth of the network. Those chapters include both men and women – the network is about diversity and inclusion and ensuring that women are part of a leadership conversation.

It’s about people working together, men and women engaged in the future of leadership and the future of leadership being a more inclusive environment. There are different challenges in different countries. What might be top of mind for women leaders in the USA is gong to be different for women leaders in the Caribbean, different parts of Asia or the UK.

What are your future plans for the network?

We’re trying to get a sister society created here in the UK. There are conversations occurring. Beth Walsh, business development manager at Pioneer Mutual Credit Union in Barrhead, is leading some of the efforts here in the UK around it. So key issues on our agenda are expanding, continuing the prevalence of the message, ensuring it stays top of mind, and increasing opportunities, scholarships, and grants for women in all countries.

How are you engaged in the World Credit Union Young Professionals (WYCUP)?

Brandi Stankovic: This programme has been around for 20 years. We encourage those young and young at heart to join – it is about what it means to engage, attract, promote credit unions with our members, our staff, and our leaders.

The WYCUP programme is focused on education, events and networking. We encourage any of the readers of the News, if they have young professionals networks in their areas to loop into WYCUP because we have a lot of local affiliates. If you’re doing something in your area we’d like to highlight it.