The Importance of Innovation

Sask CU Advance is designed for Young Leaders by Young Leaders as a venue to share ideas and earn an opportunity to make a difference. Innovation has been a buzzword in the Credit Union system in the past couple of years, so we asked Shawn Good, Executive Vice President of Governance & Strategy at Conexus Credit Union, a few questions about it…

From your point of view, why is Innovation important to the Credit Union system?

Credit Unions were built on collaborative innovation; groups of individuals coming together to address a need by building something different than the financial services available at the time. Applying the same process, credit unions have historically been first to market on many changes in the industry. Today, the credit union system is facing real challenges; stagnant member growth numbers, low market penetration, capital constraints, low margins, and rapidly changing member demands in terms of channel & technology. At Conexus, we feel that for the long-term sustainability of Credit Unions, innovation is required – not just in products and services but also in how those are delivered. Innovation doesn’t need to be a net new idea – it may already exist in another industry, country, or context but when applied to our reality could result in an exciting win for members and credit unions.

How do you think about Innovation at Conexus?

It is important to draw a distinction between ideas and good innovative thinking – ideas are free (and plentiful) but valuable, innovative ideas need to align with our strategy, fit with member needs, be feasible (technologically and operationally), and economically viable. At Conexus, we are thinking of innovation as a continuum, from small improvements to big transformational changes. We have designed the following two by two matrix: Incremental to Game Changing with the solutions being generated either Internally or Externally. We are actively pursuing both the internal aspects as well as collaboration externally – within the credit union system and with other industries.  We know that it is important we continue down our path of keeping pace with members’ expectations and helping them with their financial well being. We are working hard to ensure that our process and culture are set up to support the best solutions for members.

In your view, are there key success factors that help drive Innovation in organizations?

Yes, I believe that in order for innovation to thrive it needs to be resourced and supported at several levels.  You need to have a culture that allows people freedom to fail, and where they are encouraged to challenge the status quo and try new things. You need to have clear risk appetite defined so that everyone understands what dollars the organization is prepared to put at risk in order to explore an unproven innovative project. Project governance should have a different hurdle rate or risk tolerance for innovative ideas vs. normal operational initiatives. Finally, it is critical to have clear executive and board support.

From your perspective, how does a program like Sask CU Advance help with Innovation?

Sask CU Advance by the Saskatchewan Young Leaders team provides a venue to generate and share incremental or game changing ideas from young leaders in Saskatchewan credit union system. Sharing ideas and raising the level of conversations for vetting is a step on the journey to innovation in our industry. Sask CU Advance does this, incorporates the voice of the CU system in the voting process, and allows the ideas supported by the system to be outlined and presented to the CEO group in Saskatchewan. Sounds like help to me!

— Shawn Good, Conexus Credit Union

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