Salim Ismail Stresses Importance of Innovation and Embracing Technology in Growing the Credit Union Movement

Futurist and angel investor Salim Ismail proposed jaw-dropping innovative ideas for credit unions to thrive and leapfrog past their competitors in his Wednesday morning general session address at the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) Convention and Annual Business Meeting.

In a world where technology is doubling its capacity fast enough that laptops will have the capacity of a human brain in 12 years, Ismail says credit unions should end their laser focus on member services and emphasize product leadership.

“If you don’t innovate—if you are not a product leader in your industry—you are in big trouble,” Ismail told an audience that packed a large ballroom.

Ismail’s concepts repeatedly elicited audible surprise from an attentive audience hearing example after example of exponentially growing technology that may scare some but could well be used to solve such global issues as energy shortages and economic inefficiencies. Ismail showed the audience 3-D printer technology, now down to prices as low as $800. Instead of merely spraying ink images on paper like a traditional printer, 3-D printers use a similar concept to create actual user-designed objects. The latest printers are so advanced as to be nearly self-sustaining, Ismail said, and are able to “fabricate 70 percent of the parts needed to create the next printer.”

Ismail is a driving force behind Singularity University, a think tank responding so rapidly to growing technology at a rate so fast as to make it ineligible to earn accreditation. Singularity attracts the brightest technology students in the world for summer programs, as well as executives brave enough to change the way they think through one-week sessions.

He admits some of the changes “freak” even him out.

“I’m worried in a few years my kid will be hacking the family dog,” Ismail joked after showing attendees a video of a robotic dog that seemed to be reacting emotionally to commands made by a human. But his explanation of the evolution of programming, which has already moved from programming computers to programming for the web, touched on the growing technology around programming DNA, giving his joke a thought-provoking basis in reality.

So, as interesting as emerging trends and technology might be, it was Ismail’s answer to the unspoken question of how attendees could apply his concepts to the credit union movement that gave his presentation a truly memorable combination of tangible suggestions and inspirational concepts.

Trust and community are two attributes critical for success and survival, Ismail said, and credit unions are the one industry that possesses both qualities, putting them in a unique position to leverage technology to become the well-rounded heart of their communities. It’s a back-to-the-future approach reminiscent of the era when newspapers dominated, yet it is grounded squarely in innovation. Ismail suggested that credit unions can:

  • host “hyper-local” neighborhood news sites, creating connectivity and community;
  • partner with Techshop to create local “fablabs,” where entrepreneurs can give life to the products they envision, contributing not only to foot traffic but to potential job growth;
  • target a younger membership base by putting a 3-D printer in the branch lobby and allowing young future members to create objects;
  • create the next generation of financially-responsible members by putting a high school student on the volunteer board of directors;
  • leverage one of the 1,600 Groupon clones to host a site offering local, member-specific discounts, generating revenue for the credit unions and sales for retailers;
  • create host sites for members to store their health records, which would build trust and allow credit unions to “serve [their] communities in ways no one else can.”
  • partner with disaster management experts to provide training and serve as an information hub during emergencies.

Amid all his suggestions for innovation and potential member services, Ismail made it clear that, with an eye on local growth, it is ultimately important that credit unions continue to do what they do best.

“Eighty percent of all monetary transactions are local, so be the central place people bank,” Ismail urged.

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Posted in MAXX Annual Convention.