Unitus’ Irvine Named Credit Union Professional of the Year

Most credit unions are hard-pressed just to keep pace with the ever-changing technological capabilities their members expect, with features like reliable online and mobile banking representing just the tip of the iceberg.

Thanks to the forward-thinking leadership of Brian Irvine, Unitus Community Credit Union is one of the rare credit unions that has managed to not only keep up with the evolving technology, but to stay a step ahead. And because of this work, Irvine, Unitus’ vice president and chief information officer, has been named the Credit Union Professional of the Year by the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA).

Irvine, however, was quick to point out that the award represented more than just recognition of his own work and the work of his team.

“I think it’s a nice step for my industry, if you will, because I don’t think that CIOs typically get this kind of recognition,” Irvine said. “So, I think it’s a nice award not only for me, but for people like me who are also in my same role.”

Irvine explained that IT professionals have long lived with an environment akin to a referee, someone whose work only garners attention when something goes wrong. But the inexorable link between technology and financial services is changing the role of IT departments at credit unions.

“It’s only when things aren’t working as expected that you really get recognition,” Irvine said. “That’s historically been the case [in IT], but I think slowly what we’re seeing is a gradual evolution. Technology is so pervasive in everything that we do. It touches everything throughout the organization, and I think, in some circles, there’s becoming more and more of a recognition of the important role that it plays as wel look at what’s happening in e-services, mobile adoption, online banking, all these different convenience channels that are all technology-driven. The adoption rates are going faster than anything we’ve ever seen from a product or delivery channel.

Irvine joined his first credit union—Gesa Credit Union—“at an early age,” and said that he remains a member more than 30 years later, though he joined Unitus “as a member and as an employee” in 2006. Irvine’s professional career had spanned several fields and specialties, but his role at Unitus perfectly blended his background in information technology with his financial expertise. And as Unitus President and CEO Patty Smith said in nominating Irvine for the award, he has truly embraced the credit union philosophy and ideals.

“During the past five years, Brian’s role as VP of Information Technology [has] expanded, yet he has continued to focus on learning more about the credit union industry as well as volunteering where needed,” Smith wrote. “In addition to attending several Hike the Hill conferences in D.C., he has encouraged Call-to-Action letter writing within his division and written letters himself to elected officials to support credit union initiatives. He also has attended multiple advocacy efforts, both at the state and national levels, including town hall meetings.”

Irvine described his efforts as being “focused on creating a strong yet flexible IT division,” which has led to a laundry list of impressive initiatives, including developing a department-wide philosophy called “IT @ Your Service,” which reflects Irvine’s understanding that when his team is not directly serving a member, they are serving a colleague who is. “Making that service experience memorable in a delightful way is their goal.”

Among many other accomplishments, Irvine and his team have also implemented a next-generation service management tool that has transformed the department’s service delivery, developed project management and resource allocation processes to better assess the department’s performance, and developed an integrated online loan application. They also received formal recognition from Symitar for their work developing solutions to regulatory changes from Reg E.

And as more and more of the credit union’s daily functions are rooted in technology, Irvine said he expects the ever-growing role and responsibility of credit union IT departments to continue expanding and changing.

“You’re looking at a lot more specialization, because there are so many different technologies. There’s a thought that, well, you’re in IT, so you must understand everything there is about IT. Well, you know,” Irvine said, laughing, “no. You have a very different skill set from a developer to an analyst to a security person to a network engineer, and they all have their roles to play.”

“If you look at peer numbers, I have a very large department compared to some of my peers that have a similar asset base, but I think that’s intention al on our part,” he said. “It’s not that we’re leading-edge, it’s not that we’re cutting-edge, it’s that we’re fast followers, and we recognize that the world is changing so fast that we can’t have an IT staff of four people for almost a billion-dollar credit union. We have to understand that there are different specialties. We have to be able to build some of our own applications. We have to pay very close attention to our security, and it shouldn’t be an afterthought.”

Irvine will be honored at the Summit Awards gala on Oct. 4 at the Hilton Hotel in Vancouver, Wash., as part of the 2012 Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) Convention and Annual Business Meeting.

The Northwest Credit Union Foundation (NWCUF) Summit Awards honor individuals for their outstanding achievement in four categories: Credit Union Volunteer of the Year, Credit Union Professional of the Year, Young Credit Union Professional of the Year, and the Mark of Excellence Award, which recognizes significant contributions to the credit union movement over a sustained period of 25 years or more.

Awards are presented annual at the Summit Awards Dinner, whose name was inspired by an expedition of credit union professionals led by former Washington Credit Union League President Bruce Rouillard to the summit of Mt. Rainier more than 25 years ago, during the Association’s annual Convention. Registration information is available on the NWCUA’s dedicated Convention website.



Questions? Contact the NWCUA Awards Program: 800.995.9064, ext. 106, or at awards@nwcua.org.

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