Delve Talks is a podcast that digs into the challenges around design, product development, leadership and innovation. Our second season continues to explore how to create a culture that supports innovation through interviews with leaders of startups, educational and banking institutions, and multinational corporations.
Dave Franchino [00:00:20] Hello, everybody, and welcome once again. Dave Franchino here and I'm joined by phone this time by our Vice President of Strategy, Stefanie Norvaisas and really excited to welcome today's guest, Kim Sponem. And just a little bit, Kim, is President of Summit Credit Union, and that's one of Wisconsin's -- if you're from this area, you'll recognize the name -- one of Wisconsin's largest credit unions.
[00:00:42] And I don't want to speak too much in advance, but since 2001, Summit has grown amazingly from $200 million to more than $3.7 billion in assets. The branch network has expanded from four locations to 43 across south, central and southeastern Wisconsin and in four of the Madison high schools, which is a really fascinating strategic direction. At the time of becoming CEO 18 years ago, Kim Sponem was named as one of the youngest CEOs in the country to run a large credit union. And so welcome, Kim. Thank you very much for joining me today.
Kim Sponem [00:01:17] Well, thank you. It's an honor to be here.
Dave Franchino [00:01:18] Great. And so just as a reminder to all of our listeners, we started this podcast last year and what we're trying to explore is creating a culture of innovation. And to do that, we've been facilitating conversations with a wide range of people that we've met who come from different backgrounds, who we believe have done a fantastic job of applying innovation into their particular field. Kim, Stefanie and I are really excited to talk to you today. One of the things that makes this interesting is my background is more in engineering. Stef, of course, has a background in cultural anthropology. And so, we tend to have different approaches on innovation, see things differently. I'll try to lead the conversation with a couple of questions, but Stef will chime in with questions along the way. So, I'm really excited for this conversation.
[00:02:03] Maybe to get us started for our listeners that aren't familiar with you, you can give us kind of a brief introduction to your background. Talk a little bit about where you came up through and that'll provide an interesting perspective for your thoughts on innovation.
Kim Sponem [00:02:17] So, I have a degree from the University of Wisconsin in Consumer Science. So, an interest in consumer behavior. And I started out in the credit union world in the marketing area and moved up through the ranks from marketing, adding on operations, human resources training, and became the executive vice president and eventually the interim CEO in 2001. And after a national search, the CEO president role in early 2002.
Dave Franchino [00:02:50] Fantastic. Really cool. And I want to come back to the consumer behavior background because I think it's a really interesting background that I wouldn't have attributed to somebody who leads a large financial situation. But if I can go off script for a second. Some of our listeners might not be aware of the unique charter of a credit union and I think that might be interesting. So, maybe if you could just talk to me a little bit about what are credit unions. A little bit of a history of credit unions because I think that will provide some nice context.
Kim Sponem [00:03:18] So, credit unions were started in the early 1900s when Edward Filene, the Boston merchant, went over to Germany to do some shopping for his stores and he noticed that there was where these financial cooperatives in Germany that seemed to be working really well. And at that time, banks would not lend to the common person. So, Filene came back with these ideas around starting financial cooperatives in the United States. He got a group of folks together to work toward that. Passed the Federal Credit Union Act and credit unions were then started. We were formed in 1935 to serve the credit union movement at that time. Anyone who worked at a credit union could not borrow from the credit unions. So, we were kind of a safety net from that perspective and anyone else who needed a credit union.
[00:04:13] So credit unions are formed as a cooperative not-for-profit. When we make money -- which we need to make some money because we need earnings to fund our capital ratios -- that money is really our members' money. And so, if we were to dissolve, that would go back to our members, not to stockholders. We don't have outside stockholders. Each member is an owner of the credit union. And so, we are fundamentally differently structured than a bank.
Dave Franchino [00:04:46] So let me build on that for a second. Relative to being innovative, you have two things that might be in comparison, I guess, when you're trying to be innovative for Summit and in the credit union space in general, what are the challenges and where are the opportunities for being innovative that a credit union has versus a bank? And then, maybe you could also speak about what are the challenges of being innovative in a very highly regulated industry.
[00:05:13] And one of the unique things about the financial services industry is, for a variety of reasons, historical and otherwise, there's some limitations that aren't present, for example, if you're making breakfast cereal or, you know, other innovations. So, tell me a little bit about the challenges and opportunities that are present for you in the innovation space at Summit.
Kim Sponem [00:05:34] I think some of the opportunities come from that because credit unions' focus is only out about its members and how well its members do from a financial perspective -- We have a singular focus. We're very mission driven. So, all of our innovations, even our operational efficiency innovations, are member driven. And so, it starts really from a place of "Does it benefit our members?" And that's where my consumer behavior background really comes into play here, because the more that we understand consumers and the unique needs of our members and what might help them go forward is really all about consumer behavior and perspective and understanding.
[00:06:22] So I think that is an advantage for credit unions, to really have that that focus in terms of a highly regulated environment. And it is. It's very highly regulated. The pluses of that is that it's difficult sometimes for new entrants into the space, so it does protect financial services from a lot of new entrants that may have otherwise come into the space more easily. However, there are the fintech companies, the financial technology companies, that will pick a very narrow point of financial services and they will work really hard at doing that one thing very, very well.
[00:07:10] And that can carve off pieces of our business. And oftentimes, they are not as regulated. They're not tied in. They're not a depository. So, they don't have all of the regulatory expenses and the regulatory considerations with whatever product they're selling. And they also are not tied into protecting members' data as much as we are. So, our number one, primary goal, always, is safety and soundness and the safety of our members' information and data. So, other players have this opportunity to sometimes carve away a piece of business without having that same focus and that same embedded costs.
Dave Franchino [00:08:02] Interesting. So, one of the things that was occurring to me as you were saying through your response, we are used to in this podcast kind of celebrating firms that take risk and are highly innovative. At the same time, when I look at the banking industry, I might be, I guess, tending to say that in certain situations they may have been a little bit too innovative or taken a little bit too many risks. I was intrigued by your comments that you can really keep the members needs kind of front and center and that might prevent some of the challenges. But I'm kind of curious.
[00:08:40] You're probably under some degree of competition from the fintech firms and even extending to some of the big firms whose names we would all recognize. How do you challenge your staff and yourself to be innovative and think nimbly and think outside the box and innovate, but not run the risk of falling into some of the same traps that might have driven the banks into some bad decisions in the most recent financial crisis? Sorry, long question, but hopefully you've got something where you can bite into it.
Kim Sponem [00:09:13] So, we really start out by what can benefit our members next. And so, we start with an idea that if something is working really well for us, but we think it can work really a lot better for our members, we will break it and create new. That is part of our thinking because we want our members to have the absolute best member experience that they can have in financial services with Summit Credit Union. And so, there is a feeling of that. And we don't always try to put an ROI on everything that we do. And oftentimes, we don't.
[00:09:57] So on the front end, it's a lot of brainstorming and thinking about different ways to solve problems that have been identified for members -- pain points, things along the way or the next kind of where is the consumer, not just behavior, but where are their attitudes going. How are the attitudes formulating into what they might want and need next out of their financial?
[00:10:24] And so oftentimes we will pilot something that we don't see an immediate return on investment. And we think that that's one of our strengths, because oftentimes we start out with one idea. We might end up with something that is very different in the end. And maybe that first piece, someone might say, “Well, that was a failure", but we will say, "Well, no, it really wasn't, because then it gave us the idea for the next thing." Which was the next thing, which was the next idea, which was the next idea, which, again, got us to where we wanted to be. And that's very much part of our culture is to pilot things, try different things. Let's not worry too much on the front end about whether or not this will be something that was a great ROI if it brings a member value, eventually it will be a good ROI.
Dave Franchino [00:11:13] That has to take a lot of courage. Stef, I can hear you're itching to ask a question.
Stefanie Norvaisas [00:11:19] Well, Kim, one of the things that I was wondering if you could talk about it. I think you've done a really amazing job creating a culture of innovation over at Summit Credit Union. And I know you used a lot of different tools to do so, but one of the ones I was interested in you talking about is your new space. I mean, you put a lot of thought into creating an environment that will help attract and retain people, but also encourage creative collision and presumably innovation.
Kim Sponem [00:11:50] So our headquarters, we designed it with one word in mind, and that's wellness. So, wellness of our employees and our members in the community. And when I think about wellness, it's all about sustainability, sustainability from a financial services perspective, and a financial wellness perspective. And it's also about the environment. It's also about the person in terms of kind of mind, body, spirit. And so, the building was designed with environmentally friendly materials and also spaces, green spaces, and water retention and things like that. But there's also a lot to take care of the employee. And part of that is meditation rooms. And it's also a lot of kind of meet-up-by- happenstance rooms. So, you might walk around our building and you'll find a kind of a beach scene where you could be hanging out at a beach or you might go into, you know, walk around our building and stumble upon a Zen area. And a lot of these areas are what we call fun zones. And people can hang out there, either on their breaks, or they can hang out there and work. Whatever they want to do.
[00:13:14] But that's all about, you know, getting away from our space, our physical space, and that we're more kind of assigned to and have this opportunity to think differently by changing our surroundings. We have things like an outdoor volleyball court. We have we have workout facilities. We have treadmill desks. We have all of that. So, it's really about breaking people out of their normal routines, their normal spot that they go, and spurring creativity, getting people to walk around the building more, run into each other. Lots of ideas get spurred from that and creating that environment that really takes care of the whole person.
Dave Franchino [00:14:01] That is fascinating, and I'm really inspired and impressed by that. To be perfectly candid, those are the type of affordances that I don't associate with the financial services industry. And I have to wonder, was there some contingent at Summit that was like, "Hey, we're a serious business doing serious things, and this isn't very serious stuff." Or in general, were people really supportive and they really were on board with that? Your results speak for themselves. So, the effect has been clear, but I'm just curious whether or not there was any pushback from older members of the staff.
Kim Sponem [00:14:38] So, Dave, you know, that's interesting. When I became CEO 18 years ago, I started out with the strategy and culture of "We're going to have fun at work." And everybody talks about having fun at work now. But back 18 years ago, people didn't talk about having fun at work.
Dave Franchino [00:14:55] Particularly not at a bank, right? This is serious business.
Kim Sponem [00:14:59] Not a financial institution. Right. And I had some pushback from board members through the years on that. You know, we were going to make it fun for members, too, so when people come in to get their mortgage with Summit, I want that to be ... It’s a stressful experience to buy a home, especially if you're a first-time home buyer. You don't know all of the things that you don't know. All the things that you might need to know. And the more we can take the stress out of that and make that a fun experience, the better for people. And I had a fair amount of pushback about that. You know, "Why? Why would we? What's this fun thing all about?"
[00:15:40] Well, today that's a pretty accepted, you know, everybody talks about having fun at work, but that has been so ingrained in our culture because it's been 18 years in the making that if we would have created a building that didn't have inspiration all over it and was not about wellness and the whole human being, ... We always talk about finances from a holistic perspective and we're better able to serve our members when we think about their financial situation holistically.
[00:16:11] You know, it's not just about a checking account. It's how does the checking account fit into the rest of their life and how does that work with the style of living that they have and how does that mortgage loan fit within their world and how can they manage their financials best with their mobile banking or online platform? And what are the process points in the checking points along the way while we're delivering a product or service? If we don't take all of that into consideration, then we're really only looking at a very narrow piece.
[00:16:42] So, when we started to -- at least in my mind --when we started to map out a kind of my vision of the building it was really just very much in alignment with who we already were. And the building was just kind of becoming that, finally, for Summit. So, I think there was absolutely no pushback whatsoever. In fact, we had early on -- I had surveyed the staff about the building and asked them what elements are important to you in a new building. And we were able to meet every element except two.
[00:17:20] We didn't get the basketball court put in. And yeah, we got the volleyball court, not the basketball court. We got lots of green spaces, green roof, but we also didn't get the daycare provider and that was because of all the regulations around that. So, we looked at it. We seriously looked at it, but everything else we were able to incorporate. So, people really ... I met with staff throughout this whole process and so people really were able to recognize when they came into the building their ideas and thoughts as we designed to this.
Dave Franchino [00:17:53] It's fun because I know as you mentioned in the ensuing years, this concept of creating a more playful environment at work has become sort of a little bit more vogue as people have seen the success of companies like you. And we're all familiar with companies that I think are trying to force that now. You know, they're trying to force fun, whereas clearly, it's something woven into the culture. I'm going to turn it back to Stef in a second, but you said something that I just wanted to ask you to drill into. You mentioned kind of really building on your customers' pain points. You used that particular phrase. And I'm kind of curious at a credit union or at Summit, in particular, what methods do you have to kind of stay connected to your customers and to learn what their pain points are? I mean, as you've gotten bigger, probably inevitable, you and your senior staff get further and further away from the customer. But it sounds like you've made an effort to stay pretty close. What how have you done that?
Kim Sponem [00:18:48] We have done that lots of different ways. We do have a system where people log in to input member pain points. So our employees, as they as they're working with our members, if they find something that just isn't working quite right or doesn't seem to be something that makes a lot of sense, or created this challenge for one of our members, they log that in and I get those reports every month. I also hear from members directly. Quite, quite often, actually, so that's another data point. But I also meet with every branch and every department about once every 15 months or so. I used to try to get out there every year. But that's a little bit more difficult with how many locations we have now and how many departments we have.
[00:19:35] But one of the things that I always ask, and they know I'm going to ask it --because I ask it every time -- is what are you hearing from members? What are we making difficult? What are we making easy? And so, we have great discussions around that. And I bring that back. All of our senior team members shadow different departments and different staff throughout the year. And just listen. You know, they're just listening in on member calls or they're observing in any of the departments and any member interaction.
Dave Franchino [00:20:12] So, Stef, I know I've interrupted you a couple of times ...
Stefanie Norvaisas [00:20:17] No, that's OK. This is a great conversation. Kim, you've done so much to build a strong culture and express that in the different spaces. Can you talk a little bit about how you see that culture of wellness and the culture bond that you've been working on, translating to innovation? And then, the second part of my question is how do you replicate that as you grow your business and open new branches?
Kim Sponem [00:20:49] The wellness and fun piece is an important piece to get people to talk about things, to get people to take barriers down. It opens up more possibilities to enter the room in terms of thought, thought processes, and perspectives. And so, I think it definitely kind of tears down any type of barriers that that might exist, or at least most of them, hopefully. So, that part of the culture, I think is an important piece. But I also think that it's really important for people to see that people are rewarded for putting the members first, and that if you think about changes through the member lens, you cannot make a mistake at Summit. So, if it's about the member, it's the right way to go even if we don't ultimately adopt it. So that is really rewarded around our credit union and it’s part of who we are.
Stefanie Norvaisas [00:22:00] I think that's a great example. And something that I see other companies really forgetting is, you know, rewarding people for the cultural behaviors that you set forth as being important for the organization. You know, you have built such a strong culture. How difficult is it for you to replicate that culture when you open up new branches?
Kim Sponem [00:22:24] Whenever we open up new branches, we need to think about who we're going to put there that will help perpetuate the culture that we have. So, we don't typically open up new locations without any support from people who have our culture pretty well ingrained with what Summit is about. And so, it's important for us that with branches, that we give them the support that they need in order to understand how to navigate our culture. Every company has its own unique navigation that's important for people to understand and to learn. And so, we are pretty mindful of that. And then, it's getting people on the right teams when there's opportunities to do so. Our branches are the eyes and ears of our members for us and so it's important that we that we give enough avenues for them to convey that to us and that we're asking the right questions.
Dave Franchino [00:23:38] Kim, one area I was really interested to get your thoughts and observations on ... every firm has been impacted by technology, but I think there's a lot of firms that have been surprised to wake up at one point and realize that they're suddenly in the technology business and what they had been banking, finance, whatever, has become kind of an adjunct. I'm curious if you could tell us a little bit about, well, maybe I'm being presumptuous ... How much of a transition to technology business that has been, and what that's meant to you? And then a little bit about the competitive landscape as you battle firms that might be saying, "I'm a technology company, but I want to become a financial services company."
Kim Sponem [00:24:20] It is a tremendous journey. So, for most of my time in financial services, financial institutions have been tied to legacy systems and we have a lot of legacy systems in place. We have a lot of infrastructure in place from a financial services perspective. I mean, you look at payments and there's Visa and MasterCard there and the processors are fairly well defined. And you have you have all that United States infrastructure and financial institutions have systems that worked well for a long time.
[00:24:59] Now, the transformation to digital is just absolutely amazing and very exciting. So, we have the challenge that is that we do have these legacy systems -- how do we how do we manage the legacy systems? What does a legacy system look like in this new world? And it probably doesn't look the same as it as it did five years ago. So, the transformation has been incredible. What I say to people at Summit is you do not want to leave Summit over the next five years because this is a really exciting time. We are on the verge of some really exciting things.
[00:25:43] In terms of, you know, companies that are technology companies that want to be a financial, you know, that's tough because will they be able to become a financial from a depository perspective? There are all kinds of rules that happen with insurance funds, savings funds, savings insurance. So, there's lots. Will they be subject to those types of regulations that we are subject to, or will it all become just down to transaction and price?
[00:26:22] So, that's the risk is whether or not financial services become just a portal of an avenue and it's all based on price. I think that would be a shame because I think that there's a lot of value to be added to the experience that people have with their financial. And we have at Summit, we provide a tremendous value to our members through financial education. And that's where a lot of our innovation has come from. The first 10, 12 years of me as CEO is the innovation around financial wellness and financial services, helping members with different programs to improve their financial lives. And so, it is going to be a very interesting five years. I think in five years the landscape is going to look very different. And I think it's going to be a really exciting part and Summit's going to do very, very well in that environment.
Dave Franchino [00:27:27] So tell me more about that process of differentiating your services in a somewhat commoditized market. In fact, I have a close friend who once somewhat cynically told me that money and banking is the least differentiated commodity on the planet because your money is the same as everybody else's money. It spends the same. It looks the same. Right? There's no difference between your money and anyone else's money. But you talked about differentiation and experience. Tell me a little bit more about that.
Kim Sponem [00:27:55] Well, at Summit, we focus in on the unique needs of women. And so, we are very focused in on the women market. And we have studied a lot about how women look at money compared to how men look at money and what is important to them. And so, we do a really great job at meeting the needs of women. And what we have found is that because women have, I would say a higher bar to aspire to in terms of what's important to them and what we need to meet. When we meet the needs of women, we actually exceed the needs of men. And so, that is something that we have been focusing on for the last twelve years or so.
Dave Franchino [00:28:47] Just fascinated by that answer. I don't want to let go of that yet. So, you found that women, you know, were a more fertile ground for solving their needs but by doing that, you were able to exceed the needs of men. Tell me, do you have any examples of that or things that you can share that aren't confidential that would help us understand that a little bit better? That's amazing.
Kim Sponem [00:29:10] Yeah, so what we found in our research several years ago was that women felt ignored by financial services providers. And there was one bank at the time that when you looked at their website, they had their website and then they had this icon up in the in the corner that said, "For women." And so, I don't know how more blatant it could be, that if their regular website has an icon that says, "For Women", that means that really the rest of the organization is not for women, it's for men. And so, women often say to me and through our research, as well, but they'll say, you know, "What questions do I need to ask? What don't I know? What do I need to know? And help me kind of formulate that. What should I be asking?" Women want to be celebrated when they reach their goals. They want to be celebrated. And, you know, that's really important to them.
[00:30:20] They want, you know, what question should I ask? How can you help me set my goals? You know, what's reasonable? How do other people do this? You know, they're always looking for that kind of insight. And of course, these are generalizations that everybody feels that same way. But there are ways that, you know, women will look at things like "Do I trust you?" And men tend to be a little bit more focused in on credentials. So, do you have the credentials to help me? Where women will walk away from an interaction if they don't trust you. And so, all of those things are really important for us to pay attention to so that we can help women not be in poverty when they're retired. You know, women tend to be at a much higher rate in poverty than men at retirement, and it is our goal to not let that happen.
Dave Franchino [00:31:16] That's really fascinating. I think there's a lot of wisdom there for other listeners. Would it be naive of me to assume that some of this harkens back to your background in consumer behavior? Is that possibly what led some of this just now? I think understanding. I mean, talk a little bit about that. I'm kind of curious what you think your perspective or background in consumer behavior might have given your role that other people coming from a more financial services background might have missed.
Kim Sponem [00:31:43] Well, also coming up through the marketing side. So, you know, it's always amazed me that marketing degrees don't spend more time trying to understand the perspective of the consumer, because that's really who they're trying to sell to and market to. So, from my perspective, it's a critical, critical link. And actually, really, for any business, if you're going to sell something to somebody, you really need to understand your consumer or your potential customer.
[00:32:12] So, you know, I feel like that has been my, Kim Sponem's, competitive advantage throughout my entire career. I feel like it's given me a different lens that I ask different questions. I take different risks. I have probably a bigger appetite for trying things that are not standard, pushing the envelope a little bit. How can we do this better? I've got far more tolerance for breaking something that's working right now so that we can come up with something better. We're very much not about the status quo. Something can be working perfectly fine, but if we can do it better, we're going to do that.
Dave Franchino [00:32:59] It's one of the things I really value about my relationship with Stef is that she's got such a different background than me. Correct, Stef?
Stefanie Norvaisas [00:33:05] No, that is true and I'm really enjoying this conversation. I love your comment and breaking something even though it's still working because you think it can be done better. And I think that's a great piece of advice for our listeners.
[00:33:19] Do you have any other words of wisdom that you could share with somebody who maybe is starting out down the road you embarked on 18 years ago, whether they're in financial industry or not, how to create such a strong culture, one that's focused on innovation?
Kim Sponem [00:33:38] I think part of creating a culture of innovation is that the CEO is seen as being innovative themselves. And so, couple of comments around that. So when, for example, I was trying at one point -- this is several years ago now, --I was trying to figure out how can we get adults to reconnect with their dreams that they had as kids. And so, I kept thinking about that, kept thinking about that. And I had gone to see the ETC's building in the Madison area and I had not connected the dots with that quite yet, but that is a theatrical experience. And so, there's kind of lots of facades within that building if you've never been. And I was visiting that for another purpose. But I was driving down the road one day and I thought, you know, I'm thinking about this problem, thinking about this problem and all this and I thought, hey, maybe ETC. What if we created a branch that had different (things) that reminded people of their dreams from when they were a kid?
[00:34:57] So, you know, your different goals that they had when they're in college or different goals that they had when they were in high school or wherever. If you ask a kid what they want to be when they grow up, they usually have an answer. Now, they may not be that when they grew up, but they usually have an answer. They thought about it. And for adults, we get busy, we get caught up in our lives and we don't sometimes go back and think and pause and think about that. So, we created the inspiration branches. And so, the first one we did several years ago now has a sailboat in it. It has an airplane. It has a London pub in our new headquarters. Our branch there is called Inspiration Park. And it has a diner in it. It has a log cabin. It has a house that's getting a new garage. It has different pieces of it that inspires people to just pause and say, "What do I want from my financial or what do I want for my goals? And what can my financial bring to that?" And we can bring a lot to that.
[00:35:58] So, once we've identified somebody's goals and dreams and aspirations, we can help them put a plan with that. And so, that type of thinking is something I think is important as a CEO to do and your team understanding that is something that is important to you. When we're thinking about how we can get our members to understand that they belong to a co-operative. And so, that's where our Cash Boomerang came from, where we give money back to our members. If we have a really good year, we give money back in the form of a dividend. And so, we don't have dividend to stockholders, we have dividends to members and that sets us apart.
[00:36:47] At our Summit Fest, which is our annual meeting and member appreciation event, which brings out thousands of people and little kids to compete in an obstacle course with all of these colorful shirts that running around the obstacle course ... And my dream in that is that all of these members, these little kids are going to grow up and say, "You know what? I remember going to Summit's annual meeting. I know what an annual meeting is, and I know what a credit union is." So, I think that when CEOs think about the vision and then think about tying with that mission and think about what are the different ways we can think about that. And give that thought and give that time and let that let that kind of swirl around in your head a little bit. When you're seen as innovative and change-oriented and driven, your employees will, too.
Dave Franchino [00:37:53] So speaking of, I guess, some, I guess, accolades, and relative to that, one of the things that I've learned is that you're on the World Leadership Development Committee of CUNA, which is a real honor. Can you tell us a little bit about that organization? What innovation means within that organization and what you've learned from and contributed to that?
Kim Sponem [00:38:13] So there's two. There's a World Council of Credit Union Foundation, and then there's the World Affairs Committee from CUNA and they're linked. And what that is about is to create financial access for people worldwide. So, in the United States, we somewhat take for granted ... There are certainly a high percentage of unbanked folks in the United States as well, but we somewhat take for granted that people have access to financial services in many areas around the world. That is not the case. So, the World Council works on things that help create financial access, oftentimes for women.
[00:38:58] So, if it's a farming community and a woman's spouse passes away, they may not have access to get seed anymore because they cannot borrow themselves from a bank or they might not have land rights. So once the husband dies, the land goes back to the government or whomever. And the women have no rights to that. Imagine trying to raise a family without any type of source of income in that way. So, there's a lot of projects around granting land access. There's lots of projects around creating credit unions in all the different parts of the world to provide financial services where none might exist today or might not be accessible for the common person. So that's a lot of the work that that is being done within that sphere.
Dave Franchino [00:39:58] So, I'm just kind of curious ... do you ever see things that you've done from an innovation perspective here that you think, hey, we could apply this globally, or do you ever see needs or innovation that could be implemented internationally, maybe for disadvantaged or unbanked that might have application here or are the two worlds pretty disconnected?
Kim Sponem [00:40:20] They're very different worlds in terms of infrastructure. So, the United States has ...to just take the payment system infrastructure of the United States ... it's been in place for, you know, many, many, many years that it's a very different world. And yet in India, for example, they have the highest use of mobile banking there and some of that has to do with the infrastructure. The barriers to getting to that point from an already existing infrastructure doesn't exist or didn't exist and so it was easier to adapt that. And a lot of the villages, it was prohibitive for people to get to a physical financial institution. And so, mobile access has really opened up the world for consumers in India and Africa, for example.
Stefanie Norvaisas [00:41:30] Kim, in terms of working in an international community and in some of these more developing countries or communities it sounds like they're more able to take on innovative new approaches than a place like United States due to regulation. Is that true or is that a misconception?
Kim Sponem [00:41:51] I think that that's, generally speaking, true.
Dave Franchino [00:41:55] So I guess one question ... when I take a look at the totality of your career, there's a lot of really interesting perhaps headwinds that actually became real assets to you. You know, you have an unusual background in that you came from a consumer behavior background. You turned that into an asset. You have a very playful approach to the work environment. You turned that into an asset. You focused on your employees as a whole and their well-being long before that was vogue. Any other advice you might have to leaders who are similarly maybe not the prototypical leader within their particular organization, but really feel they can make a difference? If you could mentor somebody who is younger and feels a little bit like you, what would you tell them?
Kim Sponem [00:42:43] You have to learn the business. So, as a marketing manager at the credit union, I was going to asset liability management seminars. Those are the types of training that I was asking to go to. I wasn't asking to go to more marketing seminars. I was asking to go to financial seminars. I was asking to go to operations. I would do anything I didn't know a ton about, that's what I went after. I also got my MBA, which also helps within that. So, it's really about, you know, your field. But then, what are all the other parts of the business that you really need to know and understand in a really meaningful way so that when the opportunity comes about to take over the operations, you can add to that and you can keep adding things.
[00:43:41] One of the things, too, that I think I always had the mindset around was if I saw something that needed fixing, I just went and fixed it or if it was something bigger than just me being able to go and fix it, with something bigger that needed, that I felt like we could benefit from, I would propose it. It didn't really matter to me whether or not it should be coming from my area or somebody else's area. Just work with that other area and you get it done. So just, you know, continuing not worrying about who's area something is in. It's not about that. It's really about what needs to change for our members, for our customers, or future customers.
Dave Franchino [00:44:26] This has been fantastic. Stef, I'll just ask if you have any last questions before we wrap up with Kim here.
Stefanie Norvaisas [00:44:33] No, I don't think so. This is really a great conversation and I learned a lot.
Dave Franchino [00:44:38] Yeah, this has been fantastic. I think there's some wonderful nuggets for our listeners and really, Kim, you're to be congratulated both on your personal success and then what you've been able to do for Summit and for the industry at large.
[00:44:51] Once again, my name is Dave Franchino and joined by my co-host Stefanie Norvaisas. Today, we've really enjoyed our conversation with Kim Sponem, the CEO and President of the Summit Credit Union. And thank you, Kim. Thank you for your time.
Let’s talk about how we can help move your business forward.
Contact us today
to start a discussion.