Cover Page

Breaking Digital Gridlock




John Best











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Cover Design: Wiley

Cover Image: © 45RPM/iStockphoto


Brett King

International Bestselling Author of Augmented: Life in the Smart Lane and Bank 4.0

Whenever you have a book that rounds out with a chapter entitled “Big Data and the Zombie Apocalypse,” you know you're in for an unconventional ride, and yet I have to say the conclusions behind John Best's debut tome are undeniable and sound.

In a world where almost every industry on the planet is being transformed in some way by digital technologies, the question always seems to be can the incumbents do enough to survive? In the case of music, books, retail, transportation and video, we've seen enormous disruption through the emergence of pure-play digital competitors. Initially, this was through so-called e-commerce players during the dot com, and in 2007 it started all over again with the emergence of the iPhone and its App ecosystem. Today we're talking blockchain, artificial intelligence, robotics, energy transformation and gene therapy, but the pattern is the same. It's been the same since the luddites smashed up the steam machines, the first US transcontinental telegraph line killed off the pony express, and automobiles disrupted horses.

Faced with potential disruption many organizations delay a response, hoping upon hope that they'll be “different”, and when the inevitability of change is evident, the organization is simply unable to adapt fast enough. Best tackles this from a practitioner's point of view, of someone who has been in the trenches trying to enable such transformation. He starts with the classic psychological myths that inhibit a reasoned response in the early days of the digital threat, and then details the building blocks of resistance and how to circumvent those processes, legacy behavior, thinking and systems.

I've seen many of the organizational symptoms Best identifies over and over again. Even today when we're seeing the emergence of so called “unicorns” in financial services such as Ant Financial, Stripe, Klarna, Credit Karma, Transfer Wise, Ripple, SoFi, LuFax and many more that could end up dominating in their categories, and where they've mostly already overtaken incumbent contemporaries – there's still uniform denial that there's any “threat”.

Breaking Digital Gridlock, however, is about just that. It's about how you truly transform your organization. We hear a lot about digital transformation in the current day and age, but if you were to ask me (and I get asked this constantly) which banks or financial institutions were the best examples of true transformation, I'd struggle to identify a handful. Why? Because if you want to compete against the FinTechs and Technology (or TechFin) companies gunning for you, competing as a traditional player is like having both hands tied behind your back and your shoelaces tied together in a 100-meter world championship sprint final. If you're going to try to win or just survive in the digital world – you have to think and act differently.

From simple innovations like remote check deposit, through to cloud, AI, Blockchain and Crypto, Best meticulously explains what the evolutionary or revolutionary technology impact is, why you should be worried as an incumbent player, and what your options are. Later in the book when explaining API banking and PSD2, Best uses the analogy of the McDonald's brothers faced with the possibility of the franchising model and dismissing it as impossible or potentially that it would undermine their core business. Banks and FIs have some choices in this disruptive landscape, but culture, leadership, skill sets and approaches must all be revamped. It takes enormous will to embark on such a transformation.

In the final section around strategy, Best asks the fundamental question that all incumbents will need to ask themselves over the next 5–7 years in order to survive. Are you a Technology Company that delivers Financial Services? Or are you a Financial Services Company that delivers via Technology? Best argues that many FIs in the midst of digital transformation get stuck in the middle. They're certainly not technology companies because they don't have the experience, pedigree, people and technology to honestly stake that claim. But if you're going to compete against Unicorns who are born of tech, you can't do it as a part-time, conflicted technology wannabee. You need to step up your game – bigly.

The conclusions of Breaking Digital Gridlock are pretty clear. If you want to survive you're going to have to break as many of the typical gridlock barriers as possible, and you're only going to be able to do that through strong leadership, culture and capabilities that don't exist in your organization today. Best probably made the case for me that most organizations talking about transformation today are only just starting on a very long journey, and many of them simply are not capable of making enough changes quickly enough to be ultimately successful. However, what Best shows in his book, is that success is possible if you're willing to commit to a truly transformational approach.

As a teen that started his career essentially coding on a VIC-20, Best has seen the revolution of the internet, mobile, AI, cloud and blockchain through the eyes of a technologist. Today he represents a guild of experts and specialists that you will need to rely on everyday if you're financial institution is going to make it. It's for that reason alone that at the boardroom Breaking Digital Gridlock should be required reading. It will give you a nice, neat shopping list of projects you need to embark on to survive. If you don't, you'll miss the party.

My guess is if you're a CxO reading this you'll say, of course we want to survive the fintech revolution. Ok, then. Time to get started. Read on….

Brett King





noun: gridlock; plural noun: gridlocks

1. a traffic jam affecting a whole network of intersecting streets.

Have you ever been in serious gridlock? When I was working in California, I would often have to drive from Pasadena to Yorba Linda. The 40-mile trip often took me three to four hours. Many days I would find myself on a freeway at a dead stop, sometimes for hours. It's a helpless feeling to sit there in your car, not moving. You are stuck and have no idea when it will clear up. Perhaps most unnerving is that you don't always know what is causing the gridlock.

While you settle in for the long wait, you start to look around. You get familiar with the people in other cars. Sometimes there is a weird moment where you catch them looking at you, and then you quickly look away (after all, it's not good gridlock etiquette to stare). The smell of the exhaust forces you to recirculate the air in your car. As you inch along the route, you suddenly find yourself reading every street sign and examining all of the details of the freeway that you wouldn't normally notice. Every now and then, you get just a glimpse of hope because the brake lights in front of you disappear and you move forward 10 or 15 feet and you think, “This is it! We are moving again!” Sometimes you even get up to 15 or 20 miles an hour and you begin to celebrate with your gridlock mates, remote high-fiving and smiling, mouthing the words, “We're moving!”—only to have the brake lights ahead glow red. You're stuck again. The small celebration you were just having with the guy in the BMW two lanes away is suddenly over. Meanwhile, someone somewhere is waiting for you to arrive, and there is nothing you can do to get there any faster.

To me, that's the same feeling as working in an environment where you can't seem to move forward. Every time you get enough steam to move ahead, something or someone thwarts it and you are back to being stuck in traffic.

What Is Digital Gridlock?

Digital gridlock is made up of several different kinds of paralysis that, when combined, cause a slowdown or a dead stop in your organization. There are six organizational areas where paralysis can emerge:

  1. Processes: Systems and workflows must keep up with technological advances to prevent digital gridlock.
  2. Technology: As technology advances, it does more than affect processes; it also fundamentally changes the way people do business.
  3. Security: A lack of preparation for security breaches can leave an organization vulnerable to attacks. This can not only put customers at risk but also lead to legal and financial liability and a damaged reputation.
  4. People: The right people must be in the right positions for an organization to succeed.
  5. Culture: Poor communication and lack of trust are two major symptoms of cultural paralysis. This prevents organizations from making the changes they need to.
  6. Strategy: Governance, planning, and execution are at the heart of strategy. They will keep your organization moving forward.

This book is broken into six parts, each one corresponding to a particular area where organizational troubles can arise.


Riskphobic leaders have a default response to every new idea put on the table: No! This is interesting because measuring and deducing risk is a key competency for those of us working at financial institutions. It's how we make loans and investments and even determine the advice we give our customers. Yet, when it comes to technology, the financial sector is so afraid of regulations or creating waves that many have stopped progressing. Ironically, their fear of risk poses its own risk.

I believe riskphobia stems from a lack of data analysis. We have all of the data we need to make smart decisions, but we are afraid to implement it. We know more about our customers than any online retailer, search engine, or blog. We know what our customers buy, we know when they buy it, we know when they go on vacation or travel. The kind of data financial institutions possess is most valuable; Google, Amazon, or Apple would pay for it. Despite this, we're afraid to use it, even when it is in service of making our customers' lives better. Our customers will feel violated and that the institution will lose their trust. We live in fear that we will be called Big Brother or that we will unknowingly violate some obscure regulation and be fined by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). No one wants to be on the 10 o'clock news. This paralysis of riskphobic leadership teaches your organization to be very skeptical of new technologies and to avoid new features, products, services, or business paradigms until they have been thoroughly worked out by someone else. While this may seem like a logical plan, this leads gridlocked businesses to stay on the stagnant highway instead of getting off at a promising exit to take a chance and circumvent the blockage. The belief is that it's less risky to stay on the road you are on than to try a new way to get there.

You can think of your customers as the people waiting on you to get to your destination. Your customers are waiting on you to roll out new features and their expectations of digital services are influenced based on their experiences with companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google, Netflix, and Apple. They expect a seamless experience and continuous improvement. They will be patient as long as they see progress, but if they sense that you are gridlocked they will look elsewhere for these services.

The next paralysis that causes gridlock is cultural paralysis. It happens like this: You've got a lot of folks working in your bank or your credit union, and some of the best employees are at the lower levels in the organization. They're the people who are interacting with the members every day. Coincidentally, they are also the lowest-paid people on your staff. Frontline employees have tremendous opportunities to assess what customers want and what they don't like about your business offerings, especially the digital services because chances are if they are having to do a transaction manually its because the transaction wasn't available in your digital banking platform. These employees don't need a survey to find out how customers feel and react to your services; they can see it and sense it when they interact with customers. Unfortunately, most of the time we don't give these employees a platform to share their firsthand knowledge. As a result, there is no way for organizations to use data from direct customer interactions and synthesize it to improve business, products, and services. In most organizations, lower-level employees are not empowered to fix issues and, as a result, they, too, are stuck in paralysis.

I once did a presentation and I asked how many people had some sort of innovation suggestion box. To my surprise, there were even fewer than I thought. When I dug deeper, I found out that one of them had an anonymous suggestion box. When I asked why it was anonymous, the person couldn't answer. The only reason I can think for a suggestion box to be anonymous is because people are afraid to share their ideas. That says something serious about an organization's culture. I asked someone with a normal suggestion box how they used the suggestions. They said they vet them and then talk to the people who submitted the ideas that were deemed good. I asked what they did with the suggestions they didn't use and they stated they just set them aside, I asked if they reached out to the employee to thank them for their submission and found that they did not. This was fascinating to me, because I think every suggestion should be followed up on. How would it feel to be an employee who takes the risk of putting an idea on paper and submitting to leadership only to never be acknowledged? Certainly demoralizing. If you were this employee, would you be willing to submit another idea? The paralysis of culture goes hand in hand with the paralysis of communication.

Digital gridlock occurs when all of these elements come together and prevent an organization from moving forward. It is what makes us feel helpless, stuck in a meeting for a project that is six months behind schedule with no end in sight. We don't know if there is an accident up ahead or if the road is permanently closed. The only way out is to get a higher perspective to see how all of these elements are interacting and identify the sticking points.

This book is a manual on how to break that gridlock. I will share with you how my teams and I have gotten things done and how other great organizations have been able to overcome stagnation. This book will help you defeat paralysis with proven management methods and technological approaches. These tools will help to align your organization in a way that promotes candid communication, rewards risk (when approached in the right way), and fosters innovation. Your financial institution will learn how to become data driven and how to drive results from that data. How to try and fail and still be okay and fail again and fail again after that, and do all of this without being on the 10 o'clock news. This book will help you get up to 80 miles an hour on that highway and feel the wind in your hair.

Picture illustration showing delays in a crowded highway and a cool ride in a free highway.


There are so many people to thank for this book that it could've been another chapter. However here is a list (in no particular order, other than my family first).

My family, Christie, Ryan, Abby, Don, Lynn, Tracy and Melissa – You have all supported my craziness over the years and with out you I would never have been able to accomplish this.

Ed Gonzalez, Tom Stacy, Elliot Cotto and the rest of Best Innovation Group, thank you for not killing me while I was writing this.

Kevin and Susan Johnson – Thank you both for your support over the years in this industry, your insight and leadership was a big part of the inspiration for this book.

Kevin and Irene Sarber – Thank you for your support and enthusiasm for all my projects!

Suncoast, GTE, Wescom and all of the other organizations I have been a part of over the years, this includes every person I worked with and the members of each of these storied institutions. Each of the organizations shaped me.

The crew from WRG for all of the hours we spent in the trenches.

Paul Ablack and OnApproach, Paul and his group have helped shape the collaborative landscape of data analytics and I am deeply thankful for their support.

Kirk Kordelski – Thank you for your wisdom and guidance.

CUNA – The Credit Union National Association, Julie Esser, Eric Gelly, and Cheryl Sorenson who once said “you should write a book…”

My Podcast network. John Jancleas, Glen Sarvady, Anne Legg, Laura Wiese and all of the listeners.

Christina Verigan – The poor lady who was assigned to turn my giant mess of thinking into a book!

James Burke Frazier – The king of “what if we did this boss?” and one of the most creative people I have ever met.

Kirk Drake, Paul Fiore and Chris Otey- Who taught me how to be an entrepreneur and not give everything away.

Brett King – for inspiring me to follow in his footsteps (even if his shoes are too big to fill).

There are a million more people to thank and I have no doubt missed more than a few for this I apologize, there are only so many chapters in a book.


Five Myths about Going Digital

Before an organization can break its digital gridlock, it is necessary to dispel the myths that prevent it from moving forward. In the past 20 years I have visited hundreds of credit unions and spoken to hundreds of executives and board members. Based on this experience, I have identified the top five myths that prevent that bank executives, board members, and staff from believing in digital. The first step in moving forward with digital transformation is to realize the truth.

Myth 1: We Are Too Small for Digital

This is my favorite myth, and it's the easiest one to dispel. In terms of digital transformation, being small is actually a huge advantage. If you don't believe me, consider this for a moment: Why did the Titanic sink? Most people believe it is because the ship hit an iceberg.

Nope, I say. The Titanic's crew saw the iceberg and may have had just enough time to correct their course.1 I argue that the real reason the Titanic sank is because it couldn't turn in time. It's hard to turn a large ship, and large organizations face the same difficulties. The more people, branches, and assets an organization has, the longer it takes to retrain, revamp, and retool the people, places, and things required to support digital transformation. Smaller institutions have the advantage because they are more nimble. In fact, the biggest challenge for the smaller institution is not turning too quickly and throwing people overboard.

Picture illustration depicting how large organizations fail to turn a large ship and hence face the same difficulties as the Titanic, in the digital era.

Myth 2: Our Customers Are Too Old

Another classic myth: People are too old for technology. I hope someone tells my mom, who is 71 and the queen of social media, that she's too old for tech. I am not saying that there isn't some truth to this myth, but we shouldn't paint every elderly person with the same brush. shows that since 2012, seniors have steadily been flocking to Facebook. It actually makes perfect sense. Seniors have time, they enjoy seeing pictures of their grandkids, and they really enjoy connecting with their old friends. Facebook is the perfect tool for this type of interaction.

I was recently on a flight and I watched a senior citizen break out her iPad, log in to in-flight Wi-Fi, and start checking her email and her Facebook account. Meanwhile, the 30-something woman next to me asked me for help to get her laptop on the Wi-Fi system. If you have ever tried to connect to an airline's in-flight Wi-Fi system, you know it isn't always a cakewalk, but the senior citizen made it look easy. Simple fact: Not all seniors are techno-phobes.

Myth 3: Our Board Won't Get on Board

I often do board sessions with CEOs to help everyone understand what is going on in the tech space. I am always excited to meet members of the board and executive leadership. In the case of credit unions, the board is made up of volunteers that usually represent each of the employee segments that credit unions serve.

Picture illustration showing how people can discover the digital world when they are presented with facts and figures regarding the digital shift.

Behold, I have discovered digital!

What I have discovered from these sessions is that board members are passionate about their institutions and, when they are presented with facts and figures regarding the digital shift, they easily get on board. Of course, sometimes I see gridlock at the board level or meet obstructionist board members. In most cases, these people aren't opposed to adopting new technology; they just want to see data to support the move. This is something that many institutions cannot provide, in large part because they haven't done their research.

Myth 4: Digital Is Too Expensive

This is an easy myth to dispel. The truth is that not going digital will be more expensive than doing it. Consider that most mid-sized institutions are woefully behind in implementing analytics. Their lack of analytics is driving up their costs, while the bigger financial institutions are finding more efficient and effective ways to market products, provide services, and determine where and when to deliver their services. Analytics is a game changer for the industry. A key differentiator for financial institutions will be their ability to use data to become prescriptive for customers. Those without analytics will fall further and further behind. Having analytics is like discovering fire. Suddenly, you don't have to be afraid of the dark; the fire will illuminate your path.

Myth 5: Digital Leads to Layoffs and Branch Closures

I am not a proponent of closing branches, but I am proponent of changing how the branch network functions. I am also a proponent of proportionate spending between digital and physical branches that is commensurate with the number of customers each channel serves and the profit they provide. No matter what, closing all of your branches isn't good idea. New branching will consist of more sales and fewer transactional services. Take, for instance, Financial Partners Credit Union, which just recently renovated all of its branches by adding personal teller machines. I interviewed the CEO, who said that they closed no branches and the Full time employee (FTE) is the same, but the credit union's production is higher. This is an important concept: it is the responsibility of the leadership to plan for transition. This is often overlooked as organizations transition to digital processes. If the displacement is known ahead of time, then people can be retrained to provide even more value to the business.

The other reality is that if you don't look at digital, you may be forced to lay off parts of your workforce due to marketplace pressure. At least with digital transformation there is room for a thoughtful transition as it relates to your employees.

John's Story

I would like to introduce myself before we get in to the deep, dark places that digital transformation will inevitably take us to. I grew up as a military brat, and a lazy one at that. I spent most of my life traveling around the world with my father, usually coming up with Tom Sawyer–like ways to get out of work. When I was nine years old, my dad retired from the army and we moved to Stuttgart, Germany. This is where I did most of my growing up. My dad was some sort of engineer who worked with computers on a military base. I attended American schools on base and, when I was 11, I built an ASCII emulator for the school science fair. It was a breadboard with dip switches that represented binary positions, and when you flipped them in the right order you could make a letter appear on the digital screen. I got an ASCII Char 70 (otherwise known as a capital F) for a grade on that project. The teacher said my dad helped me too much. I guess she didn't believe I could solder wires or understand binary. I was especially discouraged because my dad was away for work much of the time, so he wasn't able to help me very much. I drowned my sorrows by spending hours on his VIC-20 typing in programs from a magazine called Compute.

Yes, there was a time when, if you wanted to play a game, you had to spend hours typing code in line by line and save your work to a cassette tape. As we all know, this wouldn't work today, because computer games are millions and millions of lines of code. My dad eventually upgraded our home computer to a Commodore-64 and floppy disks, and at that point I started programming my own games. Since I was in Germany during the 1980s, I didn't get out much because it wasn't always safe to wander around by yourself, so I had tons of time to play with computers and my dad's electronics. I would dismantle Atari games, Sony personal stereos (apparently, Sony disapproves of calling them Walkmen), and basically anything electronic I could I get my hands on. I didn't know it, but I was preparing for my future.

Fast forward to 1996: I was a year married to my amazing wife and had my second child on the way. I was trying to make a living as a teacher or quasi teacher in the Hillsborough County School System in Florida. Some forward-thinking schools had decided to bring in technology specialists to teach the kids during the school day, and I was lucky enough to have gotten one of these jobs. It was the best job I ever had. I loved hanging out with the kids because they didn't live by any preconceived notions about what could or couldn't be done. This fit right in with my own philosophy that nothing is impossible. As a matter of fact, this was a family philosophy. If you ever said to my dad, “That's impossible,” he would quickly respond, “Nothing's impossible.” To these kids, anything was possible because their spirit hadn't been broken by life yet, and I would feed off their energy daily. As much as I loved this job, I couldn't stay because I needed to make more money to support our second child. I decided to leverage my natural computer skills and I applied for a job at the information technology department at Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union (as it was known then). I was a member of Suncoast long before I became an employee, thanks to my job in the school system, and as a result, I knew a little bit about the credit union.

I successfully landed the job of technology monkey boy. (Honestly, I don't even remember my title, but I was happy to have the job.) I was hired by Kevin Johnson, who at the time was one of two people working in the IT department. Today he is the CEO of the credit union and, I am proud to say, still a good friend. You might find us crawling under desks to re-pin RS232 cables, in the ceiling running cables, or hauling a giant printer across the campus in the Florida sun. I discovered quickly that PCs, or personal computers, weren't commonplace in the institution. A few select departments might have one personal computer, but most people worked on dumb terminals connected to a large Unisys A series mainframe. It was a great job, and I was thankful for the work. I enjoyed the people I worked with and I started to get to know what each of the different department's functions were.

One day, I was working in an area near a lady in the ATM department who I would often see early in the morning working at her desk. I was there early to rewire some desks before the regular employees came in so we wouldn't interrupt their work. She was working on one of the few PCs in the department and I watched her print out a long report on the dot matrix printer, sat it next to her desk and began retyping the report into the computer. One thing you should understand is that I am super lazy, and super lazy people always look for shortcuts. Upon seeing her retyping data from a report that so clearly had come from the very PC she was typing on, my super-lazy senses kicked in and I couldn't help but ask her the following question. “Excuse me, you know that stuff was already in the PC, right?” to which she responded, “Yes, but it is in a different program, so each day I print this report from this program, and then I type it back into this program.” As you might imagine, I was confused. Long ago I had mastered the art of cutting and pasting, even in Windows 3.1, which was the operating system we were working on. I asked her if I could look at the program. An hour later, I had written a quick .bat file to bring the data automatically into one program from the other. The lady was amazed. She told me that I had just recovered two hours of her day. I learned two important lessons that day. First, I learned that non-super-lazy people, when they recover time, don't use it to play video games or wander around looking for free office snacks. Instead, they will take that two hours and do something that they had been wishing they had the time to do to benefit the company. I also learned that when you help people, they feed you and appreciate you—two things I really like.

Word soon spread of my good deed and others approached me with similar problems. After that, I spent time creating complicated .bat files to import files from Payroll into ACH. I found myself writing macros in Lotus and doing merges in WordPerfect. Slowly but surely, I helped a lot of people who had very monotonous jobs recover their time and move on to more important tasks. I also gained a lot of weight thanks to all the cookies and treats each department would feed me for helping them.

I was promoted, and I don't even remember what the new position was. I did get a raise and I got to work on our networks and our ATMs. One day I was out at the ATM during my lunch break and I noticed that the line for the ATM was really long. So long, in fact, the Credit Union had put in side-by-side ATMs to accommodate the large number of people using the machines. When I reached the front of the line and it was my turn to use the ATM, I noticed how long it took to perform a transaction, which was over three minutes. I thought to myself, “What if this process could go faster?” At the time, I was working with Motorola to replace our old dial network with a frame relay network, and I had a fantastic mentor named Tom Bennett who enjoyed my crazy ideas. I said to him, I think we could speed up these transactions considerably by changing some parameters in the system. His response was, “Sure, let's do it.”

Tom loved innovation and was always supportive. He was famous for drawing on walls, and at this point we were in the elevator, he quickly whipped out his pencil and drew a diagram on the elevator wall (I had gotten use to this behavior at this point), and we agreed the design should work. We made the changes and we tested it. What used to take three minutes now took less than a minute. I had no idea what the impact of this would be; I had no idea that for each foreign transaction that came through the ATM network, the credit union made money. I only knew that there were long lines and short lunch breaks. I also didn't think about the fact that if I sped up the transactions, the ATMs could do more transactions a day, which translated into more income from the ATM network. The ATM network almost tripled its income the first month after our little adjustment. Once again, my super laziness and impatience paid off.

After this, I was given the task to convert the entire ATM network from one vendor to another. It was one of my first big projects, and it was vastly complex and difficult. That much I knew at the start. What I didn't realize was how dangerous this project could be to my career. I was working directly with the ATM department. As usual, I worked my way through the project, asking questions and learning along the way.

We finally finished the project and I was at home having dinner with my family when what I call “the voice from above” announced that I needed to check in. The “voice from above” was my Nextel cell phone. Those of you old enough to remember them know that they worked a lot like old walkie-talkies and had a distinctive beep before the voice would start speaking. To this day, I still twitch if I hear the Nextel beep. The voice said that something was wrong with the debit card network and that people's debit payments were being declined at alarming levels.

Now in the late 1990s, if you were declined when trying to process a payment at the grocery store, you would be very embarrassed. It would feel like the entire store stopped and everyone was staring at you with their hand over their mouth in surprise and pity. At this point, more than 50 percent of the incoming transactions were being declined, and the worst part was that these people had plenty of money in their accounts. It was not good, not good at all. This was my first brush with adversity. I wasn't yet 30 and I had just broken the payment systems for tens of thousands of people. However, by the time I got in to the office (no VPNs back then), everything would mysteriously have fixed itself. Then around 5 p.m. the next day, it would happen again. I toiled over the problem for a few days, until finally I was asked to come and explain the problem personally to the CEO, Tom Dorety, a legend in the credit union industry. I had met Tom many times before then but I had never had to deal with him with regard to an issue of this magnitude. Before I went to the CEO's office, Tom Bennett told me, “Don't go in there until you have some idea of a solution,” so I started working more frantically to figure this out.

I had discovered that at the end of the day, around 5 p.m., Visa would send what is called a “force post” of transactions down the line to be processed. These transactions would come very quickly and overwhelm our communication lines. I asked if they could run these transactions later than 5 p.m. (a peak transaction time) and I was told that wasn't possible. I was at wit's end, sitting on a curb in the parking lot late at night, watching an amazing lightning storm, and it gave me an idea. When we designed the new network, we had created a backup line in case we lost connectivity on the main line. This was common in Florida, where massive thunderstorms frequently caused outages. So I called my friend at Visa and we fired up the backup line and split the transactions (odds and evens) between the two lines. It solved the problem. I could go to the CEO and tell him I had screwed up by not anticipating the force posts causing line issues, but at least I had fixed it. I learned two things that day. First, I learned that when you play with fire every day, you are going to be burned more often than folks who rarely play with fire. I also learned that being calm in the face of an emergency is far better than freaking out. After that, many more fiery projects would come my way.

In the years to come, we converted the whole organization from one computer system to another, bought personal computers for the entire staff, implemented the organization's first email system, got the credit union on the internet, set up firewalls, and established one of the very first home banking systems to run on the internet. I remember replacing our dial-up home banking system with an internet-based system. A few management higher-ups told me the internet was a fad and the project wasn't worthwhile. Things have certainly changed.

All in all, the job was an amazing opportunity. My co-workers took the time to teach me how things worked, and for this effort I would reward them by finding ways to use my knowledge and computer skills to make things easier for them whenever I could. I had the freedom and trust to explore every corner of a well-respected financial institution and learn all aspects of financial systems.

After that, I left to become a vice president at another credit union across town. I was very excited because this credit union wanted to pursue even my craziest ideas. That was where I started working in a process that would eventually become known as agile development. My team and I were tasked with creating a loan interface that linked to the American Automobile Association (AAA). It would allow our credit union to provide auto loans to AAA customers. We locked ourselves in a room and, fueled by snack food and Mountain Dew, spent almost three months working on the lending project. We had two projectors running, and if team members needed help or wanted to get some code reviewed, they would plug in their laptop and display their screen on the wall for everyone to see. Three or four times a day, a representative of the loan group would show up and we would put what we had on the wall for review so we could get instant feedback while we were working. It was electric when we first turned on the system and the loans started rolling in from AAA. The early results were overwhelmingly good. When I joined GTEFCU, it was a $750 million credit union. In two short years we almost doubled our asset size to $1.4 billion. I was very proud and thought I was in heaven, but I still had an itch.

I accepted a job offer to be chief technology officer at a new credit union service organization (CUSO), WRG. At GTEFCU, my team and I had spent a fair amount of time writing our own home banking product and, in the process, I began to think that some of the systems we were purchasing from vendors could be custom-built in-house cheaper and better. Usually, these proposals were rejected; however, Rob Guilford, who hired me at WRG, had been interested in this same approach for quite a long time. In Rob, I found someone who believed as I did, that in-house products were going to be the future. At WRG we built a team that would go on to build and implement a digital suite of products that now serves over 200 credit unions across the United States. Along the way, we caught the mobile wave and were very early to the Apple App Store with our own in-house product, and we were the first credit union to have an application on the Android platform.

Today, I spend my time with my team at Best Innovation Group, dreaming up new solutions and implementing new products using the latest in technology. My team has been with me for over 30 years, and together we have experienced all the ups and downs of creating systems, developing products, and supporting financial institutions. We have taken this experience and shared what we know with our partners, and we have helped many credit unions navigate the murky waters of the new digital world. We innovate and create, we teach and share, and most importantly, we care about what we do and who we do it for.

If you aren't too scared, read on and find more stories like the ones above and more solutions, and hopefully start to form your ideas and solutions to your challenges. Seize the opportunities that are in front of your organization. Today's world is more connected, more engaged, and has more opportunities for a financial institution to differentiate itself than ever before. We live in a peanut butter and chocolate world, and the best part about that is, you don't have to make the peanut butter or chocolate, you just need the vision to put them together.