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CU Data +Mountain Climbing=Book

Anne recently spent some time with discussing her Mt Kilimanjaro climb, how it turned into the catalyst for the book, as well as the current state of data look like in the credit union industry.

SAN DIEGOAnne Legg, the founder of THRIVE Strategic Services, has published a new book, “Big Data/Big Climb” in which she uses her recent ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (a fundraiser for several causes) as a metaphor for providing clarity and a framework around data transformation.

In conjunction with the new book, Legg has shared her insights on a number of issues in this Q&A with In your new book, you use as a metaphor the climbing of Mt. Kilimanjaro as a means of providing clarity and a framework around data transformation. Could you elaborate on how that metaphor works?

Legg: Climbing Kilimanjaro is a great goal. It has a precise vision as well as seemingly defined tactics. (get to Africa, climb the tallest free-standing mountain in the world), However, as you begin to create a plan to achieve this goal, you realize there is much more than you considered.  You have to consider physical fitness, a training program, and vaccinations, as well as other items. There are also the logistics: how to get there, where to stay, selecting a guide, securing your equipment, and then there is the actual climbing, that in itself is its only journey. 

The same is true for a credit union that is looking to leverage its data and talent. The vision seems quite clear, but when building the plan it can be overwhelming and, unlike mountain climbing, the path may not be clear. 

This book weaves in the climbing journey with the data journey and by doing so allows the reader to gain clarity on a framework to succeed. I was honestly surprised to find that no one had made this connection before, but I am glad I did as it has resonated well with the industry. You describe the book as a “foundational primer” on data transformation. What do you mean by that, and what foundation must a credit union have in place before it can begin climbing the mountain?

Legg: In my work with more than 600 credit union leaders to launch their data journeys, it was exceptionally clear that a large part of data transformation is education. Yes, a strategy is important, but data transformation has many moving parts and there is not one good book that clearly defines the data transformation concepts and translates them to the credit union industry.  

So, when I set out to write this I created four learner objectives like a true textbook so that If I had to test someone after reading it, they could show what they had learned. 

The four learner objectives are:

  • Fill the credit union industry knowledge gap 

  • Deliver a data journey playbook 

  • Serve as a credit union industry awesome reminder

  • Be a catalyst for the creation of revolutionary member relationships.

The material in this book is meant to be read and utilized immediately. There are assessments, evaluations, and other learner artifacts to help launch a credit union data journey.  After digesting this book, the reader has a solid foundation of what a data transformation journey looks like and most importantly a framework to launch their own. How would you describe the current credit union “data state?”

Legg: In one word – diaspora. Credit unions have more data than Amazon; the problem is that it lives in 60-100 different systems. Any mountain-climbing expedition brings with it the risk of making a critical mistake that could lead to disastrous consequences. What preparation mistakes have you seen, and what causes them?

Legg: Believing that a tool will solve a strategic and cultural problem. An organization can spend an incredible amount of money on a data tool, but if it lacks adoption and strategic alignment, all you have is a really expensive tool.  To avoid making this mistake we suggest that the credit unions take a strategic approach first. Identify what business problems they want data to solve, recognize the data needed to solve the problem, and then the tool. You address what you call “Building Credit Union Hakuna Matata.” What do you mean by that?

Legg: When I was climbing Mt K, our guides spoke Swahili and would say Hakuna Matata, meaning "no worries.” And in the team setting it means the team will figure out the solution, collaboratives, so don't fret as an individual and have confidence in the team. 

The same is true when leveraging data and talent to transform. Many credit unions suffer from silo working conditions, and when leveraging data they will need to build bridges between the silos to accomplish maximum success. What can credit unions do to make that climb easier?

Legg: Create a member-centric strategic plan. Identify the member friction, create a use case, and then identify the data needed to solve that use case. When you are improving the member's financial life, everyone can understand that and will be more like to support this effort. What should the view from the top of Mt. Data look like for credit unions?

Legg: The view should be of a credit union that is infused with data. That data has become part of the credit union DNA. That culture is not even aware of how they enfold data in decisions and leverage it to improve members' lives. What should the view look like from the member perspective?

Legg: That the credit union is the best financial partner to the member. Helping guide them along with their financial life and helping them achieve dreams that they may have only held as that, dreams.  This should feel seamless and beneficial. No relationship is perfect, but at the end of the day, you want to be happy 80% of the time with the relationship you have with your credit union. Why climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, and why climb data analytics?

Legg: 1) Because you can. 2) Because you will be a transformed person.

Data and analytics have incredible power to transform everything it touches. The organization, the culture and ultimately improving the member's life.  It is a seductive proposition that is difficult to decline. Could you share with us one story or anecdote about your mountain climb that you most remember?

Legg: The day we summited was, literally, brutally amazing. We started at 11:30 the night before at 15,000 feet. The weather was predicted to be minus 20 and it would take us at least seven hours. A snowstorm came up when we were about three hours in. It was cold and dark and your brain is starved for oxygen. I imagined the summit to be this incredible sunrise, and even with the snow, it would be breathtaking. As we reached the summit, the snow was coming down and I could only see 100 feet in front of me. There was no sun, no sunrise. 

But when I laid eyes on the Kilimanjaro summit sign, all covered in snow, it was literally the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Surreal that I was there and doing what I was doing. I was honestly filled with exhaustion and delight all at the same time. It was brutally amazing.

For more information on the book go here

To read the interview on CUTODAY, go here

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