Recap: 2022 Connect Conference Brought the Family Back Together In-Person

The 2022 Synergent Connect Conference, also known as the “Synergent Family Reunion,” brought together 120 credit union staff attendees. For the first time since 2019, the event was held in-person. Credit union staff, the Synergent team, and industry-renowned guest speakers traveled to Rockport, Maine, for the two-day event held at the Samoset Resort. This year, the conference included elements of the annual management roundtable, bringing credit unions together for an even more comprehensive experience.

“It was so great to see the Synergent family in-person again for Connect,” said Scott Johnsen, Chief Relationship Officer for Synergent. “The days were packed with sessions curated exclusively for our credit union partners. Presenters discussed the latest products and strategies, and all attendees had the opportunity to network with colleagues from across the country.” 

Sessions and Speakers

The Connect Conference covered a variety of topic areas, including leadership, planning, decision-making, financial ecosystem disruptions, and breakout sessions. Johnsen opened the event before turning it over to Todd Mason, Synergent’s President/CEO, for an overview of what to expect throughout the conference and how important it was to be coming together as an industry to advance the credit union movement. 

The Evolution of Leadership 

Laurie J. Maddalena, MBA, CSP, CPCC 
CEO – Envision Excellence 

It has never been more challenging to be a leader than it is today. With so many generations in the workplace, employee expectations have evolved. The leadership practices of just a couple of decades ago are now deemed outdated and ineffective. Employees have different values and expectations for work than previous generations, and organizations that want to attract and retain the best employees need to shift their leadership approach. This impactful session explored the most important elements of successful leadership, along with the common behaviors and actions that can hold leaders back from success, including:  

  • The three pillars of exceptional leadership 
  • How leadership has evolved over the past two decades 
  • The residual impact of COVID on employees, and one important area senior leaders should focus on to ensure employee engagement now and in the future 

“Different generations have different expectations,” explained Maddalena. “There are five generations in the workplace. The traditional way of work no longer makes sense.” 

In her role as CEO, Laurie leads Envision Excellence, a leadership development consulting firm that provides programs for managers and executives, executive coaching, management training, Myers-Briggs facilitation, Emotional Intelligence surveys, and leadership assessments. Laurie has been personally mentored by Jack Canfield, author of The Success Principles, and is a certified Success Principles Trainer. She is a member of the National Speakers Association (NSA), and is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), a designation earned by less than 15% of speakers worldwide. She writes a monthly online column for next generation leaders for CUES, is a contributing writer on leadership for The Huffington Post and CUInsight and has published articles in Credit Union Management. Prior to establishing her own coaching and consulting business, Laurie served as Vice President of Human Resources/Organizational Development at Montgomery County Teachers Federal Credit Union. 

Carpe Diem: Seize the Opportunity – Credit Union Strategy in 2022 and Beyond

Employee Attraction and Retention in the Shadow of COVID-19

Paul Dionne
Research Director – Filene Research Institute

Paul expertly delivered back-to-back sessions at the 2022 Connect Conference. In the first, he urged credit unions to seize the opportunity in their strategy for 2022 and beyond. He explained that the competitive landscape for credit unions is changing, and pressure is mounting on the traditional credit union business model. He outlined the Filene Research Institute’s new credit union playbook to follow, including the 5 Es for future growth: Earnings, Expenses, Experiences, Employees, and Ecosystems.

In his second session, Paul provided insights for how credit unions can better attract and retain staff, lay the groundwork for success, and upgrade senior leadership/board capacity to address the needs of the future, all in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Change the ‘great resignation’ to the ‘great recalibration,’” advised Dionne. “Corporate social responsibility efforts are a great recruitment tool, especially for younger candidates.”

He also highlighted the importance of addressing employee financial wellbeing. With more than 50% of workers experiencing financial stress, he emphasized the importance of checking in with credit union staff, similarly to how staff check in with members. Paul’s session provided a perfect complement to Maddalena’s remarks.

As Research Director at the Filene Research Institute, and with training in cultural anthropology and business, Paul brings a wealth of strategic-level thinking, research design, execution, and translation skills to Filene’s research team. Looking to apply his anthropological lens to consumer finance, Paul took his MBA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and gleefully learned about balance sheets, finance, strategy, and marketing as he honed his leadership skills to better support credit unions. He is thrilled to be working with an organization supporting cooperative finance and financial inclusion, and he enjoys guiding new academic research tailored for credit unions.

Keynote Presentation: The Threat & Opportunity of Financial Fragmentation

Lee Wetherington
Senior Director of Corporate Strategy – Jack Henry

It was great to welcome Lee Wetherington back to the Connect Conference. He last presented at Connect in 2019. This year, he provided an overview of the ecosystem disruption that continues. With consumers pursuing more and more in terms of convenience in their financial lives, they have unintentionally made their finances more complex to manage. In a shocking statistic, it is not uncommon for young couples to do business with 30 to 40 financial service providers! The good news is that credit unions are well-positioned to solve financial fragmentation, to simplify accountholders’ financial lives, all while achieving first-app status in the process.

“The future will be open, composable, secure, fluid, and fast…so must you be,” concluded Wetherington. “Bridging centralized and decentralized monetary networks will be the biggest trend shaping the future of payments and financial services,”

In his role at Jack Henry, Lee directs the development of actionable insights, forecasts, and strategy for Jack Henry and the financial services industry at large. He guides a team of analysts who track the trends and implications of emerging technologies disrupting and transforming the credit union space. Lee delivers keynotes nationwide focusing upon opportunities and challenges in fintech, payments, and digital banking, and he is widely renowned for his unique style of delivery.

Digital Card Services

Wes Suter
Director of Product Solutions – Ondot Systems, Fiserv

In his presentation, Wes urged credit unions to continue to rethink and evolve their delivery models to accommodate today’s member needs for digital financial service experiences where credit and debit programs lead the way. Beginning with card controls and alerts, credit unions have already successfully deployed an array of consumer tools that are finding marketplace success. Now, credit unions should be planning for a second wave of tools with additional capabilities to provide members with a rich and reliable experience that speeds transaction flows, provides analytic insights, and improves the safety and security of payments. This session will provide tips on empowering members to control their credit and debit cards, clearly see their spending, and use their cards more easily.

Wes serves as the Director of Product Solutions for Ondot Systems, a business unit of Fiserv. He is responsible for solution architecture, business development and sales enablement of the CardHub platform. With over 20 years’ experience in the payments, cards, and financial services industries, Wes began his career at Fifth Third Bank. There, his journey commenced in payments and card processing (FTPS/Vantiv/Worldpay), managing issuer relationships with a collection of banks, credit unions, and merchant co-brand clients. In 2015, Wes joined Fiserv Card Services with a focus on debit portfolio consultancy. Prior to his current role, Wes led the Credit Solution Consulting group at Fiserv Card Services where his team was responsible for assisting clients across competencies that included credit portfolio strategy, digital cardholder engagement, and processing operations.

Cryptocurrencies & Decentralized Finance – Threat or Opportunity

Larry Pruss
Senior Vice President
Strategic Resource Management

Cryptocurrency is much discussed in the financial services industry. Cryptocurrencies and Decentralized Finance (DeFi) capabilities have loomed large on the fintech horizon lately, but, as Larry asked, what does this mean for the financial service providers of tomorrow? This presentation offered an overview of cryptocurrencies, decentralized finances, and emerging use cases for banking.

  • Defining Cryptocurrencies & Decentralized Finance (DeFi)
  • Specific examples showing how financial institutions can leverage cryptocurrencies
  • Updates on the regulatory environment and the foreseeable impacts

Larry is the lead of Strategic Resource Management’s Crypto Advisory Practice. The advisory practice assists clients by providing education and strategic guidance on blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and decentralized finance. Larry has over 25 years of financial services experience; successfully leading a broad range of banking and credit union initiatives. He is a recognized thought leader in the crypto space and has been a contributor to various media outlets including CFO Magazine, Forbes Magazine, CUInsight, CUbroadcast, and CU Management. He hosts a bi-monthly industry discussion about crypto and blockchain technologies called Crypto University.

Cryptocurrency and DeFi Panel Discussion

Larry Pruss, SVP, Strategic Resource Management
Lee Wetherington, Senior Director of Corporate Strategy, Jack Henry
Ellen Parent, Regulatory & Legislative Advocacy Coordinator, Maine Credit Union League
Luke Labbe, President/CEO, PeoplesChoice Credit Union
Moderator: Jeff Will, AVP – Product Development, Synergent

In this final group session before breakout sessions, the discussion highlighted one credit union’s journey of piloting a crypto solution for members, the legal and regulatory consideration for credit unions with crypto, and the opportunities that blockchain technology and Decentralized Finance (DeFi) present to credit unions.

Breakout Sessions

Following lunch and closing remarks from Todd Mason, breakout sessions were held in the following areas:

  • CEO Discussion Group
  • Synergent Technology and Infrastructure
  • Synergent Core User Group

Continuing the Conference: Post-Connect Virtual Sessions

Credit unions were invited to register for any or all of a series of five virtual sessions to take a deeper dive into the following topic areas that each were touched upon at the Connect Conference:

  • Quarterly Product Update
  • A New Surcharge-Free Network
  • Member Asset Verification Deep Dive
  • Growth Engines and End-of-Year Consulting
  • My Synergent List Filters & Account Details

The Synergent Advantage

The Connect Conference is one more way that Synergent serves its credit union customers. Finding the right partner to manage integrations and software solutions, conduct system maintenance, and to keep credit unions informed of the latest innovations helps credit unions remain competitive and agile in the financial services space. Synergent takes a holistic approach to meet these challenges, providing strategic consultation, support, and education as the premier managed services provider. This annual event exclusively for Synergent users fostered interactions and provided valuable information and insights to assist credit unions with their day-to-day operations.