Top Five Learnings from the 2019 Alberta Central Conference

Every year, Alberta Central hosts a conference to bring together leaders from across the Alberta credit union system to share ideas, learn and understand what trends and issues exist that will impact the financial services industry. Our recent 2019 conference theme “time to be bold” was all about sessions and speakers pushing credit union system attendees to not just think differently (not enough anymore!) but to push us to go from idea to action to outcome faster. While credit unions have historically been bold and innovative - from being the first to offer full-service ATMs in 1977 to leading the pack in Canada with mobile pay in 2016 – the message was that to continuously evolve is, frankly, table stakes.

Here are five key takeaways, we wanted to share to inspire your own efforts to be bold

Culture is king.


Leaders from across the credit union system, said it best- you can hire smart people, host brainstorming sessions and solicit employee ideas all you want, but if you culture or leadership isn’t fit to foster innovation, these efforts will be wasted.

To truly transform employees into innovators and to attract the best and brightest new talent, managers must create psychological safety (so people feel comfortable and safe to fail forward), leaders must model innovative thinking, and employees must feel empowered to make decisions and feel competent to do so. A culture stymied by process, politics or people-pleasers will never evolve into an innovation powerhouse.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.


A roll up your sleeves workshop teaching design thinking principles (instead of focusing on problems, design thinking is about being solution-focused and action-oriented towards creating a preferred future), pushed participants out of their chairs and into group activities where they brainstormed with sticky notes and created prototypes with poster paper and craft supplies. The point? Not artwork, but rather to spur groups to evaluate problems differently, ask better questions and conduct small tests to validate assumptions first and encourage teams to fail forward when taking solution-focused action

While this approach was a little prickly for some, those who were able to let go of inhibitions and fully participate learned that it’s good to be uncomfortable when solving problems by thinking differently. A shout out to Lyall Samaroden from Bench Solutions for working with us!.


The world of work is changing and we must change with it.


According to one of our guest speakers, Linda Nazareth, the author of Work Is Not a Place: Our Lives and Our Organizations in the Post-Jobs Economy, multiple studies demonstrate how the world of work is changing. Work is no longer just a “place” anymore. As the grows and technology improves, the number of remote, temporary and part-time jobs will continue to increase. And these new workers have different needs than tenured employees, which creates challenges for managers, teams and policy-makers.

Credit unions have an excellent opportunity to help gig workers plan for income volatility by offering new products to take the place of traditional employee savings or benefit programs or pension plans. If credit unions are adaptable and ready to change, we could be the community voice and thought leader on this issue.


Motivation is less about age and more about values.


According to David Allison, moving away from demographics when analyzing customer data and focusing instead on what people value what he’s coined “valuegraphics”. He made a strong case that by grouping people into age categories it’s easy to fall into stereotypes without understanding the group (all millennials love avocado toast … but do they really?!) By taking the lens of what people value – saving money for life experiences, investing or paying down debt, for example – we can better meet our members where they are at in life and offer new members more and better products and services.

The value we bring is the personal connection.


Dr. Nick Bontis bounded across the stage (and in the audience) talking about what he believes is the most important quality of credit unions: the personal touch we bring to our dealings with members. This, he said, is what’s inimitable about credit unions – so unique it is impossible to copy.

He made us think about that one thing that you do better than anyone, and spend your time fostering that skill. We all like to complain we don’t have enough time, but in reality what we lack is attention. Put your attention towards what you do best, not what could be done by anyone (or a machine!).