New 'Director of Innovation' Seeks To Be A Link

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After a two-month nationwide search, Mark Meyer has been chosen as Filene Research Institute's new director of innovation programs, a newly created position to help "notch things up a bit" in testing products and service ideas generated through the Institute's research efforts.

"Mark will provide a link between the world of ideas generated by Filene and the application of those ideas in the marketplace," said Bob Hoel, executive director. "The position gives us a powerful tool to explore the application of fresh ideas in a rapidly changing financial services industry."

Hoel said Meyer's impressive CU background and his passion for the industry made him stand out among the many excellent candidates. Most recently, Meyer worked for CUNA Mutual Group as assistant VP of Credit Union Enterprise. Prior to that, he was VP of human resources and legal counsel at Arizona State Savings and Credit Union.

"First and foremost, I have an extraordinary passion for credit unions and why they exist," Meyer said, explaining that his first exposure with the industry was during his senior year as an undergraduate at Northern Arizona University.

He worked as an intern with CEO Dick "R.C." Robertson at Arizona State Savings and CU to earn credits toward his bachelor's degree in business.

"That notion kind of stuck with me," he said, adding that at the time his sights were set on law school. But after a year practicing law in Denver, Meyer admitted, "It was not where my passion was, so I decided to pursue an alternative."

At about the same time, his said, his wife was offered a "very attractive job" in Phoenix.

After what he expected would just be a networking lunch meeting with his mentor, Robertson, Meyer said Robertson offered him a job with Arizona State Savings and CU that helped him find his career path.

Robertson's 45-year career in the CU industry included 40 as ASSCU's CEO. At age 38, he was also the youngest person ever to be elected chairman of the CUNA board. In addition, Robertson served as administrative board chairman of the Filene Research Institute, a post he held since the Institute was founded 10 years earlier.

An Inspriration

Meyer said he considered it an honor to work alongside Robertson, the "inspiration" that drives his passion today.

"In my past work with and for credit unions, I have had unique opportunities to build relationships, provide marketplace focus and engage in project management activities," Meyer said. "I hope to bring this experience to bear on Filene innovations initiatives. That will enable credit unions to serve their members better."

Three-quarters into his first day on the job, Meyer said his office was still in disarray, yet he was already making plans for what he called his "first big rock-check cashing."

"My first focus will be to find a way for credit unions to get into check cashing," he said. "The research has found that there are significant advantages for credit unions to serve that niche."

Among them, he said, giving the users of check-cashing services better services at a much lower rate that check cashing outlets and, in the process, educating them about how the credit union industry can help them become more financially stable.

"Through much of the interviewing (done prior to my arrival), they found that many of those consumers who use check-cashers are consumers who pay their bills on time," he said. "They simply have never been subjected to or understand what the financial institution has to offer."

Meyer said he expects to spend much of his first year examining the check-cashing industry along with several credit unions throughout the country who have already jumped into the check cashing business.

His hope is to find a viable way for all interested credit unions to do the same.

Meyer said he will also start looking into how credit unions are attracting and retaining the 16 to 35 year old market to help him develop a program to help more credit unions attract these young members. In addition, Meyer said, he'll work on how to strengthen small business lending within the industry.

"In a year from now, I would hope we have made real progress," he said. "If we can hit those three home runs (check cashing, retaining young members and increasing business lending opportunities)-we'll be well on our way."

The 35-year-old is married with two daughters, both toddlers, and a son due in May. He said his wife-when not caring for their children-is developing a program that focuses on helping 5 and 6-year-olds master both English and Spanish. And, he added, after two years in Madison, the family has adjusted to the weather shock-they're from Arizona-and especially enjoy the community's emphasis on the nuclear family.

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