What's keeping Alliant's new CEO up at night

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How to make an executive's first time in the corner office more challenging? Try adding a global pandemic, economic downturn and social unrest to the mix.

Dennis Devine faces all those issues and more as he steps into the role of president and CEO at Chicago-based Alliant Credit Union. He was appointed last month with immediate effect. Alliant was the nation's eighth-largest credit union at the end of the first quarter.

Dennis Devine, president and CEO of Alliant Credit Union

Though Devine is new to the credit union movement, he comes to Alliant with nearly two decades under his belt in the financial services industry, including most recently serving as president of consumer banking at the $155 billion-asset KeyBank.

As a digital-only institution, Devine said, Alliant is well positioned to thrive in a changing financial services landscape, in part because other financial services providers are weighed down by branch networks as more consumers transition to digital banking. More institutions may adopt that stance and begin reducing their physical footprint as a result of changes to the marketplace, he said.

“That will clearly accelerate because members see the value of banking digitally,” Devine said in an interview with Credit Union Journal. “You’ll see an increasing openness for every consumer to bank digitally and less of a need for that physical infrastructure.”

Following are highlights from the interview. Responses have been edited for clarity.

It’s interesting given your background at KeyBank, which is a superregional bank, that you decided to work at a credit union. Why the move from a large regional bank to a credit union?

Alliant is uniquely strong. It is one of the leading financial services institutions in the country. It is one of the 10 largest credit union in the United States with half a million members and a national footprint. That’s unique among the industry.

It is a very strong institution but the thing that really attracted me is that it has a unique competitive advantage. It is a digital-led organization. As the rest of the industry is struggling with legacy branch network costs, Alliant is past that and has set a vision on simple and rewarding banking, and that is a really powerful place to be right now.

There has been a lot of discussion about more consumers using digital banking during COVID-19. Could other financial institutions close that digital advantage that Alliant currently enjoys?

There is no question that’s where the industry is now. Members are doing their banking digitally. It is the primary way most interact with their banks and financial institutions. That was true before the pandemic and COVID has only accelerated that. All of the branch lobbies were forced to close for a period of time. Every institution is wrestling with that and [has] to figure out what they want the future of their institution to look like. At Alliant we are there. We’ve been able to make those investments and serve our members and be able to build on that platform.

It's really an unprecedented time right now. Does everything that’s happening change how you approach the job of leading a credit union?

It’s a difficult time for our country and really the world, given the economic environment and the broad social environment. As a leader, as I step into a new organization, that causes me to want to do everything that I can to get to know our teams, our members [and] all of the important stakeholders we work with day to day.

But of course at a moment like this, you will take extra time to make sure you understand the underlying dynamics of your business so that you can be positioned as well as possible. We are focused on the future and how we serve more members and enhance that experience.

Given the digital focus of financial services right now, what’s your prediction for the next big thing in fintech?

I would say a simple and rewarding digital experience is at the center. … Then of course building on that with partners. One of the things that’s interesting about our platform is Alliant has been thoughtful about partnerships and bringing the best of the industry to its members. You don’t always have to build it. For example, you’ll see on our website, we advertise more ATMs available to our members for free than the top two U.S. banks combined. A digital institution with great member service and that kind of physical availability provides a lot to members.

What keeps you up at night? What’s your biggest worry?

For the industry broadly, the uncertainty around exactly what the economy looks like and the impact that has on our members and how we best support them. I’ve spent significant amount of time understanding how we work with our members through any financial issues they have to put them in the best possible position.

At a member-focused organization, what keeps us focused is how we make sure we can do everything we can to make this member experience a great one. Our members have many choices when they think about who they can do their financial services with. We want to be sure we creating an experience that keeps Alliant in the position that is among the best in the industry.

There have been massive protests and a greater focus on social justice issues and racial equality in the last few months. How do you address those issues as a CEO? Do you look at Alliant’s recruitment practices?

Yes, absolutely. It is incredibly important and front of mind in everything we do every day. From my first introduction with every single member of our team, our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion has been a centerpiece of our discussion, and it will be in every talent process and in all that we do as an institution. It’s incredibly important.

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Digital banking Digital transformation Coronavirus Branch banking Branch management Branch network Consumer banking Racial Bias