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Helping Credit Unions Compete: Our Conversation with TruStage’s Laurie Winger

Helping Credit Unions Compete: Our Conversation with TruStage’s Laurie Winger

As part of Finovate’s commemoration of Women’s History Month, our Women in Fintech column features Laurie Winger, Chief Financial Officer with TruStage. Formerly known as CUNA Mutual Group, TruStage is a financial services company that provides insurance, investment, and fintech solutions to individuals and businesses.

Winger has been praised by colleagues as a visionary and results-oriented, cross functional leader. At TruStage, she has helped transform a decades-old insurance company into a modern, technology-driven business.

In our Women in Fintech conversation, we discuss her origins in fintech and financial services, current trends that she has her eye on, and why it’s important for financial services companies to invest both human and financial resources into the fintech space.

Tell us about your role at TruStage and your journey into the fintech space.

Laurie Winger: I started my career as an accountant at TruStage, previously CUNA Mutual Group, more than 30 years ago. I spent the first half of my career in various finance roles – Budget Manager, Vice President of Finance, etc. – and then shifted my focus to credit union market strategy in the mid-2010s. At that time, our company was seen in the marketplace as an insurance rather than a technology company. Our goal was to change that perception and the best way to do so was to get more involved in fintech. This was when I first dipped my toes into the fintech space.

One of our first investments was the creation of our Ventures Portfolio, TruStage Ventures, which funds innovators focused on improving the financial services industry. A few years later, we also acquired Compliance Systems, a fintech provider of digital and dynamic compliance documentation, and CuneXus, a consumer-facing portal featuring financial services for credit unions. As Chief Product Officer at the time, I was very involved in the strategy and the execution of that acquisition. Since then, I returned to my finance roots as Chief Financial Officer while keeping a close eye on TruStage and TruStage Venture’s fintech acquisitions and investments, as well as being a member of various fintechs’ boards.

Recently, I’ve dipped back into the fintech side of our business by overseeing our Fintech Solutions team as part of my role as CFO. This team is focused on developing and implementing our Digital Storefront e-commerce platform (based on our acquisition of CuneXus mentioned above) which provides financial institutions with the ability to lend, generate deposits, and open accounts in a fully online experience – all centered around a consumer’s individual banking needs.

It seems like you had a strong role in building TruStage’s fintech strategy. Why did you see a need to provide more holistic support to credit unions?

Winger: I’ve always been a big fan of credit unions because their mission is consistent with ours at TruStage, namely the desire to help people who would otherwise not get access to financial products. Unfortunately, in the digital era, credit unions are having a harder time than ever competing with larger financial institutions and digital banks, and many are closing their doors or are being acquired. We realized early on that if we wanted to truly help credit unions compete, we needed to provide more holistic support. By investing in and making modern, end-to-end technology solutions available to credit unions of all sizes and helping them meet their members’ needs – we are ultimately helping consumers on their buying, borrowing, and saving journeys.

What changes have you seen in the fintech space in the last couple of years and how would you advise fintechs to react to these changes?

Winger: I am learning along with our entire organization that the current fintech market is very different than it was even just a year and a half ago. The high inflation environment has caused valuations to go down, so many fintechs are struggling to attract interest and raise money from third-party investors. They need to find new ways to generate capital.

The best way to do this is to listen to credit unions’ pain points and pivot their focus and/or messaging to meet those current needs. At the moment, growing deposits, finding ways to deepen existing relationships, and acquiring new members are at the top of the priority list for most credit union leadership teams. Fintechs that are heavily promoting lending technologies are probably having a hard time finding prospects, as many credit unions are running into liquidity challenges and are not able to lend as much as before. Pivoting their focus to respond to market needs, or tweaking their messaging to better appeal to potential prospects, will help fintechs stay afloat. The key to success in this economic environment is to listen to market demand, stay flexible, and be willing to take risks.

How are you and TruStage helping advance women leaders in the fintech and credit unions spaces?

Winger: As a company, we are very proud of the TruStage Ventures Discovery Fund, which invests $5 million annually in early-stage fintech companies led by BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and woman founders. We created the fund to address inequities in the financial sector and support underrepresented entrepreneurs, many of which are women. Personally, I also try to keep in touch with the female founders who have benefitted from the fund and build those relationships.

In the credit union market, I’ve also had the opportunity to be a mentor as part of the Credit Union Women’s Leadership Alliance (CUWLA) coaching program. The program pairs senior female leaders with women CEOs of credit unions with asset sizes of $300 million or less, providing a channel for support and the exchange of insights. I try to generously share my career experiences, successes, failures, and learnings with other women leaders as often as possible, as I think it is the best way to help other women advance and succeed in both the fintech and credit union industries.

Finally, as a Chief Financial Officer, why is it important to invest company resources (funds and people) into the fintech space to power future/tech-driven strategy?

Winger: Ultimately, it all comes down to remaining relevant. Financial services today operate in a fast-moving, competitive marketplace with ever-evolving consumer demands for seamless, digital-first transactions. No matter how well capitalized, any company that wishes to compete in this space must be willing to allocate investments towards innovations with the consumer expectation at the center. If they don’t, even the most venerable companies risk being passed by fintechs, start-ups, and the industry as a whole.

Photo by Josh Sorenson on Unsplash