CIO Spotlight: Brad Morrison, San Francisco Federal Credit Union

CIO Spotlight: Brad Morrison, San Francisco Federal Credit Union

Name: Brad Morrison

Company: San Francisco Federal Credit Union

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: August 2018

Location: San Francisco, California

Brad Morrison is San Francisco Federal Credit Union's chief information officer. He has more than 30 years of technical, strategy, security, and development experience in the financial, healthcare, and manufacturing industries as well as with several startups. Morrison joined the credit union in August 2018 to lead the technology group toward a streamlined and innovative platform to meet the growing needs of their members.

What was your first job? In middle school I took a job as a bus boy in a local restaurant, along with my best friend. I learned two very important things; 1) I was not well suited for the food service industry, and 2) you must be on time and honour your commitments. My friend was fired a couple of months into the job for missing shifts and showing up late. As a result, he lacked the money for his share of the Commodore computer we were going to buy together.

Did you always want to work in IT? I had an interest early on. I started programming, fixing computers and re-wiring electronics in middle school (early 1980's) on old Tandy, Atari, Amiga, Commodore and Apple II computers.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? Bachelor of Science in Computer Science with many old certifications from back when I cared about and needed those things for my career. My concern today is growing the careers and mentoring my team.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? While in college, I interned for Intel and HP. Needing a change of pace and location, I left school early and went in the US Navy for 4 years (1988-1992). In the Navy (no pun intended), I worked in Data Systems operating mini computers, networking, programming and communications. After the Navy, I finished my BS, and started working for a small computer everything shop, building computers, servers, networking (Windows (WFW & NT 3.1-4.0), Novell and SCO Unix, Database Administration, and technical project work. I then worked as an IT Project Manager, IT Director and in Network Engineering for VISA, MicroAge & Delta Dental. I started a couple of companies, sold one; started consulting and advising; started a third company, sold it and went back to consulting. I semi-retired, played golf, travelled, coached my kids' sports teams, started consulting again, owned a winery, and decided to look for something interesting and impactful, which led me to the San Francisco Federal Credit Union. Reflecting, the semi-retirement and winery, was a flight of fancy that I do not regret but would have done very differently with hindsight. Otherwise, no detours; only small diversions, corrections and some opportunities not explored.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? We are laying the foundation for growth. Credit Unions have to appeal to their membership and potential membership, by offering products and services, with a personal touch, affordably. We appeal to their current desire for a more impactful financial experience and cannot compete with the big banks on their turf. San Francisco Federal Credit Union has gone as far as it can on the current technology infrastructure. This year and next, we will make a series of tactical technology shifts that will set us off for our strategic plans and lay the foundation for growth, innovation and a refined commitment to the personal experience. We will replace our Online Banking and Mobile platform, build a new web presence, streamline our account opening and product cross sell capabilities, set us up better to understand our data, prepare for next year's CU core conversion (Aug 2020) and work toward our goal of a more personalised technology experience across the board for our members however they choose to interact with us - in-branch, on the phone or online.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? Our CEO's top priority is growth while remaining fiscally sound. My two-year technology plan will assist with onboarding and retention of members while easing the burden on our staff to maintain a high level of service and experience. Additionally, we will increase staff to better respond and support our internal and external customers; while ensuring to provide ample opportunities for growth, development and mentorship.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? I assume this is a general question about the role of a CIO, if so… 

All CIO's fall into one of three categories, those who want a title but do not understand the technical part of the job, those who are too technical and can't relate to the business and then those who have a balanced understanding of the role IT plays as a business enabler and service provider to the organisation and its customers. You can tell where I feel we should all be!  

As an Officer of the organisation, it is our responsibility to understand, not just our job function but how we can effectively deliver products and services to the business. This requires that we understand our business. The business of banking is not one where I find the topic riving; however, to assist my peers and serve our members I have a duty to. My job is to understand the needs, wants and purpose of our members along with my direct customers (my peers) while doing my best to offer solutions which enhances productivity, decreases costs (TCO or ROI), while setting the foundation for this organisation to support the long-term strategic goals. A CIO can only be a suitable strategic business executive if we work to have an understanding of what we will be expecting to provide in two, five and 10 years for the business.

My job as the CIO means that I must apply those obligations to the function of Information Technology Products & Services. In many cases, I have turned down CIO roles simply because the expectation wasn't appropriate. A CIO is not a glorified title to appease an IT Director who wishes more money and a career advancement, nor is a CIO to be jammed under the CFO to be financially vetted prior to presenting to the CEO or board. If a CIO is properly qualified, they will work with their peers, CFO included, to ensure that the programs, projects, platforms and staffing are appropriate for the business goals. Any CEO whom does not want the CIO to report to them, wrongly assumes their business does not rely on technology to function and is thereby advocating their responsibility to understand their business operations to a subordinate and should retire as a relic of a bygone era.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? I find this an obnoxious misnomer of a marketing term, like cloud.  Manual and/or analogue processes have and are supplanted by digital process, systems or programs every day and have been since the 90's. From the first system that took orders and processed inventory, it began digital transformation. Walking into an organisation and announcing that you intend to lead the charge in digital transformation presumes that everything isn't already effectively digital and is the height of short-sighted arrogance. There are always and will always be process improvements, efficiencies, automation via technology that better serves the business and the member/customer. As a CIO, I will always work with my vendor partners, IT teams and my peers to peek as far forward as I can and pull out the best technology that will meet my responsibilities as the CIO. Then I will work with our members/customers and my peers to ensure we are getting the best experience we can for our staff, our members and this business. We are pursuing an omnichannel convergence to ensure digital services extend, consistently; to replace or supplant manual processes that lead to continued inefficient operations.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? We do have KPI's as well as measurable goals based on them. However, we are not leveraging the raw data as effectively as we could to drive business decisions. My organisation will be rolling out a data warehouse with a real-time analytics platform to each department head and manager this year. We will use KPI's to drill down and assist in making quantifiable business decisions and then measure the response of those decisions against the baseline.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? Culture is driven from the top and, depending on the size or the organisation or location of the staff, be dependant overall. In my organisation, I try to be inclusive, open and communicate broadly about everything outside of longer-term strategy and confidential matters. We try to celebrate every achievement (what constitutes as an achievement is debateable) while holding each other accountable to the whole. This fosters a culture of shared responsibility and partnership, everyone wins and loses together and we respect each person's strength while helping where they have weaknesses. It is a full-time job to stay diligent and consistent especially when the organisation was far smaller only 10 years ago and given it has been around for 65 years. Many try to slip back to "we used to do it this way…". Staying on top of the message and responding with my direct reports as a single unit and keeping on the same page is how we foster our culture. There is also our broadly shared interest in tech, Star Wars, Star Trek, our families and other San Francisco Bay-area geek cultural things.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate being) the most difficult to fill? Data Analysts. There are many who are DBA's or Data Administrators; however, finding someone who truly wants to understand our data and can visually represent what we need has proven difficult.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Do not assume everyone will work and think the way you do. Do not assume everyone has the same motivations to work as you. Find those answers for each person who works for and with you, respect them and you will ensure an effective work place.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. When I take on a new role, one of the first things I do is try and apply the answer to the prior question to my staff, top to bottom. I then try to acknowledge, privately, whom would be the right; not easy or current, logical choice to take over for me. I ask this question each year to be sure I am operating under the prior assumptions. Each year, when I do this, I try to press more development and training on that person to flush out their limits and character. The biggest challenge in this role is that I have a great staff, but do not see a clear successor. I have been here seven months and will have to find one as soon as possible, from outside of the organisation. The biggest challenge in keeping high-performing staff happy and engaged is to ensure a challenging, yet manageable.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? Understand basic business principals, finance and operations. When you work for a company, be sure to learn everything you can about the products and services offered, consume your data and know your systems. Then, pay attention to the people you work with, recognise why they work and how they work, respect their contributions and collaborate effectively. Learn how to manage a project, learn Agile and Scrum, even if you're not ever been a project manager or developer; it will help you organise, prioritise and pursue objectives in a non-linear manner.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Mentorship and partnership of and with some excellent people whom have extraordinary talents.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? Nothing major, many small things. (Like holding on to Apple stock when it was $10.)

What are you reading now? I am making progress through several books. Alexander Hamilton by Chernow; Wisdom of Walt by Barns and Our Final Invention by Barrat (Brilliant, highly recommend).

Most people don't know that I… fly airplanes, have a winery and can fix almost anything. Almost!

In my spare time, I like to…Keep active with my friends, my wife and my kids.

Ask me to do anything but… sing, I just can't carry a tune.


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