Credit unions—member-owned, nonprofit cooperatives—are community-focused versions of traditional retail banks. Known for strict fiscal discipline, credit unions invest locally and deliver personalized financial services to their member owners. A laser-focus on the needs of members helps credit unions weather the financial headwinds that have often battered traditional banks.
In 1935, one year after President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Federal Credit Union Act into law, nine employees of the United States Senate pooled their resources—USD $45—to create the United States Senate Federal Credit Union. Nearly a century later, that original investment has grown to more than USD $1 billion. Today USSFCU serves more than 50,000 members, among them current and former employees of the United States Senate, Capitol Police, Supreme Court and other federal institutions.
When CIO Mark Fournier joined USSFCU in 2014, the organization was financially robust, with about USD $500 million in assets. He brought a big vision—to see the USSFCU do an even better job of serving its member community and to bring its services up to the innovative standards set by traditional retail banks.
Passion meets progress
Fournier’s passion for tech parallels his other passion—fast cars. As a Formula One enthusiast, he is as comfortable in his Ferrari team jersey as his business suit. Fournier’s career journey has taken its twists and turns; his long-held love for racing driving his personal and career development. He credits a good friend with helping him connect the dots between his personal passions and a career in technology.
“Though a physicist/mechanical engineer today, back then he was just the car guy,” says Fournier. “He knew everything about cars and how to fix them, and his passion was infectious,” he says. “And me? I just thought the cars looked cool.” Fournier and his buddy spent after-school hours driving around, spending more time talking cars than studying. “In high school, I wasn’t studious at all. I thought I knew everything. I assumed the world would just bend to my will, that I could become the next Bill Gates without really having to do anything.”
His friend eventually transformed his own love for ‘how things work’ into a career. Fournier followed suit, returning to his studies and eventually plotting his own course from cars to technology.
This enthusiasm for Formula One continues to inform his career. “Whether it’s endurance or Formula One racing, I respect the effort that goes into the work. The races employ vast numbers of people committed to making things happen, and it’s down to sheer passion, all the way through. I love watching races because you can see the passion on every single person’s face.”
While admitting that USSFCU is not a typical IT-led institution, Fournier sees technology as a critical element to achieve scale and service without compromising core values. It’s a vision that Fournier wants to take further. “Most of our members could go to any bank they want,” he says. “If our services are dated and uncompetitive, or it takes us three or four years to upgrade them, we’ll never catch up or take the lead. Then there’s no reason for our communities to come to us. We only exist because our members find value in us.”
Fournier saw the old “monolithic” ways of app development as unrealistic for how he wanted to work, with time spent frontloading and developing a strategy for USSFCU that pushed its resources beyond their limits. “We had to decide where we wanted to be two years down the road,” he says. “And we decided to start down the path with VMware Tanzu.”
Fournier was already familiar with the VMware ecosystem prior to joining USSFCU. He has chosen to deploy solutions within the VMware Tanzu Standard Edition, particularly VMware Tanzu with vSphere, to further facilitate application development while maintaining the member-first focus that USSFCU is renowned for. “There’s a balance,” he says. “We want to be innovative, and we want technology to lead the services that we’re delivering. But we also want sustainable growth that comes organically through the established communities that made us who we are. There’s no need to toss that aside if you’re looking to grow or build capability.”
VMware straightens the learning curve
Fournier continues to drive forward his passion for technology, with USSFCU members always at the starting line in his mind. “If a member opens an app that we write and release, they won’t know how it’s made, but they will know the experience that they get when using it. Using Tanzu, we can get something out there, receive immediate user feedback and continually improve that app in a positive way.”
Adopting new technology needs to be straightforward for Fournier and his team, and Tanzu–a core integrated part of the VMware solution stack–is no exception. “The learning curve is not only reduced by its direct integration, but also by its being part of the core product base.” He continues, “When I think about the challenge we have—of a small team that wants to adopt something that, for us, is revolutionary—I want as few barriers to learning as possible. It needs to be cohesive with everything else we’re already doing.” On that point, he believes that VMware makes great inroads into simplifying the integration and learning process. “VMware has done a fantastic job of aligning its tools with the ecosystem. They make things simpler than would otherwise be.”
The investment in delivering a mutual result for the benefit of a larger team fuels Fournier’s devotion to his own work, and to delivering USSFCU customers the best services. “It all comes down to passion and dedication,” he says. “You can’t achieve anything if you don’t take risks and go all in on what you really love to do. If you’re incredibly lucky, you get to do what I saw my friend do, and what I’m getting the chance to do now every day.”