Meet the Tech Exec: Jim Phillips, SVP & CIO, SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union

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Jim Phillips
SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union

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Jim Phillips has over twenty five years of experience in financial services in both banking and insurance. Prior to joining SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union he was the SVP & CIO at Stanford Federal Credit Union where he led enterprise transformation efforts including a core system conversion, infrastructure upgrades, and deployment of innovative new online and mobile technologies. Before Stanford Jim served as SVP & CIO at Arizona Federal Credit Union in Phoenix Arizona managing infrastructure upgrades and large scale projects around disaster recovery and data analytics. Jim previously served as President of a banking consulting group working with mid-sized Banks and Credit Unions around the country. He was a Senior Manager in the Financial Service practice at Accenture, and a Vice President at Bank of America for Business, Commercial and Trust systems. Jim’s is best known for development of enterprise technology strategies that add value to the business units he serves. 


What did you want to be when you were a kid?  
Growing up, my dad managed a small, regional bank. I thought it was really cool and professional and wanted to follow his footsteps. After developing a new IT system for a life insurance company, I discovered that combining my love of development with helping people achieve financial security was the right direction for my career.  
Now, serving as the CIO for SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union - and helping our Members’ better their financial lives - I am doing exactly what I’d dreamed of all those years ago. 
What’s the #1 area of focus CIOs should concentrate on?    
In today’s world, I believe every CIO’s top focus should be on keeping their customer’s information safe – I know that’s what keeps me up at night. In our case, our Members have trusted us with their personal information so that we can help them fulfill many of their financial dreams. It is our responsibility to keep their information protected in an increasingly connected retail environment. More and more consumers are using their debit and credit cards through wallets, apps and smartphone “pays.” With hacking and cyber attacks becoming more prevalent, sophisticated and agile, IT areas must focus on continuous improvement of security programs to keep both their customer’s information and their brand’s reputation secure. 
Have you experienced any challenges in hiring millennials?    
Compared with online gaming companies, startups and tech giants, financial services is not always perceived as the coolest place to work. However, as an industry, we are progressively evolving away from a more traditional work style to one that allows flexibility to attract the many different generations in the workplace today.    
For the most part, millennials are looking for organizations that allow them to learn and develop. They want their job to fit their life and are looking for their work to have meaning and purpose.  
This aligns very well with the credit union principles and philosophies that have been part of our culture since our founding. We are a not-for-profit financial cooperative owned by our Members, living the “people helping people” philosophy each day while supporting the educational communities and cities in which we operate. Because we’re an educational-based credit union, training, developing and providing opportunities for intellectual growth for our employees is very important to us.  
For these reasons, I believe we’re a great fit for millennials.  
What’s your take on public cloud? 
The benefits of using a public cloud are increasing from price to access and configuration. While we are still primarily an on-premise shop, that is changing for us and other financial institutions as well. A few years ago we were hesitant to move services to the cloud because of the sensitive nature of the data that we manage. We’ve gotten to the point that we are fully confident in the security of hosted cloud solutions and are looking to move some of our mobile services to the cloud. Historically, we've managed our own data centers, but now many banks and credit unions are moving to colocation facilities that are better maintained and managed by leading data centers. 
We are hearing so much about the internet of things – what does or could the internet of things for your business look like?  
We started to see the internet of things pop up about two years ago. There are some pretty exciting things happening and we’ve been evaluating opportunities to leverage that would make it even easier for Members to transact with us. We’re exploring integration opportunities with Fitbits, the Alexa app with capabilities for simple transactions like transferring funds that would improve our Members’ experience. There’s also a lot going on in the financial payments space with the ability to pay with your watch or fingerprint, so we’re also talking to our vendor partners about IoT embedded information. 
What kind of messaging is coming down from the CEO/Key Executives about their partnership with IT?  What are they expecting you to look at? 
Our CEO relies on IT to be an advisor for the entire organization. We’re here to provide our internal partners with more than just technical deliverables. They need us to be consultative, take the time to understand the objectives they’re trying to accomplish and come up with the right solutions. Often IT departments have a back office mentality -  that needs to change.   
If you could give guidance to any CIO, IT Manager, Director about how they position their careers what would you tell them? 
Let’s face it – us IT geeks love technology, and it’s easy for us to become enamored with developing and launching technology for technology’s sake. What’s most important is to stay focused on meeting the needs of your audience with relevant technology that helps make their lives better. At SchoolsFirst FCU, we begin with our Members; seeking their feedback and reviewing their input to implement technology that makes it easier and safer for them to interact and transact with us.   


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