GonzoBanker is pleased to name Gene Blishen, General Manager of Mount Lehman Credit Union, Mount Lehman, British Columbia, as our July GonzoBanker of the Month. We’re enthused about Gene’s holistic view of technology and his dedication to fine tuning it to serve the specific needs of individual credit union members.
Name: Gene Blishen
Official Title: General Manager, Mount Lehman Credit Union, Mount Lehman (Fraser Valley), British Columbia
Gonzo Title: Beat cop at the intersection of Technology and Humanity
Can you say afgangsbevis?
While not a native Dane, Gene lived in Denmark for a number of years, where he received his business diploma (or firma afgangsbevis in Danish). Everyone’s heard of the immersion technique for learning a foreign language, but we think Gene carried the concept to new lengths, literally learning the Danish language in order to obtain the diploma. It’s probably safe to say, the easy way isn’t necessarily the Gene way.
Gene was employed by a grain cooperative prior to entering the credit union system in 1978. “Sure, they’re very different industries, but working for the coop gave me a solid grounding in the concept of building economic capital and social capital concurrently, which has proven to be valuable throughout my credit union career,” said Gene.
A Better View of Technology
Enjoy waxing philosophical over a pint or two of Guinness (or a Hermannator Ice Bock perhaps)? Then Gene could be your perfect drinking buddy. When GonzoBanker asked Gene about his views on technology and member service, he said: “Jacques Ellul, who wrote The Technological Society, warned many years ago that in striving for ‘a more efficient technique,’ technology had the potential to totally depersonalize interactions. With our mobile banking products like MemberNote we’re recognizing the ways in which technology can empower people to do things for themselves. At the same time we’re going beyond a one size fits all approach so that individuals can personalize and customize these solutions to work for them. Self-service doesn’t have to make members feel like just another cog in the wheel.”
Ask Gene what’s got him excited on the project front and he’ll tell you that right now, it’s all about push technology. Mount Lehman’s MemberNote application was rolled out three years ago, making Mount Lehman one of the early adopters of mobile banking technology. MemberNote was designed with an alert mechanism to send members a text message within three to five seconds of any ATM or merchant transaction, whereby members are able to see the amount of the transaction, date/time and amount left in the account. The application is constantly evolving, with the latest features permitting members to turn notification services on or off and change variables such as the dollar limit that will activate an alert. Features in queue for version 3 will expand member options to allow receipt of alerts for diverse transaction types, such as direct deposit time and amount or notification of credit union and related calendar events. “We’re particularly excited about version 3,” said Gene. “As with the previous versions, we’re building the applications in house at Mount Lehman, but this time we’re partnering with several other credit unions to get the service out to a larger member base. Mount Lehman has the push technology that other credit unions don’t, so this is an effort to share that with organizations that are more traditionally pull-based. It’s all about the big picture.”
Also in the works at Mount Lehman is an application that will, according to Gene, “with one finger press allow members to obtain information on credit union ATMs in relationship to where they are exactly at that moment.” “It’s kind of a big Google Map mash up,” laughed Gene. “This service will be available to everyone in the exchange network, not just Mount Lehman members.”
In observing the development of MemberNote and other technologies at Mount Lehman over the years, Gene notes that “innovation is really the beginning of learning. It’s all about the wisdom of the crowds, kind of like a Wiki.” Gene believes that there can be a happy marriage of human elements and technology as long as there is the value proposition. “More than anything, we’ve learned at Mount Lehman that when you start a project [like MemberNote], you never really finish it.” Also, Gene believes that technology is not the be all and end all. “It doesn’t have to be shiny and vast and cool, it just has to work for that person at that time, the way they want it to work. With that understanding at the core of your development efforts, you will end up with a suitable product from a business perspective.”
Gene’s has made his mark in the blogosphere with his blog tinfoiling, which he publishes on wordpress.com. “I started the blog about four years ago after a few friends said I should try it,” said Gene. “Blogging is a unique proposition that’s really never occurred before in the world, the ability to in a small fashion speak your mind. You think you’re alone and then you find a community of like souls.” Gene told GonzoBanker the tinfoiling moniker was inspired by looking at a piece of aluminum foil on the kitchen table. With the simple addition of an -ing, the blog became a reality and now provides a place for folks within and outside financial services to wax poetic on topics from iPhones to teamwork, with a hefty dose of debate and discussion thrown in for good measure. Plus, if you happen to Google tinfoiling, the entire first search page is all about Gene.
On being a Mac shop … not such a sad song
Besides MemberNote, another thing that’s gotten Mount Lehman a certain amount of notoriety is the fact that it operates entirely on the Mac OS. Gene admitted that’s pretty unusual, but said it’s less so since Steve Jobs changed the operating system to be Unix-based. “When the Unix underlying operating system began to play with the Mac operating system, you could see the geeks starting to smile a little bit,” said Gene. “Plus, with the advent of the iPod and iPhone, we now look kind of neat and different and cool.”
When he’s not banking or blogging
Gene likes to spend time with his family and friends. He and his wife, Marjun (who is Danish), have two sons: Fleming, a seminarian in Saskatoon; and Nils, an artist and student living in Copenhagen. Gene is a prodigious reader and loves photography; he told GonzoBanker he took a whopping 3,600 photos when he visited his son in Denmark recently. Gene is also a big devotee of Bar Camp Bank, which he described as a “bottom up event that anyone can call to order. The idea is to bring together a group of people who want to talk about financial service innovations and common concerns, but without any sort of pre-arranged agenda. It’s sort of the Olympics of seminars.”
Fave Movie of all Time
Gene’s loves The Matrix because, he said, “it is creative and different with a lot of action and good acting. It seems so close to being true at times. I also like that it is dark and at the same time offers a certain amount of hope for humanity – in the fact that our free will can never be taken away.”
What’s Playing on Gene’s MP3
The Dandy Warhols out of Portland
GonzoBanker finds Gene’s ability to balance the practicalities of running a credit union with a philosophical and innovative approach to member service technology to be very Tao. As a thank you for submitting to the GonzoBanker of the Month interview process, Cornerstone is proud to donate $250 in Gene’s name to the Credit Union Foundation of British Columbia.