Zachary Churchill, 2022 CUES Emerging Leader, believes in the power of data analytics.
Credit unions are awash in data these days. But an abundance of data is not sufficient for success if you don’t have a plan for how to use it. CUES member Zachary Churchill, CUDE, CMA, CFE, CCM, is a man with such a plan, having presented a strong business case for why credit unions need a centralized data analytics team. Based on his standout presentation, Churchill was named the 2022 CUES Emerging Leader.
“Data is becoming the new currency in the digital era,” says Churchill, VP/finance at $1.1 billion USF Federal Credit Union, Tampa, Florida, serving 72,000 members. “Credit unions have more robust data than ever before, but there are different ways to interpret data. That’s why I think it’s important to create a data analytics group, bringing together people who understand the credit union and people who understand the data. Taking that approach, you’ll be able to leverage data to create a catalyst for major positive change.”
Churchill describes himself as a lifelong learner, which motivated him to participate in the CUES Emerge program, a leadership development program CUES created in partnership with CUES Supplier member Currency, Chilliwack, British Columbia.
“If I had to boil the CUES Emerge experience down to one word, it would be ‘transformational,’” Churchill says, praising the program for its unique combination of virtual education, mastermind sessions and peer collaboration. The 2022 program featured a cohort of 30 up-and-coming credit union leaders, all of whom had the opportunity to develop a business case. Churchill was one of five finalists chosen from the cohort to present their cases during a live pitch show on Oct. 5.
Telling a Human Story
In developing his business case, Churchill had a challenge: how to make a data-based presentation without being dry or boring. “I knew I had to hold people’s interest,” he says. “People don’t necessarily respond to facts and data, but they do respond to human stories wrapped around that data. So, I decided to describe the benefits of data through the lens of a member experience.”
His entry point was the hypothetical story of Mrs. Rose, a credit union member who had gotten herself into dire financial straits with a high-rate indirect auto loan. In this scenario, Mrs. Rose reached out to her credit union for assistance in getting an affordable loan.
“It was a typical credit union story, where we were able to save the day,” Churchill says. “But what about other members who are in similar situations but don’t even think to reach out to their credit union for assistance? Could data allow us to be proactive in helping them?”
The answer is yes, Churchill asserts—but only if CUs take steps to knock down siloed decision-making and organize data to reach more insightful conclusions.
In preparing his business case, Churchill developed such a convincing argument that he convinced himself USF FCU shouldn’t delay in implementing a data analytics strategy. “I didn’t feel it was necessary to wait for my pitch. Instead, I went back to the credit union and said, ‘Let’s pilot this idea in the finance area that I oversee.’”
Churchill identified lending as an excellent starting point for the analytics strategy. The finance and lending teams worked together to create actionable operational dashboards, which proved effective in determining an interest rate strategy in a rising rate environment.
“It worked out really well,” Churchill says. “I was participating in the CUES Emerge educational sessions and leveraging what I learned in real time. Now, we’re looking to replicate what we’ve done in lending in other areas of the credit union, such as the branches and call center.”
Zach of All Trades
Churchill’s credit union career spans 16 years, during which he has worked in such diverse areas as member services, collections, audit, compliance, lending, performance excellence and his current specialty of finance.
“I like to say I’m a ‘Zach of all trades,’” quips Churchill. “I’ve done a little bit of everything, which has been helpful in giving me a broader understanding of credit unions.”
Churchill’s first CU job was in Hawaii, where he was hired as a management trainee and spent time on the teller line. “I always say that was the hardest job I ever did, but it was also one of the best because I learned so much by interacting with members.”
Eventually, Churchill returned to his home state of Florida, joining USF FCU as an internal auditor in 2012. President/CEO Richard J. Skaggs, a CUES member, was immediately impressed. “I realized early on that Zachary possessed many inherent leadership skills,” Skaggs says. “He’s an expert with numbers. His knowledge of finance is vast. He’s a quick study and an equally quick wit. I, and indeed the entire staff of USF FCU, were so proud to see him named the 2022 CUES Emerging Leader. We were not surprised to see him excel in the competition. We’re honored that he’s part of our credit union.”
As the CUES Emerge winner, Churchill will receive an educational and coaching package that includes registration to CUES Advanced Management Program from Cornell University and executive coaching from CUES Supplier member Envision Excellence. This will be a worthy continuation of his formal education, which includes a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of South Florida, the namesake for USF FCU, and an MBA from the University of Tampa (ut.edu).
“I’ve always enjoyed pushing myself to learn something new, so this educational package is right up my alley,” Churchill says. “I’m looking forward to challenging myself intellectually and expanding my base of knowledge while connecting with additional people in the industry.”
Churchill’s pursuit of education has earned him several certifications, including
- Certified Internal Auditor,
- Certified Fraud Examiner,
- Certified Management Accountant and
- ASQ Certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.
He is also a Florida Sterling state examiner and Malcolm Baldrige national examiner for performance excellence.
Enjoying the Journey
Churchill, who is married with three children, has two aspirations for his professional future. One is to become a credit union CEO. The other is to pursue his passion for developing and teaching leadership development. In the meantime, he is savoring his current role at USC FCU, where he can use the power of data to improve members’ lives.
“I try to enjoy every day and realize it’s part of a journey,” Churchill says. “It’s not just about where you end up. It’s about enjoying the experiences along the way.” cues icon
Based in Missouri, Diane Franklin is a longtime contributor to CU Management magazine.