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Guest Blog – Ryan Zilker of Sound CU on NextUP

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MDC’s NextUP program is the credit union industry’s preeminent innovation training and development opportunity, bringing together our owners’ best movers-and-shakers and brightest up-and-comers. While participating in NextUP, our owners’ representatives work from July through February, including four days of in-person training and working sessions. During these eight months, participants receive intense innovation training and are guided through developing new, actionable project ideas to propel the credit union industry forward and help our owners compete both today and over the next two decades with the goal of pitching their ideas to MDC ownership at our February owner meetings. Recent NextUP ideas that became full MDC projects include Anywhere Banking, Car Sharing, Chatbots, Member Score, VR/AR Banking, and more! Learn more by clicking here.

Ryan Zilker, Chief Marketing Officer at Sound Credit Union, participated in our most recent NextUP program and served as a presenter for his team’s idea at our 2020 Winter Owner Meeting in Fort Lauderdale. We caught up with Ryan to ask him about his experience.

Your credit union is a newer owner of MDC, and you were Sound’s first participant in the NextUP program. What made you decide to commit to NextUP?

I’ve been in the credit union industry for more than 20 years, so I’ve heard a lot about MDC. I had my first in-person experience with MDC at an owner meeting in 2012 while working at CO-OP, and I was really impressed with the caliber of the thinking presented and with the value MDC brought to its owners. When I joined Sound in 2019, I was excited to learn that we recently joined MDC as an owner, and my CEO was committed to actively participating with MDC. When asked by my CEO, I jumped at the opportunity to join NextUP and was excited about both the connections I would make and the potential to make an impact on the industry.

Thinking back about your expectations as to what participating in NextUP would be like, what surprised you?

NextUP is a great equalizer – egos, titles, and resumes were checked at the door. I was working with people at all levels of their careers, and every idea and opinion was valued and taken into consideration. I think the program and the project made me a better collaborator and team player, and it forced me to stretch some muscles that have atrophied over the years. The connections I developed with other industry professionals across the country will last a lifetime.

At MDC, we describe NextUP as a win-win-win, with benefits for MDC, the credit unions that send a participants, and for the participants themselves. Did your experience live up to that description? Why or why not?

Yes. I came back to my credit union with ideas that we haven’t ever considered — many of these ideas came from talking with peers from across the country. I also learned new approaches to ideation that I’ve already been able to apply with my teams at home. I’m a better leader because of NextUP, with connections that I never would have had otherwise. Participating created a valuable stable of resources to help me address challenges that my credit union is facing now or will be facing in the future.

We always aim to have every single MDC owner send one representative to NextUP, but each year some MDC owners are unable to send a staff member due to concerns about the time commitment away from CU operations. What would you say to an MDC owner considering not sending a representative to NextUP?

Participation in NextUP should be seen as a development opportunity for the participant. It is so much more than just another obligation. The teams are made up of very busy credit union professionals, so there are times that not everyone can attend a meeting. However, because of the scale and professionalism of the group, they cover for each other when needed, and the ideas being developed continue to move forward. Every meeting I attended, both virtually and in person, was incredibly valuable for me and has made me a more effective employee for my credit union.

MDC will shortly begin recruiting for the 2020/2021 NextUP program. What advice would you give to a new participant before they start their NextUP experience?

Come to NextUP with an open mind. You’ll be challenged to participate in group activities, speak in front of groups, and generally push yourself out of your comfort zone. If you’re a long-tenured credit union executive, you may have a team lead that is junior to you in experience—or vice versa. This can be humbling for the tenured professional, and a great development opportunity for the younger team members.

Thanks so much for your time, both in terms of being a NextUP participant and for answering our questions today. Do you have any other comments you’d like to make about your NextUP experience?

NextUP takes hard work and a commitment from both the participant and their credit union. If you go in with an open mind and are ready to meet new people, push your boundaries, and learn, it will be an invaluable experience.

MDC owners interested in sending a representative to NextUP can learn more by clicking here.