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Mazuma CU Michaels Nominated "Credit Union Trailblazer"

Submitted by Mazuma Credit Union

Mazuma Credit Union (Kansas City) announces CEO Brandon Michaels received a prestigious nomination as ‘Credit Union Trailblazer’ by Credit Union Times magazine. Entrants must be 39 years of age or younger as of their nomination date. The ‘Trailblazers’ program was created to recognize exceptional young credit union execs who are working nearly 24/7 to change and improve the future of the credit union industry, thereby making credit unions better for their members. Credit Union Times will recognize 12 young credit union executives this year, which now includes Michaels.

“In the world of credit unions, everything is about the member,” said the president/CEO of Kansas City, MO-based Mazuma Credit Union ($490 million assets). “Everything a credit union does must be about the frontline employees who are in contact with members every day. When employees are treated with respect and as human beings who have more important things outside of work to consider, and are rewarded financially, they will treat the members better. When employees who excel are rewarded with upward mobility training or receive recognition for an innovation they came up with, by presenting it to senior management or the board, it makes them feel important and invested in, so they invest more of themselves in the credit union.”

“Mazuma’s vision is to be the most respected and envied credit union in the country. We’re aiming high, and it will take many talented people to ensure we meet our goals on the way to our vision,” said Michaels. Our employees are the people who will make sure everyone stays true to our member-centric mission, through our new core value of ‘positive awesomeness.’” Michaels’ desire to lead meaningful credit union change is primarily driven by his family.  The third-generation credit union CEO jokes that he’s been involved with credit unions since the womb.

Mazuma CEO Brandon Michaels
“I remember being at my grandmother’s credit union when I was three years old. As I got older, I did remedial things to help with loan papers, looking at microfiche, eventually working as a teller,” said the latest Trailblazer 40 Below. “When I was younger I thought there is no way I’m going to do this for a living, how boring. I liked hanging out with my grandmother but hated doing all that loan paperwork and going through microfiche.”

With a love of the ocean, Michaels dreamed of being a marine biologist but learned quickly that the months required at sea weren’t exactly family friendly. He earned a degree in finance, and an internship with the FDIC, which lead to a three-year career as a bank examiner. “It gave me a good, overall well-rounded sense of the financial services industry,” said Michaels. “The travel got tedious and being home only six days a month was not conducive to starting a family. So I looked back on what I grew up with – credit unions. I had this choice to leave the known entity, a stable position with the FDIC, or take a chance and go into the private sector; that’s how I became involved with credit unions again as an adult.”

Michaels will tell you that, beyond the excessive travel, what really pushed him to look for something else was the fact he didn’t feel like he fit in at the FDIC. 

“I truly believe credit unions have it wrong in a lot of ways. It’s one thing for me to say I’ve been involved with credit unions since the womb, but I think differently than most and that’s certainly why I didn’t fit in with the government job,” said Michaels. “Credit unions traditionally focus on the member and not enough on the team member. While important to the success of the industry, happy members don’t always make happy team members. Having a culture that engages the team; lifts them up not tears them down, where they love getting up every day to go to work will deliver better member experiences than putting all our money toward the member experience.”

At Mazuma, Michaels has been relentlessly fostering that culture and developing talent that allows the credit union to be one of the best places to work; where you can have fun throwing Frisbees but also deliver that exceptional member experience. “I maintain that a healthy organizational culture is one of the biggest competitive advantages out there right now.  A healthy organizational culture – one marked by high morale, high productivity, minimal confusion, minimal politics, and low turnover – is one that employees want to be a part of. It unlocks the potential within people and that provides a unique path for Mazuma to achieve its vision.  People – our members and our employees – remain the very core of our business, so we want to cultivate an environment within which our employees are engaged and passionate, and our members are more excited than ever to be part of the Mazuma family,” explained Michaels.  

“I’m tenacious about culture and talent development, because that is the differentiator, not a mobile app or remote-deposit capture,” said Michaels. “It’s not the things we offer, because eventually someone else will do it faster, sooner and better than us. Our difference is our passion and a prosperous culture is what will make us sustainable in the long term.”

For Michaels it boils down to communication, constantly selling the vision and explaining the ‘whys’ as culture development is an on-going evolutionary process. “You have to live that vision yourself, because ultimately others look to you to display that leadership,” said Michaels. “When you talk innovation it’s not just the next thing that sells four million apps. Innovation is something process-oriented that changes a fundamental way you do business, whether in thought or policy. We have an assistant vice president of innovation here who is geared toward thinking differently. We have ‘no bad idea’ meetings where you can share your ideas no matter how crazy, because that specific idea might spark something in someone else’s brain that Mazuma could improve on.”

He said the top challenges facing the credit union industry come from within. “The majority of credit unions demonstrate an inability or a lack of desire to change. We can talk about regulatory burdens, but the reality shows us that it has always been with us; it’s just different now,” said Michaels. “We also have to think differently about how we can use technology to compete and be more aggressive in capturing new business. As a whole, in general, there’s a lack of competitiveness. I think culture is the way to compete, but you can’t just have good culture and not tell people about it. We’ve got to be more diligent in sharing our story.”