“Competition is always positive.”

Diana Waterman, VP of finance at Westoba Credit Union, discusses lessons learned and keeping up with a changing credit market

Credit unions are being challenged. Set up to meet the borrowing and lending needs of communities, the cooperative organizations now have to deal with competing in a low-interest-rate environment in a world where services such as PayPal, Hyperwallet, and Apple Pay are disrupting the market. Below, Diana Waterman discusses with Advantage how she’s helping Westoba Credit Union keep up with the times.

DIANA WATERMAN’S
CAREER MILESTONES

1988
Receives a BCom with honours from the University of Manitoba and begins working at Arthur Andersen

1991
Becomes a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Manitoba

1993
Joins the Credit Union Central of Manitoba as a banking operations supervisor

1994
Joins South Interlake Credit Union as VP of finance and administration

1999
Joins TelPay Incorporated as VP of financial services

2001
Joins Steinbach Credit Union as director of finance

2003
Returns to TelPay Incorporated as CFO

2005
Joins Mogo Financial as CFO

2006
Joins Erosion Control Blanket as VP of finance

2010
Obtains an MBA from the University of Manitoba and joins Mount Carmel Clinic as director of operations

2011
Joins Westoba Credit Union

You moved into your current role from one at Mount Carmel Clinic. What inspired the transition?
I enjoyed my time at the clinic because each day I knew I was going to work at an organization that makes a difference in people’s lives. But I missed working in an environment where you had control over the amount of revenue you can generate through sales and services.

What from your prior experiences have you brought to your current role?
The mentorship that I received from each of the CEOs that I worked with has shaped the person I am today. In my first position, reporting directly to the CEO, I learned that you can learn a lot from other organizations and that I need to read and study what others do. That CEO also taught me that superior service should be the main criteria in all of the decisions that we make.

Another wise business owner taught me that no one comes to work planning on doing a bad job, and that’s helped me realize that I shouldn’t come to work and beat up on people who aren’t performing; we owe it to them to ensure that they’re in the right position.

The executive director at Mount Carmel Clinic was Aboriginal, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to learn from her. She never spoke of peoples’ strengths and weaknesses; she always spoke of peoples’ gifts and whether they were in a position to use those gifts. It was such a wonderfully positive way to look at what each person has to contribute.

What about your current CEO?
He’s s teaching me patience. Westoba is on a path of significant change, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the path of a large organization isn’t going to change overnight.

Is competing in a low-interest-rate environment one of those changes?
This is something all financial-services organizations are dealing with. In the past, retail financial-services organizations made their money on the margins between deposits and loans. With increased competitive pressure and low rates, the focus turned to earning revenue on transactions. For the most part, the days of the free checking accounts are behind us. Now we have new competition for the transactions. PayPal, Hyperwallet, and Apple Pay are only a few of the nonfinancial businesses moving into the payment area. As a result, we need to step back and assess the value we add for our members. We also need to look at ourselves differently. It’s not the provision of loans or transaction that adds value in today’s markets, when these are available on every street corner; it’s the guidance and advice that our staff has to offer that is the real value.

How has the shift to electronic payments affected Westoba?
It’s been significant for us. There are many nontraditional competitors in this area. It will force us to be more innovative and responsive to market needs. Investments of this nature are also costly, and, being small players, credit unions cannot afford to make investments in unproven technologies.

Would you say it’s a positive or a negative?
Competition is always positive. It forces organizations to constantly be aware of what the market is demanding and to innovate. This is beneficial for building strong, healthy organizations and for consumers. In our industry, specifically, we will see more collaboration between credit unions. This is necessary to be able to make the investments in technologies and research that will be required to take us into the future.