NACUSO Spotlight: Jim Giacobbe, President and CEO, United …
Jim enjoys playing and coaching sports (left and right). At center is his team accepting the Technology and Innovation Company of the Year Award in Tallahassee, Florida.
Each month we highlight at least one NACUSO member by interviewing one of their top executives.
It s an opportunity to tell their story in a casual and fun way. This month we sat down with Jim Giacobbe.
What s your current position and can you give me a brief overview of what it is you do in your work?
As the CEO, I wear many hats. I am responsible for communicating a clear vision and direction to our customers, employees, and board of directors.
My most important responsibility is providing clear and concise leadership for the fifty plus employees at United Solutions. I take this responsibility very seriously because I think there is an epidemic of poor leadership in this country.
There are too many absent CEOs that either feel they have people in positions to make their decisions, or feel as though the industry has somehow passed them by. You simply cannot allow either to happen.
Being a good leader takes time and energy. You need to stay focused on what is happening at your company.
As CEO, I am responsible for the culture of this organization, for the technology we incorporate, the level of service we provide, the partnerships we create, and the financial wellbeing of our company. While I may bring in experts to work with on certain areas, I never cross the line and give up my responsibility.
Some reading this might think that I micro manage, and occasionally I may. However, if more CEOs paid better attention, I can promise you they would see better results.
If I hear a CEO say, I have people for that, what I hear is that they don t know the answer because they stopped paying attention. That s not good leadership.
What would you say most motivates you to do what you do? What are you most excited or passionate about?
As the CEO of United Solutions, or any institution, you have to be a self-starter.
You need to find the best use of your time, and then motivate yourself to action. When I was a little lower on the totem pole, it was sometimes easier because there was always someone above me telling me what to do and giving me assignments and deadlines. I may not have realized it at the time, but it was easier to follow orders instead of coming up with the tasks or projects like I do now.
The creative aspect of my position at United Solutions motivates me.
Our staff is very entrepreneurial, and we do our best to create products and services that can help our credit unions maintain a competitive advantage. I like working with our staff on new products and services. When I came to United Solutions, we were a smaller company with a handful of products: core, imaging, and collections.
Today, we have over 25 products and services that we offer to the fin-tech industry and we do business in 26 states.
I enjoy working with our marketing department, attending conferences, and being part of the sales cycle. I like to sit down with our Network Services Department and learn about new technologies that we might want to deploy, or work with the group to solve issues because of some new fraud or malware that has the ability to interrupt our services.
Oddly enough, what I enjoy the least about my job is public speaking. I don t enjoy the limelight, but I understand that I need to promote the CUSO and be the face of the company.
I want to hear the story of how you came to work with credit unions.
What attracted you to work for United Solutions Company?
I had been working at Fiserv DataSafe4 for more than 15 years and living in Chester County, PA with my wife and two children. Fiserv DataSafe had a large upgrade going on at the United Solutions Company in Tallahassee, Florida. As the head of the department I felt the need to travel onsite with the installation team to ensure the success of the project.
While onsite I was offered a job. Before leaving, I gave the United Solutions Chief Operating Officer a list of nine people that I thought could do the job to their satisfaction.
When I arrived home and told my wife about the job offer, she said to my surprise, Let s reinvent ourselves and move to Tallahassee . What?
I was shocked and in fact, I m still shocked when I hear myself tell that story. I did think the job sounded interesting, and in all honesty, at that point I was ready for a new challenge.
I reported to Ray Wright and Ray Cromer Jr, both long time credit union men who wasted no time molding me and giving me direction. When I left my previous job, I had a budget and numbers I needed to make.
When I got to USC, I started looking for revenue opportunities. I will never forget Ray Cromer telling me, No Jim, it isn t about revenue but about service. We are a credit union service organization.
Eventually, I got the picture and life got easier.
Our first priority at United Solutions is to help our credit unions. When you provide excellent customer service, the revenue dollars take care of themselves.
Now if we can go even further back, where did you grow up and what was it like living there? Where did you go to school?
My first job was at CMP Communications7 on Community Drive in Long Island, where I started as an advertising coordinator and eventually moved up to a sales position. I was doing very well, doing what I was told, and moving up in the organization.
Unfortunately, the paper was sold, and despite my best efforts, I lost my job. My next job was with Wells Fargo8 in New York. I started out as one of 22 territory managers, and by the end, there were just two of us left.
Despite working hard and getting promotions, I again found myself out of a job when Wells Fargo closed the operation.
By the time I got to USERS Incorporated in Valley Forge, PA, I understood that long-term success wasn t just about personal accomplishment. I learned to be responsible for the company and not just myself. I told upper management when the product wasn t working, and fought for what I knew was right when others looked the other way.
I also understood that if the clients weren t satisfied, then we were in trouble. I started to fill gaps and make recommendations, and eventually I became part of the Senior Team at DataSafe. Learning that success was more than just personal gain was a very valuable lesson in my life.
Who were your mentors along the way?
People who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you re committed to in your work and life? Tell me about them.
I reported to both of these individuals and learned quite a bit. Ray described his position as CEO of Envision and USC as an orchestra conductor. He met with me regularly and helped me with decisions.
He exuded integrity and I aspired to be more like him.
Larry is a very good businessman. He has the ability to listen to a situation and quickly get to the meat of the issue. He taught me to act and not react, and to see the big picture.
He was always fair and compassionate with the staff. I admired him to the point that people started calling me Little Larry in my later years at DataSafe. I always considered that a compliment.
Finally can you share something interesting about you that would surprise our readers?
It can be anything, a hobby, an adventure, sports, the most embarrassing thing that s ever happened to you,
I am one of six kids growing up, the well-adjusted middle child. I was the fourth smallest kid in my class as a high school freshman. I was very athletic in the neighborhood, but I lost all advantages due to my size in high school.
I grew later in life and played rugby in college. I enjoy playing basketball and I play on a competitive men s softball team to this day. I also enjoy coaching a senior boys basketball team for the city of Tallahassee.
PART TWO: The CUSO Business Story
Tell me the story of how your CUSO was created the early days.
Tell me about some of the memorable characters in the history, some that brought your story color, drama, comedy, conflict?
In 1983 Ray Cromer Jr. was the CEO of North Florida Educators FCU10, and approached USERS DataSafe about sharing a system with FOCUS Credit Union11 in Chattahoochee, FL. Per Ray Cromer, USERS said the system wouldn t work in a hosted environment.
That was probably all Ray Cromer needed to hear. Ray, being the innovator that he was, said he would take responsibility for the success of the project and he created the United Datatronics CUSO (later to become United Solutions Company). Ray created a private cloud solution back in 1983 before the term existed.
He showed USERS that his plan could work, and paved the way for the online version of the USERS DataSafe System.
What have been the greatest successes in your opinion?
Probably our biggest success was signing and converting the $975M CFCU Community Credit Union12 in Ithaca, New York. Lisa Whitaker13, the President and CEO, has been a huge supporter of United Solutions. As a CUSO, our identity is definitely shaped by the credit unions we serve. CFCU Community and the rest of our credit unions challenge United Solutions to provide the best service and technology available.
Other successes include the construction of our current headquarters building, a 24,000 square foot facility that won Green Building of the Year in 2010 here in Tallahassee.
United Solutions also won the Technology and Innovation Company of the Year here in Tallahassee in 2015. Lastly, I would say our relationship with Fiserv has been a great success. USC is a proud reseller of Fiserv Products, including the DataSafe and XP2 Core Systems and Fiserv Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT). 1415
PART THREE: Reflections and Lessons
If you could start your CUSO all over again, would you do anything differently?
Why and what would you do?
The focus of United Solutions has changed a bit over the years. In the beginning, the CUSO was just about two credit unions sharing a core data processing system. Over the next 20 years, that evolved into many credit unions sharing the host system and the addition of a few new products and services.
Today United Solutions Company provides leased server space, co-location, network infrastructure management, electronic backup & recovery, and many other IT related products and services. Our growth has been very organic and well planned. Throughout our growth, we have been true to our mission of service excellence, collaboration, and cost reduction.
The one thing I would have done differently would have been to spend more money on marketing our CUSO.
USC has been in business since 1983, and I still run into individuals at conferences and trade shows who say they have never heard of the United Solutions Company. I would also have reached out to other business partners in our early years. United Solutions has a very scalable operation and proven sustainability.
I would like to invite other credit unions to launch their CUSO ideas from USC. We re always open to innovative collaboration ideas, you can visit our website to learn more and get in touch with us.
Finally, when you think of the future, what gives you hope and what makes you concerned?
People forecast dramatic paradigm shifts in our industry. I definitely see change, and I understand that this change is both inevitable and necessary.
I know credit unions will continue to see increased pressure from non-traditional banks. Many of those competitors have entered the market with a great idea and a strong marketing strategy.
In my opinion, many of these competitors are just one-trick-ponies. They offer strong mobile payments, but they don t offer loans. They have lending products, but they don t offer IRA Accounts or plastics products.
Credit Unions offer a full breadth of products and services that consumers need and want. I think our credit unions would be wise to adopt many of the products that these non-traditional banks offer, and not worry about going head to head with them.
The advice I would give to a credit union right now, would be to concentrate on the member facing products and services. Back office efficiencies are important, but attracting and keeping profitable members is paramount.
Invest in strong mobile applications, but don t expect everyone to use them. If you don t offer a mobile solution, people will bank elsewhere. Embrace branch automation products but don t go overboard; traditional members still need to interact with people.
If I go to a branch I want to be greeted by someone who can help me with my problem.
Make business intelligence a part of everyday life. Spend money on employees who understand and can help you mine your data, but don t freak people out by invading their privacy. If that is too complicated for your operation, at least come up with a good cross-selling strategy.
Lastly, understand that you are going to have to spend more each year on security products and services.
It is a hard pill to swallow, but the environment is changing, and you cannot afford to be an easy target for fraudsters.
In closing, be an effective leader, use common sense, and partner with a CUSO!
- ^ Posts by Denise Wymore (www.nacuso.org)
- ^ Blog (www.nacuso.org)
- ^ United Solutions Company (www.unitedsolutions.coop)
- ^ Fiserv DataSafe (www.fiserv.com)
- ^ Bishop Eustace Preparatory School (en.wikipedia.org)
- ^ West Chester University (www.wcupa.edu)
- ^ CMP Communications (www.manta.com)
- ^ Wells Fargo (www.wellsfargo.com)
- ^ Larry Tankeloff (www.cutimes.com)
- ^ North Florida Educators FCU (mycfe.com)
- ^ FOCUS Credit Union (www.focuscu.org)
- ^ CFCU Community Credit Union (www.mycfcu.com)
- ^ Lisa Whitaker (www.mycfcu.com)
- ^ Technology and Innovation Company (www.unitedsolutions.coop)
- ^ Fiserv Products (www.fiserv.com)
- ^ Apple Pay (www.apple.com)