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Financial Empowerment Challenge Ideas phase: Q&A with CO-OP

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OpenIDEO is working with CO-OP Financial Services and MasterCard on the Financial Empowerment Challenge. CO-OP is excited by this new, completely reimagined approach to their five-year-old CO-OP THINK Prize, where they’re asking the OpenIDEO community to design solutions to the question: “How might we use the power of communities to financially empower those who need it most?” Top Ideas finalists will be announced at the THINK 15 Conference in early May, and on June 9, approximately 5 Top Ideas will be announced, with the $10,000 CO-OP THINK Prize 15 to be shared among idea originators.

OpenIDEO caught up with Samantha Paxson, Chief Marketing Officer for CO-OP, to discuss the Financial Empowerment Challenge.  


OpenIDEO: For folks who might not know, what is CO-OP Financial Services? 

Paxson: CO-OP provides technology to the credit union industry, so that credit unions can offer their members access to 30,000 fee-free ATMs nationwide; shared branch access at more than 5,000 locations across the country; mobile payments; financial apps; banking and card management; payments processing – it’s a long list.

We’re a FinTech company, but we also serve as a thought leadership, content innovation platform through our THINK initiative. We believe that the best technology and organizations need exceptional thinking to deliver the kinds of member experiences people expect today. 

OpenIDEO: Why do CO-OP and MasterCard feel so passionately about using the power of communities to create better financial opportunities for people?

Paxson: Credit unions were created to do exactly that. For those who aren’t familiar with credit unions: They provide many of the same services that a bank does, but with a not-for-profit spin. Instead of answering to shareholders, credit unions are accountable to their members – the people who do business there.

Credit unions were created to help communities of people – for instance, employees of a certain company – pool their resources, help each other out financially, and flex their financial strength. It’s an old-fashioned idea that is incredibly timely now. Membership at many credit unions is open to anyone who lives in their community.

CO-OP is passionate about the power of communities because we’re a product of that collaborative spirit. Our original ATM network came together when local credit unions decided to cooperate for the benefit of their common members. Over the years, MasterCard has been an amazing partner to CO-OP and our member credit unions, too, particularly through THINK. I guess you could say collaboration is our thing.

OpenIDEO: What excites you most about this OpenIDEO challenge? 

Paxson: All the fresh thinking! In a very real way, this challenge marks the realization of a vision we’ve had for years. CO-OP’s THINK initiative is about bringing new thinking to a traditional industry. What we’ve already seen on OpenIDEO is an incredible broadening of that approach. It’s not just a few great minds contributing, but amazing thinkers from around the world. Some contributors already participate in our industry, and others join us because they have a passion for new ideas. We feel energized. It’s like we’ve opened all the windows to let in the light and air.

OpenIDEO: What has inspired you most so far in the challenge?

Paxson: This is going to sound funny to say, but it’s witnessing the power of technology and social media through the OpenIDEO platform. CO-OP and credit unions have been all about community building for years. But to watch the way technology and social media are creating this massive synergy is inspiring. So much is possible.

OpenIDEO: What are some major trends or opportunities that you think are exciting in the financial empowerment space?

Paxson: Two things: First is technology, hands down. When we talk about technology in the financial services space, we often go automatically toward thinking in terms of affluent consumers. There’s certainly that side to FinTech. But we’ve also found that technology can be a great democratizer. It’s making financial services accessible to people who have felt disconnected from the mainstream.

One of our member credit unions used mobile banking to engage with local farmworkers. The workers couldn’t get to a branch to deposit checks, but credit union staffers could go to the fields on payday and do remote check deposits for them by mobile phone. Wherever people are “unbanked,” this kind of technology builds a connection.

But then there’s this other side to the story that is 100 percent human-powered. We’re tapping into this wellspring of cooperation and caring. It begins with communities of people banding together to share and promote their collective knowledge. That’s a trend that credit unions built themselves on more than 100 years ago, but just think how relevant it is today.

OpenIDEO: Is that the most inspiring thing about this challenge for you?

Paxson: For sure. Seeing that spirit of community reignited for a new age is awe-inspiring. Connecting people from around the globe with the credit union movement and that philosophy of people helping people – it just brings home the idea that we can solve big problems when we think together.


Excited to get started? Dive into the action on our Financial Empowerment Challenge

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