Shazia Manus is a tenured financial services executive, including several leadership and CEO positions. She currently serves as the chief strategy and business development officer for CUNA Mutual AdvantEdge Analytics, a leading data analytics firm for the credit union industry. Manus is a frequent speaker and author on key topics like digital transformation, data analytics strategies, and fintech trends where she blends futurist perspective with an innate sense of the tactical understanding for the financial services industry.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

Growing up in Bangladesh, where women are often relegated to second-class citizens, certainly had a profound impact on the way I approach my career. I grew up in the shadow of my older brother, who was perceived to be the smart one, the star of our family. Rather than break my spirit, however, that dynamic sparked in me a competitiveness to prove that I could accomplish everything he could, maybe even more.


Fortunately, my grandfather saw something in me and encouraged me to persevere. He fostered my tenacity and sowed seeds of confidence. As I was prepping for highly competitive scholarship tests, my grandfather got up at 4 a.m. to make me hot tea and sit with me as I did last-minute studying.


When I earned the scholarship that would allow me to follow the math and science track I so desired, my parents were surprised. They did not expect me to receive such high accolades. I discovered then the adrenalin boost that comes with surprising people.


A veteran female business leader once said to me, “You’re very nice, but you have such a mess on your hands. I’m not sure you can do this job. They need a seasoned executive.” But, I did not see the organization I’d been tasked with leading as a sinking ship. I saw the potential and couldn’t wait to surprise this woman and everyone else who doubted I could turn that ship around.


How has your previous employment experience aided your current role?


Both my academic and corporate experiences have ignited in me a passion for the cooperative model, especially as it relates to financial wellness for all people. Each of the positions I’ve been privileged to hold over the past 20+ years introduced me to a different component of credit union management. While my work has largely taken place in the U.S., I’ve also been lucky to engage with credit union people across the globe. These individuals share an altruistic commitment to improving the lives of people through expansive thinking and member-centric strategy; you can’t help but want to be a part of it. The experiences I’ve had – as a student who fell in love with the power of micro lending to reshape full societies, as a credit union CEO who learned the real value of strategic partnerships, and ultimately as an executive with the organizations that serve credit unions – have all prepared me for my current position at AdvantEdge Analytics. It’s my job to help our credit union partners achieve digital transformation through smart, efficient and collaborative mastery of the credit union movement’s valuable data assets. At CO-OP Financial Services, which also partners with credit unions to help them achieve growth, I performed much of the same strategy and business development work, except with a focus on payments. I joined the company in 2017 when CO-OP bought TMG, a fast-growing company I was proud to lead to double revenue growth, 30-percent growth in employees and expansion into an international marketplace for the first time in the firm’s nearly 30-year history.


No matter where you are in the value chain, working in the cooperative movement shows you that when great organizations join hands to accomplish macro initiatives, powerful things happen.


What have the highlights and challenges been during your current role?


On its face, the typical challenge faced by a credit union presents like David vs. Goliath. They are competing for consumer attention against a growing field of huge competitors – from the traditional megabanks to the newcomers like Google, Facebook, Amazon and others who have their sights set on financial services. But, look closer and you can see credit unions have a very big advantage – authentic, long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with the members they serve. When we talk about leveling the playing field for credit unions by helping them harness the insights delivered by data, we’re not talking about making them into banks or GAFA look-alikes. We’re talking about taking the member experience they already deliver well to exponentially exciting levels.  Data is how we’ll do that.


It’s true credit unions’ bank competitors are often better capitalized and have scale on their side.  Credit unions are typically small in comparison, working for local consumers and businesses with an eye on overall wellness of their communities. As advanced technology and data analytics become critical to serving consumers and communities in the real-time, hyper-personalized and predictive ways they’ve become accustomed to, we want to help credit unions integrate, iterate and evolve to serve members even better than they do today.


Credit unions will soon use data to do things they’ve never been able to do before, delivering compelling results for everyday families and businesses. Each time one of our partners realizes the potential of their reach once data analytics is mastered, it reinvigorates our mission to envelope more credit unions in our mission. You can see how excited these credit union CEOs get, and that excitement is contagious.


What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?


Too often, women pigeonhole themselves because of society’s perceived expectations for them. This is especially true for people who came of age in areas of the world that consistently underestimate women. To break free of those self-restrictive tendencies, women need a strong support system of individuals who can help build their careers.


Of course, building that support system starts with you. Throughout my career, I have taken an active role in surrounding myself with supportive individuals. I have gone out, sought advocates and been proactive in creating, growing and leveraging that support system. Establishing advocates who will be your champions and help you grow professionally is crucial to success.


Taking risks, both personal and professional, is also key in building a career. Back when I accepted the CEO position at TMG, I was taking a professional risk. I was entering a field I knew little about but had the confidence to learn and the urge to do so. That field is now the path my career has taken, and I’ve been able to excel. It is so important for women to undertake new challenges and push ourselves. Without that, we can never even know, let alone achieve, our true potential.


What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?


Not being afraid to fail has been a difficult lesson to learn, but a necessary one. I have discovered that I learn the most when I don’t do something right. This has given me respect for failure and made me believe in failing forward—meaning I should gather what knowledge I can from my failings and leverage it in the future for continuous improvement.


Similar to when I first took the role at TMG and took a professional risk in an area I knew little about, I wasn’t afraid to fail because I knew I’d work as hard as I could to be the best I could be. It worked out there, and two incredible leadership positions later, I’m still doing the best. All that said, I remain a work in progress in all aspects as a human. I’m a firm believer in continuous self-improvement.


Nothing comes on a silver platter. As I tell my son, work hard every day. Don’t give up; perseverance is how you achieve goals, no matter how lofty or unattainable they may seem.


How do you maintain a work/life balance?


It starts by making a conscious decision to balance your approaches to the different environments. I try to look at these environments as concentric circles, not separate entities. I have to choose an intention for each setting. If I’m at work, I’m soulful, impactful and in the moment.


My commute time is my designated “me time.” It’s when I reflect and do my stillness practice. Some women feel guilty about commuting because it takes them away from the humans who depend on them – both at work and at home. To me, though, it offers the perfect opportunity to center myself for the work day ahead or the evening with family.


At home, I’m a mother and a wife. I spend time on my personal passions like reading, baking, practicing piano and mindfulness. I love doing home renovation projects with my husband, spending time with my son, helping him with his homework and engaging in the occasional Jedi swordfight. It’s so important to be engaged in the moment no matter where you are.


What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?


Not having the courage to speak up for ourselves and our issues. Women often worry about how their ideas will be perceived by others. Sheryl Sandberg famously advised women to take a seat at the table and get out of passive mode. I agree with her.


Too often, women are permission driven. We need someone to say, “You can do it!” before we do it. Some of that behavior can be attributed to societal norms, but much of it comes from our own heads. Women should be more championing and lift each other up. By working together and being on each other’s sides, we can do more than we ever imagined possible.


What would you say to encourage more women to start their own businesses?


It really circles back to the idea that women (and men) need more reassurance to help them believe they can do it. Starting a business is a major risk, and that risk drives many people away from being entrepreneurs. If you have a passion, you should chase it, and believe that the power of your passion will help you distinguish yourself from the competition.


For me, I saw impactful social movements spawning around me when I was young. In Bangladesh, the microfinance movement showed me the power that can be unleashed socially by having a smooth financial services system, and it helped me want to work with social good in-mind. Importantly, it showed me I could do a whole lot on my own.


So look around you, see what gets you excited, and follow that as far as you can go.


How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?


I’m fortunate to have reached a tipping point in my career, where I am now blessed to be the mentor, rather than the mentee. It is incredibly rewarding to take an interest in an individual, become a confidant and coach, and guide that person or people down paths to excellence.


The greatest thing about mentorship is how contagious it can be. One of the individuals I’ve been mentoring recently took on a mentee of his own. That relationship is helping both individuals grow exponentially, and I’m excited to have inspired even a small part of it.


Which other female leaders do you admire and why?


I had the pleasure of personally getting to know Dr. Tahira Hira, a highly accomplished global figure in the financial field, during my time at Iowa State University.


I have always admired Indira Ghandi, former prime minister of India. She carried on and commanded India through political instability with grace and confidence.


Lady Diana’s ability to overcome adversity inspired me. She was a commoner entering into a challenging arena and worked through it all to become the influential figure she was.


What do you want to professionally and personally accomplish in the next year?


Ensuring the continued growth and vitality of our credit union clients is foremost in my mind over the next year. Leveraging data analytics to the fullest extent possible – and doing so collaboratively across the credit union industry – will be a significant marker of progress. That’s certainly an uphill climb as competitors with massive R&D budgets continue to innovate. However, by this time next year, I believe there will be many more credit union CEOs looking back at 2019 as a turning point – when they started to mobilize data for the financial improvement of their staff and members lives.


As AdvantEdge Analytics propels forward, we will continue to help credit unions stay ahead of the game. Being able to read the tea leaves and look into the future with the ability to also find ways to implement solutions for the future is chief on my priority list.


What are the top three tips you can offer to an entrepreneur starting out?


First, perseverance. When you’re an entrepreneur, the buck stops with you. There will be growing pains – and that’s probably an understatement. There will be days when you question everything and your commitment is truly put to the test. Be mentally prepared for those days and be ready to persevere. Know that every successful entrepreneur has found a way to weather those days.


Second, don’t just hire strong people around you – mentor them. It helps them develop and you can strengthen the team you already have in place and see it grow over time. It’s certainly a time commitment upfront, but it pays off. You will start to see the dividends, enabling you to start to focus on managing and carrying out your vision rather than handling all of the day-to-day execution. Your team will display the fruits of your mentorship investment, and that will be some of your happiest moments.


Finally, make sure what you’re doing in the office aligns with your interests out of the office. If you’re truly passionate about what you’re doing, you won’t need as much time to detach. That can be very helpful, and it really boosts your ultimate chances of success.

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