Embold Credit Union Chief Information Officer Li Jacobson

Q&A: Li Jacobson

Embold Credit Union’s new CIO on the significance of AANHPI Heritage Month and shaping a technology strategy.

May 5, 2024

Li Jacobson hasn’t been in the credit union industry for long. But Embold Credit Union's new chief information officer dug right in and embraced the movement.

Now, she’s developing a technology strategy that better serves the employees and members at the Milwaukie, Ore.-based credit union.

Jacobson—who joined Embold in November after 15 years in the retail space, most recently as vice president of digital transformation in global technology at Nike—recently discussed her goals while sharing her desire to increase minority women’s presence in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers.

She also shares the personal significance of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month.

America’s Credit Unions: What are your early takeaways about credit unions?

Li Jacobson: How we’re community centric: We want to serve our members and give back to the community. We make dreams come true.

It’s about teaching people financial literacy and helping them buy their first car, pay off debt, or get the mortgage they otherwise wouldn't be able to get.

Q: How can technology help credit unions connect with members?

A: Technology isn't here to replace relationships between people. It’s here to enhance that and provide additional service to members, whenever, wherever, and however they need it.

Branches aren’t open 24/7, but that doesn't mean members’ financial needs should fit in the branch hours. Technology is a great way to provide frictionless to members, expand the window of support, and further enrich members’ lives.

One of my biggest principles when it comes to work is “genba,” a Japanese phrase meaning “go and see.” I'm a big believer in experiencing “a day in the life of….” the member advocates, the marketing director, the underwriter, and the digital services team. Go see what your internal stakeholders’ lives are like. Go see what members' needs are. Then we can better determine and deliver on how technology can enhance what they do.

Q: What goals are you working toward?

A: Leveraging technology to enhance our members' and employees’ experience.

Externally, we want to turn technology into a competitive advantage for Embold. In addition to our fantastic member service and amazing products, we want to think about how we use technology to make sure members' banking needs are met, and every experience they have with Embold is a frictionless experience.

We will be looking to evaluate and leverage data to make better decisions, whether its lending decisions or marketing personas. How do we have mass personalization? How do we leverage technology so that every member feels as if they're the only member we serve?

We have a human plus digital strategy. People will always remain in the center of what we do, but digital is the way of the future.

Internally, we’re making sure they have the right tools at the right time to improve their productivity and their service to our members.

Q: How can credit unions beef up their technology strategy?

A: Technology should never be evaluated alone. If the company isn't ready, the technology isn't going to be successful. So, what are you hoping the technology can do for your organization? What goals are you hoping to achieve?

Look outside the industry and see how others have created stickiness and relevance in consumers’ shopping habits. When you open social media, the product recommendation is spot on. How can we leverage some of that for the financial industry so we can accurately predict a new recommendation and stay ahead of members’ needs?

Q: What does AANHPI Heritage Month mean to you?

A: As an Asian immigrant, AANHPI Heritage Month holds significant cultural, historical, and personal meaning for me. It's a time to celebrate and honor the contributions, achievements, and rich diversity of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders in the U.S.

I hope this month provides a platform to recognize the struggles, triumphs, and cultural heritage of the Asian community, highlighting the resilience and perseverance of generations of immigrants like me.  It's an opportunity to share our unique experiences, traditions, and stories, fostering understanding and appreciation among diverse communities.

Like Black History Month, Women's History Month, Mental Health Awareness Month, and many other observed events, it's a chance for reflection, celebration, and advocacy for a more inclusive and equitable future.

Embold is sharing some highlights for our AANHPI team members, and celebrating with delicious potlucks.

Q: What’s it like being a minority woman in STEM? And have you seen increased representation over the years?

A: Being a minority female leader in technology, I don't see a lot of peers who look like me. I have a passion for women in science, technology, engineering, and math, and I stay involved in women's professional development organizations.

I believe my ceiling should be somebody else's floor, and that's how the future generation gets better. I want to create opportunities for them and encourage anyone with a passion for technology to believe they can do this. I'm happy to provide any support, mentoring, sponsorship, or coaching.

I'm a big believer that when water rises, all the boats go up. So, when one of us does better, the rest of us benefit. We all can be the queens that fix each other's crowns without telling anyone it was crooked to begin with.

Minority women in STEM is on a good trend. I've seen some positive changes—and we still have a long way to go.

Q: How do you spend your free time?

A: We have two teenage boys, 13 and 15, so our free time is very busy with football and lacrosse. We are a big travel family, and our kids have traveled with us since they were very little.

We just returned from a 10-day spring break trip to Europe, and this winter we went to China, where I was born and raised before spending 25 years in Wisconsin, starting in high school.

Our family is also passionate about food. We try to experience culture and food in every way we can. We are still new to the Pacific Northwest, so I'd be glad to take any recommendations on local restaurants and travel places!