Chris Sachse is the CEO and co-founder of Horsetail Technologies. Horsetail provides collaborative, shared IT services for credit unions as well as members of other highly regulated industries nationwide. Through assessments, managed services, staffing, project consulting, and more, Horsetail allows its customers to navigate a complex technological environment without compromising safety or regulatory standing. Clients include Coastal Federal Credit Union, Marriott Employee Federal Credit Union, TwinStar Credit Union, and thousands of others.
What drew you to credit unions?
In my previous experience as an IT consultant, I began working with a number of industries including banks, credit unions, and just about everything in DC. I fell into the credit union space quite accidentally through a few projects, but really enjoyed the collaborative model. Credit unions, being very different from your typical bank or Fortune 500 business, what I really enjoyed about them was their focus on the community and their focus on collaboration. It was a joy working with them, as opposed to working with other companies where we were just slinging hardware and software. At the same time, if you did a nice job for them, they really wanted to do right by you and introduce you to their friends, so we found an opportunity to have kind of an organic, grassroots marketing campaign built in.
You’ve built a company that now serves credit unions across the country. How have you been able to expand so widely?
Because of the nature of credit unions and their collaborative ability, we tend to find these geographic pockets, and when we get into one space, they tend to tell their friends and neighbors about us and we tend to work there. So, we have a big footprint in Seattle, big footprint in California, Texas, and a number of other areas. In fact, our footprint in Baltimore is relatively small.
How many credit unions do you work with?
In the early 2000s, we were at 14000 credit unions. We are now at 6000 credit unions, however overall membership and overall assets are larger today than they were back then. The credit union movement is growing, and credit unions themselves as entities are shrinking. What we are trying to position our service as is the cooperatively shared IT services, specifically geared for the credit unions, that are going to allow the smaller and medium-sized entities to maintain. If consolidation continues at the pace that it’s continuing, credit unions are going to become these very large entities and they’re going to look just like banks. They’re not going to have that cooperative, member-owned ability to differentiate themselves in the market place in the way that they do today. So, even the bigger credit unions will tell you they cannot lose that small community based credit union, because then the brand of the cooperative financial movement will be lost.
Services like ours and other services that can help some of these credit unions share in the back-office expenses, to be able to maintain and serve their needs is absolutely critical. We are starting to see much more rapid adoption of outsourcing services like ours as credit unions realize, despite maybe the uncomfortability of being a conservative institution in outsourcing, they’re seeing the requirement that it has to be done for them to exist. It’s not just IT—it’s going to be all of the back office services are going to start getting outsourced, so that these organizations can maintain a very lean footprint, but a footprint that is dedicated to serve the specific communities or segments that they have identified. I hope that further adoption of our services will help them exist in the future.
What do you attribute to the rise in credit unions everywhere?
Cooperatives in general. The whole cooperative movement is actually growing. Millennials are big into sustainability; they’re big into the cooperative movement. They want to embrace the cooperative movement. Whether it’s cooperative breweries, whether it’s wine companies, farmers markets—all of these areas are really exploding in growth and they’re joining together with credit unions to help further the entire cooperative movement. From a social perspective, from a marketing perspective, and from an overall culture perspective, I think the cooperative movement makes a lot of sense for Horsetail based on who we have, who we’re hiring, how we deliver service.
Does your selling strategy with credit unions carry over to other industries?
There are other regulated industries: community banks, small- to medium-sized healthcare companies that would seem to make sense, but I think the marketing to those is going to change, although delivery of service will be relatively similar. We are still evaluating how we want to take that to market and while we think we are doing a great job in credit unions we still have less than one-tenth of one percent of the market place. We have a tremendous ability to grow within the credit union space and we don’t want to lose sight of that focus until we get greater penetration in the credit union market.