Eliminating old obstacles
At Consumers, one payoff of its August 2009 core conversion is “a more feature-rich system,” Sylvester says. “It offers a lot more conveniences and efficiencies to our employees and to our members on the online banking side.”
The conversion also solved a major frustration: lack of a common servicing system for loans. “We have a diversified portfolio of mortgages, consumer loans, and business loans,” Sylvester explains. “With our old system, we had to service those different types of loans on different platforms. That led to integration issues in reporting, accounting, and member service.”
Consumers has had 20% growth per year for the last two decades, Sylvester reports. When growth is fast and strong, credit unions often outgrow their core system partner.
While Consumers had outgrown its system, “we were able to maintain the relationship we had with Harland Financial Solutions,” Sylvester says. “We just moved to a different product—from UltraData® Enterprise to PhoenixEFE®.”
A relationship with a vendor has much to do with how smoothly a conversion goes. The parties should be able to treat each other almost like family, Sylvester suggests.
“You can get frustrated and yell, but then you put your arm around the other person, say you’re sorry, and move forward,” he says. “It has to be that kind of relationship because a conversion is stressful. It will try anybody’s patience.”
Having a progressive partner is also critical to the long-term success of a conversion, Sylvester adds. Since its 2009 conversion, “We’ve already seen some exciting enhancements,” he says.
For example, the credit union upgraded from cash-dispensing machines at teller stations to cash recyclers. Now, tellers not only can withdraw money to issue to members, they also can put cash into the machine, which automatically verifies the deposit and updates the machine’s cash inventory. “That’s a feature we’ve wanted for years,” Sylvester says, “and we got it within just eight months of converting.”
Employee involvement is another key ingredient in a successful core conversion. Consumers set up a conversion team consisting of one person from each credit union department and one from each of its 13 branch offices.
“We called them department or office champions,” Sylvester says. “They had ownership of the conversion and acted as liaisons to their departments and retail offices. We were constantly bringing them in to involve them in testing, training, research—all the things we did throughout the conversion process.”
A side benefit of involving employees was that some revealed previously hidden talents. For instance, after displaying their adeptness at understanding the new system and showing others how to use it, one teller became the trainer for all new hires and another was promoted to a help-desk position.
“By involving our employees during the conversion,” Sylvester says, “they got a chance to shine in front of our leaders and managers. They might not have had that opportunity otherwise.”
Next: A ‘What!?’ moment