'It's More Than the Core'

Keep member disruptions to a minimum during core conversions.

February 1, 2011

Hiring an outside vendor to handle a core processing conversion might sound like a good idea. But doing so removes credit union ownership from the process, says Patricia Valentino, senior vice president, real time solutions, for FIS.

“It’s like having someone decorate your house without telling them what your style is,” she says.

Abdicating responsibility for a core conversion is bad business because the core processing system is too important—it touches all credit union delivery channels.

Information Systems Guide
Credit Union Magazine's 2011 Information Systems Guide highlights the credit union movement's top core processors and their systems' features and functions.

“It’s more than the core,” Valentino says.

She shares her core conversion insights with Credit Union Magazine.

CU Mag: How can CUs make this process go more smoothly?

Valentino: Establish and maintain strong project management, including weekly project meetings, and defining your scope. Assign tasks to individual owners, not groups of people.

A lot of this is detailed project management. Sometimes people approach things without that project management discipline and hope for the best based on their skills or historical ability to manage. But a conversion really needs a defined and managed project plan.

It’s important to have executive support so staff feel the support for the project from the top. You need a cheerleader from the executive level because the process gets stressful sometimes.

Also, recognize that people have day jobs. You don’t hire extra people to help during this, so you’ve increased—sometimes doubled—peoples’ workload.

CU Mag: How do you help motivate CU staff?

Valentino: We use a formalized project plan with an implementation team and multiple fingers in the process. We send a lot of communications to senior management, steering committees, and other committees to keep people focused on the positives; what we’re doing well.

It’s about breaking a huge project into smaller projects and tasks so you can succeed and celebrate success. That keeps people moving forward.

CU Mag: What are some common stumbling blocks?

Valentino: Lack of knowledge of current product offerings and limited resources are common—everyone has a day job.

Not understanding what they want the new system to look like and do. A credit union will change its core application because it’s not doing something in a way they’d like it to. It’s not helping the credit union grow and serve members.

What often happens after the sales process is that the conversion team isn’t up to speed on the new product features. So you end up converting existing issues, such as bad product definitions, into the new application. You’re just taking your old problems and putting them in new drawers, so to speak.

Knowledge transfer between the sales and conversion teams is key.

Next: Conversion don'ts

CU Mag: What are some conversion don’ts?

Valentino: We’ve had situations where the entire process was given to a third party. It sounds like great idea—you hire someone to help you.

But there’s no credit union ownership. It’s like having someone decorate your house without telling them what your style is. So don’t give away control of the conversion.

The core is more than just the system that tracks transactions. It touches all of your delivery channels: ATMs, online banking, mobile banking, debit and credit cards—everything that touches your members. You need to have the ability to make sure these touch points are taken care of in the conversion.

Sometimes, institutions will go through the conversion process and forget about a whole delivery channel.

The growing importance of the core has really changed how we approach conversions. It’s not just about the core anymore. It’s more than the core. That’s my mantra.

Look at what touches the member and how to ensure the least possible disruption to the member.

CU Mag: What other advice would you offer?

Valentino: Pick the right partner. It’s a very stressful time. It’s change. Even if it’s good, change isn’t easy so you need a partner that’s level, confidence-building, and trustworthy.

Otherwise, who will hold it together for you?

Check out Credit Union Magazine's 2011 Information Systems Guide, which highlights the credit union movement's top core processors and their systems' features and functions.