How To Write A Better RFP

Seven credit union leaders share best — and next — practices for crafting the perfect request for proposal.

 
 

Little is more fraught with peril and full of possibility for today’s credit union than choosing a core processing platform. After all, the software is the beating heart at the center of everything from simple general ledger transactions to advances in global payments technology.

A core data processing system must be adaptable and accommodating of a dizzying array of third-party offerings, including the analytics engines credit unions are increasingly using to understand their members and take on their competitors. But an ideal core isn’t just about technology. People matter, too, and credit unions want a provider that listens to and respects its clients in addition to supporting and sustaining its product.

With so much on the line, finding a perfect partner is crucial. And that partnership begins with the request for proposal, a process that lays the ground rules for the credit union and the vendor.

Here, seven credit union leaders offer their thoughts on three important questions: 

  1. What is one best practice for preparing an effective RFP for a new core? 
  2. What tipped the scales in favor of your current core provider?
  3. What would you do differently in the RFP and selection process knowing what you know now?

Greg Hanshaw, President and CEO, Community 1st Credit Union

Greg Hanshaw is president and CEO of Community 1st Credit Union ($680.7M, Ottumwa, IA). The credit union converted to Symitar Episys in the fall of 2015.

Greg Hanshaw, President and CEO, Community 1st Credit Union

What is one best practice for preparing an effective RFP?  

Greg Hanshaw: Unless there’s someone in-house with considerable hands-on experience, then use an outside resource (we used ICI) to assist in the RFP process. Also, include all key stakeholders from the credit union in the ramp-up, preparation, and planning. 

What tipped the scales in favor of your current core provider?

GH: Symitar provided the most robust, supported system while also offering tremendous potential for serving our credit union’s continued growth well into the future.  

What would you do differently? 

GH: Ask more questions and dig even deeper into the details. But, quite honestly, four years later we feel very good about the process we used. 

Joining the Juntos Avanzamos program, recruiting a bilingual market manager, and electing a Latina board member are all ways to better connect with a budding potential membership. Learn more in “How Community 1st Plans To Build Business With Latinos” on CreditUnions.com.

Tom O'Shea, President and CEO, Aspire Federal Credit Union

Tom O’Shea is president and CEO of Aspire FCU ($131.4M, Clark, NJ). Aspire FCU converted to Corelation KeyStone in early 2015.

Tom O’Shea, President and CEO, Aspire FCU

What is one best practice for preparing an effective RFP?  

Tom O’Shea: You need to be certain that any ancillary vendors — such as home banking, accounting, LOS, etc. — can fully exploit the capabilities of your intended core or you won’t realize the true value of the system. 

KeyStone has a fully exposed API that is available to all vendors. Unfortunately, most vendors have never run into a core that allows for bi-directional communications between their application and the core. Most older applications can’t take advantage of that. 

What tipped the scales in favor of your current core provider?

TO: At the time, Corelation was a younger company and Aspire is a digital credit union — we’ve closed all our branches. We felt we could help Corelation shape the development of its system around our needs in our operating environment. This has very much been the case. We and other clients have had a real impact on the development, direction, and capabilities of Corelation’s software.

What would you do differently? 

TO: Look harder at third-party vendor options. Just because a company has been around a long time doesn’t mean they can take advantage of an open API environment. Many will talk a good game, but you have to look under the hood to see if it will function as promised.

Ron Amstutz, Executive Vice President, Desert Financial Credit Union

Ron Amstutz is executive vice president at Desert Financial Credit Union ($4.9B, Phoenix, AZ). Desert Financial converted to Corelation KeyStone in the fall of 2015.

Ron Amstutz, EVP, Desert Financial Credit Union

What is one best practice for preparing an effective RFP? 

Ron Amstutz: Solicit input from all lines of business that use the core system or might need to integrate into it. For our current core, we didn’t do a traditional RFP; we did a more limited RFI (request for information) with information we needed to make our decision. 

What tipped the scales in favor of your current core provider?

RA: Corelation is easy to integrate any system into, and it provides access to all the data fields in the core. It also has a company culture that matches our credit union, and we were looking for a great partner for years to come.

What would you do differently? 

RA: Nothing. We had a great process and a great conversion, and, now, we have a great partner for success.

Desert Schools limits paperwork and focuses on the future in selecting a new core processing partner. Learn more in “No Need For An RFP?” on CreditUnions.com.

Brian Berry, Senior Vice President/Chief Information Officer, Citadel Federal Credit Union

Brian Berry is senior vice president and chief information officer at Citadel FCU ($3.7B, Exton, PA). Citadel FCU converted to Symitar Episys in the summer of 2015.

Brian Berry, CIO, Citadel FCU

What is one best practice for preparing an effective RFP? 

Brian Berry: I’m not a fan of the traditional RFP process. You ask generic questions, you get generic replies. Instead, our analysts sat down with each of our business lines — risk, lending, call center, and so on — and documented very specifically the difficulties and deficiencies they were encountering with the current system. We also got very granular about what they wanted in the new system.

We then developed a list of questions and requirements and sent those to the three vendors we were considering. That specificity meant they could send the right people to present, the subject matter experts who could best speak to what we needed to know before we made our decision.

What tipped the scales in favor of your current core provider?

BB: It was a combination of things. First, price was not a big driver for us. It came down to functionality and relationships. We had been on our previous core for 30 years, and it was evident the system was not progressing at the level we required, which was adversely affecting how we served our member base. 

We wanted to make sure our next system would be an effective tool to serve our members for many years to come. We’re four years into it now, and we’re confident our provider will continue to check the boxes for what we need and will continue to evolve with us as our whole banking technology environment changes.

What would you do differently?

BB: Changing your core processing system opens up the opportunity to do other things; you need to consider how much you can handle at once. We converted to Episys and new CRM and COLD storage systems on the same day. Those were some big bites to chew at the same time, but things worked out in the end.

Citadel FCU opened eight branches under a new concept that the Pennsylvania cooperative hopes will help it reach deeper into the communities it serves. Read more about it in “3 Years. 8 Branches. 1 New Concept.” On CreditUnions.com.

Lorenzo Brown, Vice President of Strategic Technology and Digital Strategy, Georgia's Own Credit Union

Lorenzo Brown is vice president of strategic technology and digital strategy at Georgia’s Own Credit Union ($2.5B, Atlanta, GA), which converted to Fiserv DNA in the fall of 2016.

Lorenzo Brown, VP of Strategic Technology and Digital Strategy, Georgia’s Own Credit Union

What is one best practice for preparing an effective RFP?  

Lorenzo Brown: Obtain input from all lines of business and be sure you know what the most important “must haves” are.

What tipped the scales in favor of your current core provider?

LB: Security (encryption) and functionality.

What would you do differently? 

LB: Build more things upfront versus allowing the vendor to sell add-ons.

The new member advocacy team at Georgia’s Own advocates for the member experience across technology, sales and services, and more. Read about it in “Member Experience Runs Deep In Georgia” on CreditUnions.com.

John Felton, President and CEO, Southern Chautauqua Federal Credit Union

John Felton is president and CEO of Southern Chautauqua FCU ($87.3M, Lakewood, NY). The credit union converted to GBS Sharetec in the fall of 2016.

John Felton, President and CEO, Southern Chautauqua FCU

What is one best practice for preparing an effective RFP?  

John Felton: Be sure to include in the contract the deconversion fees should you decide to leave.

What tipped the scales in favor of your current core provider?

JF: The credit union isn’t defined by the core — most cores have the features needed to support the membership’s needs. I wanted my credit union to be one of the larger clients in the providers group. When we were with Portico, we were a small fish in the Fiserv ocean.   

What would you do differently? 

JF: We didn’t use an outside consultant. I will next time, if there is a next time.

High-interest savings programs, financial education, and in-school branches form the backbone of Southern Chautauqua’s strategy. Learn more in “How Southern Chautauqua FCU Builds Savings And Futures In Local Schools” on CreditUnions.com.

Rudy Pereira, President and CEO, Premier America Credit Union

Rudy Pereira is president and CEO of Premier America Credit Union ($2.8B, Chatsworth, CA). The Golden State cooperative converted to Symitar Episys in the summer of 2019.

Rudy Pereira, President and CEO, Premier America Credit Union

What is one best practice for preparing an effective RFP?  

Rudy Pereira: Understand your current processes and try to ascertain if the new core has them out-of-the-box, or if you’ll need to develop them. Be sure to make the RFP responses contractually binding.

What tipped the scales in favor of your current core provider?

RP: Jack Henry was transparent and believed in open banking. All the market leaders can do the job, but Jack Henry’s leadership team and the way they work and treat clients made a huge difference. Also, the number of outstanding credit unions running on the platform added to our confidence.

What would you do differently? 

RP: What we didn’t know bit us a little. So, we’re using the post-conversion to start a new operating principle: Work to eliminate single points of failure that can result from tribal knowledge. 

Credit union leaders share how they realized process improvements and encouraged culture changes through core conversions. Learn more in “5 Ways To Avoid A Bumpy Core Conversion” on CreditUnions.com.

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