Learning To Live With Virtual Conversions

Communication through digital channels proves key to ensuring a successful swap from one core to another.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Hundreds of virtual conversions are yielding best practices learned on the fly by credit unions across the country.
  • Staff members who suddenly found themselves working from home had to make adjustments that required added levels of teamwork and support.

CU QUICK FACTS

Ko’olau FCU
Data as of 09.30.20

HQ: Kailua, HI
ASSETS: $89.8M
MEMBERS: 6,601
BRANCHES: 2
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 13.2%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: -10.1%
ROA: 0.14%

Ko’olau Federal Credit Union ($89.8M, Kailua, HI) was days from its first live testing for its new core processing platform when the pandemic forced a sudden change in plans.

Instead of having Fiserv staff on hand for the crucial mock conversion and subsequent discovery process, credit union and supplier went online, communicating by phone and training by Webex as the cooperative completed its conversion to the Portico platform remotely.

Ko’olau FCU went live on Aug. 2. Up to a couple weeks before that, the credit union hoped it could host Fiserv’s people for the culmination of a process that began in 2018, when Ko’olau decided to convert from its Fiserv DataSafe platform.

“We decided two weeks before we went live that we couldn’t have anyone physically here with us. We came up with a plan that made our staff comfortable.”

Candi Yamamoto, Senior Vice President and CFO, Ko’olau Federal Credit Union

“We decided two weeks before we went live that we wouldn’t have anyone physically here with us,” says Candi Yamamoto, the Aloha State cooperative’s senior vice president. “We came up with a plan that made our staff comfortable they could still help our members while knowing someone was there virtually to hold their hands.”

Pandemic Forces Trial By Fire

Credit unions have been running their core technology remotely for years, through service bureaus that are attracting a growing number of clients giving up in-house platforms in favor of the cloud. But conversions are a long, slow, detailed process that still rely heavily on in-person contact.

Until now.

Hundreds of core conversions have occurred among banks and credit unions alike since the spring, and the experience has made virtual conversion converts out of experienced hands on both sides of the transaction.

Doug Donofrio, SVP and General Manager, Credit Solutions at Fiserv

Yamamoto, for example, says this was her third core platform change in 22 years. And despite being remote, it went better than the previous ones. Digital communication channels saved the credit union money on travel and accommodation for the vendor’s team and adequately replaced the vendor being there in person when it came to training and support.

Doug Donofrio, Fiserv’s senior vice president and general manager for credit union solutions, says his company alone has completed nearly 100 virtual conversions, approximately half for credit unions.

“Communication is key,” Donofrio says. “It’s essential for building trust and an effective conversion team. Be overly available and engaged on virtual channels.”

Donofrio also says remote work requires more prescriptive planning.

“Map things out in advance and stick to the plan. We’re not sharing hallways, but we can share schedules and know what to expect.”

Doug Donofrio, SVP and General Manager of Credit Union Solutions, Fiserv.

“Map things out in advance and stick to the plan,” says Donofrio, who spent several years leading Portico installer teams before assuming his current post. “We’re not sharing hallways, but we can share schedules and know what to expect.”

Heavy Support

Shanon McLachlan, President, Symitar

Fiserv’s biggest competitor reports much the same experience. Symitar president Shanon McLachlan says his operation has executed on 105 “events” since mid-March, including eight fully remote conversions and a variety of other changes such as migrations from on-site to hosted as well as mergers.

Like Fiserv, Symitar created an always-on bridge line that clients can use for questions, and it relies on Zoom sessions and other video channels for training. It also recorded sessions for anytime viewing.

McLachlan says his company has put a lot of time and effort into making the process as connective as before, and although saving time on travel is nice, it’s still important to make sure clients know they are heavily supported.

“We want it to be like we were in the conference room, physically there when they need us,” the Symitar president says. “The pandemic has changed how we build relationships but not the importance of building them.”

4 Tips For Virtual Conversion

Ernie Hanington, a vice president at Allegacy FCU, and Doug Donofrio, a senior vice president at Fiserv, offer best practices for virtual conversions.

  • Prepare And Partner: Prepare everyone to expect bumps in the road, and stress the importance of partnership across the C-suite and suppliers.
  • Communicate: Be overly available to one other, especially through virtual channels. Formally establish communication channels — whether bridge lines, webinars, or Zoom — that can be accessed anytime and staffed during critical moments.
  • Plan: Plans things out and stick to the plan. Work from a detailed playbook that records all activities and timing. People know what to expect that way.
  • Then, Plan B: Have backup. The coronavirus is making it even more important to have fill-ins should someone be unavailable during key moments in the conversion process.

Solving Problems Together Without Being Together

CU QUICK FACTS

Allegacy FCU
Data as of 09.30.20

HQ: Winston-Salem, NC
ASSETS: $1.8B
MEMBERS: 162,301
BRANCHES: 27
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 7.1%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 15.4%
ROA: 0.56%

Ernie Hanington, the vice president of emerging technologies at Allegacy Federal Credit Union ($1.8B, Winston-Salem, NC), helped lead his shop from its conversion to the Fiserv DNA platform after 10 years on FIS Miser.

Like Ko’olau, Allegacy was only two weeks from its mock core conversion weekend when the pandemic forced the North Carolina credit union to close its offices. With the exception of one in-person consultant, both the trial go-live in the spring and the actual go-live on May 26 occurred virtually, Hanington says.

“It’s very different,” the VP says. “People accustomed to working on-site and having direct interaction had to be able to stay in contact, brainstorm, and problem-solve without being able to physically be in the same room and interact,”

The newness of the remote-work environment added to the complexity.

Ernie Hanington, Vice President of Emerging Technologies, Allegacy Federal Credit Union

“I think the biggest challenge was that this team, like so many people, were still adjusting to working remotely at home,” Hanington says.

Real-time communications channels — including multiple bridge lines based on disciplines and a WebEx internal/external tool for meetings — proved key to the process working, but the conversion required a different mindset and way of interacting in a high-stakes environment, Hanington says.

Some Permanent Changes

According to McLachlan, Symitar has had the tools to pull off a virtual conversion. What’s new is how the core provider has used the tools to modify training and support.

“We had to grow the ability to take a whole training lab to someone else,” he says.

The Symitar president says the impact of experience gained and processes refined for doing virtual conversions are likely to linger once the pandemic is gone.

“It’s going to be a hybrid as we go forward,” McLachlan says. “Now that we have the option of going full-blown remote, things like recorded, self-serve training could be among the items that will be permanent features of core conversions.”

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