When Coastal Federal Credit Union (2.5B, Raleigh, NC) went live on schedule with its new core processing platform in June 2014, it was a testament to the cooperation and commitment of teams from every department. Subject matter experts — the people who work with the software and systems in specific ways — worked alone or in teams throughout the 18-month project. All told, more than 125 of the credit union’s 450 or so employees were heavily engaged in the intensive tech project.
The credit union’s ground-level approach started with the 900-page request for proposal, which the credit union built with the help of consultants from Next Step using input gathered by Coastal vice presidents from staff across multiple departments. The document identified such needs as a module for managing participation loans, a front end for the indirect lending program, and better integration of wire transfers into core accounts.
Coastal sent the RFP to the three core processors it thought made sense for its needs, says CFO Tami Langton. Ultimately, Symitar won the contract.
CU QUICK FACTS
HQ: Raleigh, NC
Data as of 03.31.15
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 5.2%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 18.9%
“We then put together a department called ‘Business Transformation’ that included a cross-section of people from the IT project side, imaging and loan systems, collections, and a project manager for every other ancillary system,” says Joe Mecca, Coastal’s marketing communications and strategy manager.
Mecca says he served as a subject matter expert on four sub-projects. He brought the marketing perspective — the focus on branding and consistent member experience — to areas such as accounting, lending, telephone banking, and online account opening.
“Our subject matter experts knew the important details,” Mecca says. “Our managers were great at re-arranging schedules to make time for us to meet and do things like testing.”
On the topic of testing, Mecca underscores the importance of undivided attention.
“People really need to be able to leave their work station to focus completely on what they’re doing,” he says. “That’s why we had a testing room.”
After a year and a half of planning and preparation, the credit union had a solid plan for the launch, but it didn’t have as strong a plan for day two after the conversion, says CFO Langton. Instead, “We had to put it together quickly based on what needs popped up.”
People really need to be able to leave their work station to focus completely on what they’re doing.
No matter how much planning a credit union completes in advance, Coastal’s core conversion taught Mecca that unexpected issues are going to appear. In this case, it was troubleshooting individual members’ problems.
“Some of our members get very creative with how they do things online,” the credit union communications manager says.
The credit union put a Business Transformation team and a help desk in place for members for 90 days after the conversion.
For employees, they still use the organization’s intranet for staff communications, which during the conversion included training modules, videos, and articles that kept staff up-to-date with each piece of the complex process.
But in the end, making all that technology work together for members and staff involved communication between human beings. That’s why Coastal held weekly meetings with senior leaders in such areas as retail and operations, Langton says. Just as importantly, the credit union engaged every department from planning to implementation, including through the April mock conversion weekend that preceded the real thing.
“Everyone had a voice,” the Coastal CFO says. That helped them engage and their engagement helped make this conversion a success.