Vermont Federal Launches A Career, A Database, And A BI Department

How the Green Mountain State cooperative cultivated talent from within while building out analytics capabilities.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Vermont Federal promoted a teller to data analyst, the organization’s first, in 2014. That analyst became director of business intelligence in 2017.
  • The credit union’s blossoming BI department cranks out hundreds of reports while supporting special projects, including a digital transformation, for the organization.

CU QUICK FACTS

Vermont FCU
Data as of 06.30.19

HQ: Burlington, VT
ASSETS: $598.9M
MEMBERS: 41,278
BRANCHES: 6
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 7.9%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 12.4%
ROA: 0.76%

Business intelligence and Nick Gallerani have grown up together at Vermont Federal Credit Union ($591.3M, Burlington, VT).

Gallerani joined the credit union as a teller after graduating with a finance degree from the University of Vermont in 2014. A few weeks later, he interviewed with chief financial officer Jean Giard to become the credit union’s first data analyst.

“Jean articulated that the role was new and did not have many set parameters,” Gallerani says. “She let me know that I would be working closely with management — and every department of the institution — making the position a great opportunity to build my knowledge while helping the credit union in a meaningful way.”

And build he did. As the current director of business intelligence, Gallerani oversees an operation that provides data and dashboards that inform decision-making and strategic thinking — including for an upcoming digital transformation — at Vermont Federal. Giard is now president and CEO.

If I was starting anew, I would focus less initially on learning SQL and data mining and instead immerse myself in learning about the credit union itself.

Nick Gallerani, Director of Business Intelligence, Vermont FCU

Here, Gallerani describes how business intelligence has flourished at his Burlington-based shop.

What business challenges did the credit union hope to tackle by diving into data analytics and business intelligence?

Nick Gallerani: I don’t know that I could reference any one specific business challenge. The credit union had strong leaders who saw the writing on the wall. They recognized the emerging trend around data and had the foresight to see its potential value for the whole organization.

Nick Gallerani, Director of Business Intelligence, Vermont FCU

How did Vermont Federal handle data when you first became a data analyst?

NG: Most data came from our vendor partners, and although that data was good, it often came at a relatively significant cost. Additionally, the data did not feed into any central location for storage and archiving. We generally retained data as spreadsheets or PDFs on our internal network or as paper in filing cabinets. 

How does the credit union handle data today? 

NG: We store data in the Oracle SQL data warehouse that’s part of our Fiserv DNA core system. We use cView tools for reporting. Some data flows in in real-time or near real-time; some flows in as part of our nightly batch process. 

Within the data warehouse, we have multiple sources for various types of data. Over time, we have added new data sources, such as loan and mortgage origination systems. These origination systems each have a backend SQL database, which made pulling them into our data warehouse relatively easy. That capability is increasingly important as we evaluate potential new vendor partners. 

How much data do you store?

NG: We store a rolling three years of data and retain month-end records indefinitely. 

Are you solely responsible for overseeing this?

NG: We created a business intelligence department in the fourth quarter of 2017, and I now have a data analyst working with me.

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How did you build a business intelligence presence from scratch?

NG: I liken it to rolling a snowball down a hill. I was a department of one, and my scope of responsibility was relatively narrow. 

I started by reviewing the reporting needs of each functional area and discussing our new capabilities. I set up dashboards for each area and, in some cases, for individuals. This was a good first blush, but the scope of reporting — both regularly published reports and ad-hoc reporting — was still relatively small. 

As I showed what timely, accurate, and actionable data was available on demand, I worked with more individuals and departments, and my scope grew. I would love to say it happened overnight, but it was a relatively long process to get there. 

How did your relationship with managers play into the growth of your role?

NG: As someone who had never worked at a credit union, I had a lot to learn in terms of how the credit union operated, how data flowed, how to QC the data to ensure accuracy, and how to extract and communicate the insights the data unveiled. I quickly developed a close relationship with our internal auditor, who was invaluable in passing on her knowledge about the credit union and her expertise in ensuring accurate information. 

As leaders learned they could rely on this information and analysis to make better decisions and improve processes, the frequency and volume of requests flowing in grew rapidly. Eventually, most decisions started to become data-driven, and I found myself involved in more committees, meetings, and projects. 

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Where are you now in terms of reporting prowess and process?

NG: In mid-2017, business intelligence was maintaining nearly 3,000 saved SQL queries and more than 1,000 published reports across 150 unique dashboards. 

The queries are basically one-time reports. The published reports are used on an ongoing basis. Some examples for accounting include ACH originations and call report data, such as home equity advances and delinquent commercial loans. For branch operations, they include teller transaction volume and referrals by location and individuals. For lending, they include incentive tracking and production reports. 

Ad-hoc and published report requests come in from all members of our staff. Volume varies, but on average, we see about 10 to 15 requests a day. Some take minutes to turn around. Others are more intensive. Some requests take multiple days to fulfill. 

We fulfill all requests unless a system limitation prevents us. We generally take tasks on a first-come, first-served basis but also ask when the data is needed and for what to determine what reports go out first.  

Most, if not all, requests are sent directly to me and my team via email. We have discussed a central help desk to gain efficiencies, but for now our current process is working. 

8 Ways To Make Way For Business Intelligence

Nick Gallerani, director of business intelligence at Vermont Federal Credit Union, says buy-in from the top is the most important element of a successful business intelligence program.

“If leadership is resistant to or unwilling to incorporate data into decision-making, the program will ultimately fail,” Gallerani says.

Here are seven more tips the Vermont Federal BI boss has for credit unions beginning their own data analytics journey.

  • Be sure data is accurate, timely, and actionable.
  • Try to be a “helpful resource.”
  • Network and maintain relationships with people in similar roles. The same with people in cross-departmental and cross-functional roles.
  • Keep data and the database clean. Even small inconsistencies can become big problems over time.
  • Ask questions. Know exactly what’s being requested and how that data will be used.
  • Stick to the facts. Avoid anecdotal evidence when telling the story presented by the data.
  • Have a strong knowledge about the credit union and all its operations in addition to having data analytic skills.

What are some results that show your BI team’s impact?

NG: There have been some significant cost savings that have allowed us to part ways with certain vendor relationships. 

Additionally, with our recent implementation of a new online account origination solution for deposit products, we’ve reduced abandoned applications by more than 40%. We’ve also reduced the average amount of time it takes new members to open their membership online to less than five minutes. 

Plus, having all our data in one place allows us to aggregate all the information that we have on our members to get a holistic view of their relationship with the credit union. This allows us to better serve — and in some cases more accurately predict — our members’ needs.

What are some projects you’re working on now? 

NG: I partnered with our director of innovation and strategy to develop a digital strategy. I’m now the project lead for the implementation of a new online account opening platform, the creation of a new website, and the configuration of a CRM and marketing automation platform. I’m also playing a key role in the evaluation of online and mobile banking platforms.

I’m also working on the new CECL standards, focusing on the data aggregation necessary to implement the new accounting standard. I’ve had to develop an understanding of our current allowance for loan losses as well as an understanding of the CECL model.

What are some challenges you’ve had to overcome?

NG: One of the biggest challenges was around trust. I had access to just about everything and found myself somewhat in everyone’s business.

All data, keystrokes, activity, and maintenance that occurs in our core system ultimately makes it into our data warehouse. So naturally, I think some folks felt a bit uneasy with the new level of transparency. 

Additionally, I occasionally come across issues or opportunities for improvement. It took time and some personal-professional growth for me to effectively demonstrate that I was not looking for or calling out someone else’s shortcomings but rather genuinely trying to better the organization.   

What would you differently if you were starting over now?

NG: If I was starting anew, I would focus less initially on learning SQL and data mining and instead immerse myself in learning about the credit union itself, about our operations, goals, and objectives, and in gaining an understanding of each functional role.

Who are your key partners at Vermont Federal and who outside the organization do you network with? 

NG: Management at all levels of Vermont Federal has been key to the success of our business intelligence. Their desire to make more data-driven decisions has been invaluable. 

Outside of the credit union, there are people in similar roles that I stay in regular contact with at both credit unions and banks. We generally have monthly calls to discuss challenges, opportunities, new projects, and questions. This network has been crucial to my success, being that for most of my career I have been a department of one. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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Aug. 19, 2019


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