The merger partners have ranged in size from $420,000 and 438 members to $226.3 million and 33,360 members, the latter a 2014 merger of equals between E&A Credit Union in Port Huron, MI, and Kalamazoo-based First Community FCU that resulted in what’s now Advia.
Seven of those mergers brought in more than 75,000 members. The eighth one, in the process of being mapped and merged, will add another 11,133.
Advia has brought in 75,136 new members through mergers since 2006.
When it comes to service and technology, member accounts matter as much as assets during a merger. That’s because the acquiring institution must make sure the merged data ends up in the appropriate fields in the new system, and it takes the same effort to map a share account with $10 or one with $250,000.
Advia has developed a guiding principle in mergers that calls for minimizing the impact of what Moore calls “account collisions.” That’s when account types don’t match, and it requires finding the least disruptive way to bring in a new member’s accounts, even if that means making changes on Advia’s side instead of the newcomer’s.
CU QUICK FACTS
Advia Credit Union
HQ: Parchment, MI
Data as of 12.31.17
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 23.9%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 29.4%
Moore is happy to share his experience and insight with other member-owned cooperatives but cautions that there is no cut-and-dry template to ensuring a smooth transition. Instead, Advia has adopted a series of best practices developed over years of merger mapping.
Members of the credit union being merged are naturally going to be wary. Be cognizant of their culture to ease their integration.
Moore recommends connecting with them early, often, and in person. Sitting down with their in-house experts not only provides the best way to learn about account structure, but also establishes a rapport with future colleagues.
“The biggest risk is lack of communication,” Moore says. “The sooner you can get in and start having conversations about their environment, the better.”
If it’s not mapped properly, it will be a mess, with negative impacts that can last for years.
The Discovery Process
Mapping data is as much art as science. Moore begins the mapping with a discovery process that includes detailed surveys of products and services, including how the other institution calculates interest and structures accounts.
Accounts with DBA (doing business as) ownership also can be messy, and Advia in fact will be turning to a third-party software provider for new commercial banking functionality as that side of its business grows.
Banks also present a special challenge, Moore adds, because unlike credit unions, they might have one savings account with sub-accounts underneath that could result in 12 different share account numbers in Advia’s existing core.
Bob Moore, Director of IT Systems Support, Advia Credit Union
Moore says in-depth conversations with the merging staff can identify problem areas, which is especially useful when bringing in a database that has suffered benign neglect for years.
A red flag for the Advia team is when someone mentions a product or service that was offered 10 years ago and has gone away on the front end but still lingers in the database. Those can prove as problematic as missing data, but upfront detective work can solve unseen mapping problems ahead, Moore says.
After the discovery process, Moore focuses on aligning the products. There are loan types that fit into Advia’s bucket of existing loans and some that don’t, such as differently structured interest-only loans.
“We might find there’s only three of those loans on their books,” Moore says. “So, does it make sense to put them in a slightly different type of field in our system? Those are the types of questions we have to answer. We have to find an alignment in our system that works.”
Aligning the systems requires working with units across both organizations, again proving the importance of good communication among everyone involved.
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Accounts Are People, Too
Once Advia has aligned the products between the two organizations, minimizing member impact comes into play. The credit union can easily handle three accounts, but what about several hundred that are of a type Advia doesn’t have? Is it enough to create a new account type and product at Advia?
“It used to be that the accounts being merged into our system would take the hit, but that’s no longer the case,” Moore says. “We do what we can to minimize the impact on them, such as letting them keep their accounts with the same numbers and structure.”
After all, these are now Advia members, too.
Mergers and organic growth have fueled an eight-fold increase in assets since 2006 at Advia Credit Union.
Core Matters, But Not That Much
Advia is a longtime Symitar core user, but even having the same core system doesn’t automatically make mapping easy.
“We’ve done a couple Symitar-to-Symitar conversions, and there were nuances we had to take into account,” Moore says.
For example, depending on how the product is built, information that’s up high in one system might be three screens deep on another.
“Regardless of which core they’re on, if it’s not mapped properly, it will be a mess, with negative impacts that can last for years,” Moore says.
Once the mapping is complete, it’s time for the actual conversion — the flip of a switch that culminates a process that typically takes 10 months.
According to Moore, a successful conversion is one that happens over a single weekend with minimum downtime and member disruption and sets the table for years of productive member service.
The process leading up to that happy event can yield collateral damage if not done properly, but it can also provide an unexpected benefit: people with IT talent a credit union didn’t know it had.
“It’s interesting to see how people step up in these situations,” Moore says. “All that discovery and mapping and matching is very manual and very detailed. We’ve found people from the teller line, for instance, who enjoyed that kind of work and were really good at it.”
They might just be the right people to conscript as data analysts to help lead the next data mapping journey.
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