Justin Curcio knows credit union technology from the inside out and the outside in — a familiarity that has served him well as chief operating officer for Darden Employees Federal Credit Union ($28.8M, Orlando, FL).
Part of the credit union industry since his late teens, Curcio had been a teller, a member service rep, and even a programmer before he and his wife struck out on their own with the launch of a successful consulting company in 2005.
In 2010, a former colleague — the newly appointed CEO of Darden Employees Jim Kasch — tapped Curcio to lead the institution’s lending, operations, and information technology departments as chief operational officer.
Since then, Curcio’s technology and operations expertise has steered Darden Employees through several complex opportunities and challenges prior to its December 2010 relaunch— not the least of which included the incorporation and servicing of a nationwide SEG group and a core conversion of nine different legacy systems to better position the new credit union for future growth.
Benefitted by a corporate sponsor — who funds much of the credit union’s technology expenses — Curcio and his team have learned to not only tap their own industry for inspiration but also effectively gather and incorporate ideas, resources, and best practices from an outside business and adapt them to support their cooperative mission.
Here, Curcio explains how credit unions can accommodate massive changes in their business model, how to best attract and serve the needs of new members without ostracizing existing ones, and how to strike the perfect balance between moving fast and moving smart with new technology.
How did you identify the technological challenges Darden Employees FCU might face in serving a large, national SEG?
Justin Curcio: I was one of the first executives into the mix to help with this transition. Our CEO Jim Kasch had already laid out what Darden Restaurants’ expectations were, what those 200,000 employees nationwide probably expected, and what they looked like demographically.
It was crucial for me to understand that getting to where we wanted to be would require delivering service 24/7 to employees in all 50 states, almost entirely virtually. We knew this was going to be a challenge, so we designed a picture of both the external delivery systems and the internal requirements needed to be able to support that kind of operation. We knew we were going to add staff. We knew we were going to want certain flexibility and capability with regard to our core processing system. Getting that endpoint design in our heads and evaluating specific steps outward from there was key.
In what areas was Multi-Media Federal Credit Union — the predecessor of Darden Employees Federal Credit Union — lacking? What are examples of components you had to improve?
JC: We knew we needed to replace the website and the online banking system. These systems weren’t bad — they had served the membership well. But we knew we would need to serve a more technology-savvy membership field than Multi-Media FCU. Those were two areas we knew we wanted to tackle right away.
The third area was the core processing system. It was important for us to know what the sponsors' expectations would be around transaction processing. We had to understand who we would be serving, and we had to be able to collect and parse the data we had to measure performance. We needed a more robust core processing system to help us achieve that.
We were happy with the legacy credit union's bill pay system, which was a solution from Profitstar’s called iPay. We maintained those services over the course of the conversion and still enjoy a relationship with the provider today.
How did you establish expectations for service with a sponsor group that had no previous experience with the credit union industry?
JC: We needed to be able to demonstrate to Darden Restaurants that the initiative was working. We were able to show that our decisions were sound and it bought in. Both new board members and legacy board members alike understood we needed to overhaul some key systems — the core being the major one of course — to deliver the service we wanted.
Did you have a budget to work with, or did you have to convince the board and sponsor that your proposals were worth the money?
JC: We had a capital plan where Darden Restaurants had committed to help us build this infrastructure, but there was no blank check. We had to go through due diligence, evaluate and select each of our vendors, and then bring them in. We had to ensure new board members were part of all the demos so they had a feel for what it was we were evaluating and what we thought was important. We had to demonstrate we were being deliberate about our selection and wise with the investments we were making.
What is your advice to other credit unions on how to convert efficiently?
JC: Make sure you leave yourself enough time. That’s not always easy if you have a sponsor that has a certain deadline in mind. Ours was an aggressive timeline and one that probably kept us from doing some of the things we would have liked to have done if we had more time. We needed a little more planning with regard to the systems going live.
We didn’t make any wrong decisions with vendor selection, but it takes a lot of work to convert that many systems. You need plenty of time to design them the way you want. You need time to get in the room with not only the vendors but also the partners, the staff, and the board to provide regular updates. This includes things like product design meetings, system design meetings, project planning, and other updates.
Leave enough room to do the things you want to do but also have a little cushion for things that might come up during conversion. You’ll invariably have to deal with some things on the fly, but don't paralyze yourself with analysis over it.
Know that you're going to have to make some compromises because you can't let the project run on forever. You've got to get to a certain point and then go live. Finding that balance between moving quickly and analysis paralysis is key to a major, multifaceted conversion like this.
Can you describe how you arrived at your specific vendor decisions?
JC: Vendor selection was a challenge. DocuSign was one of those partnerships that we knew we would need very early on. We had to have some sort of electronic signature provider to facilitate virtual account openings and fundings nationwide. At the new credit union, we would not always have the opportunity for members to sit down in front of us with a driver’s license for verification.
The credit union was breaking new ground with regard to fully documenting an account and getting all of our membership applications and loan applications remotely. But at the same time, we had to be confident we knew who it was we were talking to on the other end. We had to deliver those forms to the member in a way they could easily access, electronically sign, and then return to us.
What were some specific challenges in your connections with vendors?
JC: On a number of occasions we found vendors weren’t offering products for what we were trying to do. It became a joke among us because our vendors would always say, “Well, nobody's ever done that before.”
These cases required some extra convincing. We encouraged vendors to stretch their abilities by using these systems for purposes they weren't necessarily intended.
How was your eStatement provider conversion?
JC: We're using Cathedral right now. It had a more self-sufficient system than the legacy option. We found it had more ability to deliver the design we wanted.
The real challenge was paying attention to our legacy membership and not taking away any services from those folks. The biggest hurdle in our eStatement conversion was making sure we were able to secure all of the legacy data from the previous vendor and incorporate it into the new system so there was no disconnect and no loss of service for those folks.
We went through great pains anticipating what questions legacy members might have with regard to the conversion. We put out multiple communications to them in the months leading up to the conversion. We helped them understand what was going to be the same and what was going to be different while reassuring them that when the lights went on in this "new" credit union, everything would still be there for them.
How can credit unions work more effectively with their SEG sponsors to address technology needs?
JC: There are some organizations that have a close relationship with their sponsors and rely on them heavily for infrastructure support — whether it be technology, operations, human resources, or anything else. We are now in that situation ourselves.
Because we’re essentially part of Darden Restaurants’ headquarters, we rely on staff there to help us get the service and support we need technology-wise. Managing that relationship with Darden Restaurants is key to providing the services we want for our membership.
What’s next for your departments in the years ahead?
JC: Internally, we’re trying to indentify and evaluate opportunities help our departments be better at what they do, accommodate our future growth, and reach the types of volumes we know we are capable of.
We still think we’re small enough to have an environment where we can help our employees and really understand their issues. You can’t be afraid to gather the front line or the call center staff in a room and look together at how you might pull apart and rebuild some processes to better serve your members.
This article is from the 3Q 2012 edition of Credit Union Strategy & Performance (CUSP), available in print, online and in the Callahan Media App for subscribers. Look for this publication, along with the technology and operations supplement Technology@CU, arriving on desks this month.