A 16-System Conversion Success Story

Two major conversions at one New Mexico credit union brought about a busy 2018.

Top-Level Takeaways

  • In 2018, Sandia Laboratory FCU converted two major systems and more than a dozen ancillary ones.
  • The conversions required an all-hands-on-deck approach, but the credit union came out better for it.


Sandia Laboratory FCU
Data as of 03.31.19

HQ: Albuquerque, NM
MEMBERS: 102,848
ROA: 0.92%

In 2018,Sandia Laboratory Federal Credit Union ($2.6B, Albuquerque, NM) underwent two major conversions that were both years in the making.

The credit union, which serves high-tech and professional communities in Albuquerque, NM and Livermore, CA, converted its online and mobile banking in March and then its core system in November. Although the two projects shared several aspects including motivation, project team members, and timelines the underlying story of the core conversion dates back nearly 40 years.

That’s when SLFCU built and implemented its own core processor, which it then managed internally for four decades. As the years stretched on, however, challenges arose. It became difficult to find the technical talent to work with a homegrown system, says credit union CEO Robert Chavez. And, fewer third-party applications were willing to interface with the core system.

Another wrinkle: it wasn’t the credit union’s only core. The homegrown core served a retail-only purpose, which meant SLFCU had to run an entirely different core for its business members, of which the credit union has many. The New Mexico-based institution is in the top 60 nationally among credit unions with member business loan balances.

That was getting difficult to manage, says Sastri Siravuri, the credit union’s Chief Information Officer. We wanted to consolidate into one core platform.

Two years ago, the credit union began an RFP process for a core that would not only consolidate retail and business needs but also allow for more third-party integration. After a six-month search, Sandia Laboratory Federal Credit Union chose Correlation as its new core provider. After making that decision, however, another one loomed.

Switching cores prompted SLFCU to re-assess more than a dozen ancillary systems that plugged into the old core, including document management and telephone banking as well as its online and mobile banking systems.

Once we had the new core system, it was like a domino effect, Siravuri says. Things needed to be redone, rebuilt.

SLFCU’s Tech Stack

During its busy 2018, SLFCU’s converted both its core and online and mobile banking systems. But those changes required the credit union to update other systems that better integrated with its new technology. What were they?

  1. Retail Core: From an in-house platform to Corelation Keystone
  2. Retail Online: From Fiserv Corillian to Alkami
  3. Retail Mobile: From MShift to Alkami
  4. Business Core: From Fiserv Precision to Corelation Keystone
  5. Business Online: From Fiserv Precision Online Banking to Alkami
  6. Business Mobile: From Fiserv Mobility to Alkami
  7. Document Management: From Solcom to Hyland OnBase
  8. Item Teller Item Processing: From Bank of the West to the Federal Reserve using Alogent Teller Item Capture
  9. Accounting: From J.D. Edwards to Corelation Keystone
  10. Business Statements: From Fiserv to DataPrint
  11. Business Debit Cards: From Fiserv Business to CO-OP
  12. Personal Business Banking Check Printing: From Quadrant and Fiserv to Wycom
  13. Teller Cash Recyclers Cash Dispensers: From an in-house platform to Corelation Keystone
  14. Check Fraud Detection: From nothing to Advanced Fraud Solutions (AFS)
  15. Wires: From WireXchange with in-house system to WireXchange on Corelation Keystone
  16. Telephone Banking/IVR: From Convergys to Enacomm

The credit union had a different provider for its online and mobile banking systems, though it preferred a synergistic model where one provider could handle both systems. Additionally, its online banking provider at the time said it was likely it would sunset the application soon. The information forced the credit union into a choice: convert to another online-only platform from the same provider or find a new provider altogether. Like with the core, SLFCU’s online banking platform was divided between retail and business users. Consolidating that experience was a key consideration.

If we had to move to a different platform we thought, well, let’s see what other vendors can do, CEO Chavez says.

After a three-month RFP process, SLFCU chose Alkami as its new provider. The move changed the credit union’s overall online and mobile experience. In the past, the credit union had an account-centric approach, which required separate log in credentials to access different accounts. The conversion allowed it to move to a member-centric approach, which allows members to see all of their credit union-associated accounts with one username and password.

Despite the difference in RFP timelines, both processes finished near the same time. Rather than implementing both conversions at the same time, SLFCU staggered the go-live dates by six months, prioritizing the mobile and online conversion.

Our thought process was to prioritize the conversion that was going to benefit the members first, Chavez says. That was online and mobile.

Getting To Go-Live

The credit union formed two project teams to shepherd each conversion through the go-live date. The online and mobile banking conversion team included programmers and other digital-focused staff in addition to folks from training and the call center. The core conversion team was much larger and included representatives from nearly every department at the organization.

That project needed resources from all our business units, Siravuri says. The requirements were of a higher scale compared to our online banking conversion.

Employees kept long hours and the credit union instituted a three-month PTO freeze to ensure everyone was training at the same time and at the same speed. Working in the credit union’s favor, running an in-house core meant staff had developed a knowledge and familiarity with technical systems, according to Chavez.

In addition to the two project teams, the credit union hired a third-party firm, Daland CUSO, to provide project management assistance for the core conversion. With that firm’s help, the credit union created a robust deadline schedule for conversion milestones that its own internal project managers facilitated.

On the communication side, the credit union sent weekly internal updates to staff and board members to highlight progress made. On the training side, SLFCU’s project managers and training staff leaned heavily on third-party materials provided by its new core provider to educate staff. Training went so well that the credit union was asked to present at Correlation’s annual conference.

It took folks across and outside the organization stepping up to pull off both these conversions successfully, Chavez says.

To keep employees engaged throughout the process, the credit union asked staff to select a theme for the conversion Star Wars and supported team members as they designed and planned morale-building activities.

It was a monumental effort, Chavez says. But they created a buzz and excitement around their work. And, as a whole, staff was extremely engaged.

That engagement was evident in the technically proficient employees who trained others who needed assistance. And, it’s evident in the numbers. Six months after the core conversion’s go-live date, an employee engagement survey returned scores near record high. Not only that, but SLFCU retained its entire staff post conversion and even increased its headcount to include additional business and quality assurance analysts.

For Chavez, the high scores emphasize how well the credit union and its staff understood the need to create a better experience for members. This is especially notable as the new core went live in November, during prime holiday shopping, which added card-related call volumes on top of core-related calls.

Although the process might have been difficult at times, employees came through the other side energized. The credit union came out ahead, too.

We are in a much better place, Chavez says. They don’t want to go through something like that again any time soon, but people are happy.

5 Ways To Convert Without Worry

  • Lean On Others: To convert all the systems we did, in the time we did it, I would not recommend going it alone. Don’t try to do this all yourself, Chavez says.
  • Consider The Timeline: Most systems will tell you to set a conversion timeframe from nine months to one year. Given the nature of our homegrown core and the other applications we had to convert, we built in additional time. But that prolonged time and effort can prove challenging for staff, Chavez says.
  • Consider The Go-Live Date: If I had control over the date, I would have chosen a summer conversion for core. As it was, we were too tight on the end of the year. Our stabilization overlapped with internal and external travel and card-related calls, not to mention all the tax processing that happens in December. A summer date will give more runway with a new platform, Siravuri says.
  • Mind The Gaps: With a homegrown system we had a high level of control and flexibility. If we wanted to change the functionality or add a product, all we had to do was ask our technology team. As great as these new systems are, they’re not our own. We knew there would be some gaps on the business side of our core platform that we’d have to work through internally, Chavez says.
  • Know What You Want: We wanted a provider who would be more of a strategic partner. We want influence and a loud voice when it comes to the roadmap for what they develop on the platform, Chavez says.


July 12, 2019

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