How To Build BI From Scratch

After a two-year concerted effort, Teachers FCU is turning its goal of attaining real-time data insights into a reality.

Top-Level Takeaways

  • As late as 2019, Teachers FCU had no business intelligence team.
  • Now, a newly formed department uses real-time data to tell the story of the credit union and its members.

Teachers Federal Credit Union ($8.7B, Hauppauge, NY) welcomed Brad Calhoun to the chief executive seat in June 2019. As Calhoun, the former chief retail and marketing officer at First Tech FCU, settled into his role, other changes also were taking hold at New York’s second-largest credit union.

Teachers was in the midst of redefining itself adopting a new culture, a new brand and mission, a new national charter, and a new executive team. It needed easy access to reliable data, but at that time, the credit union did not have a formal business intelligence unit. Instead, analysts were dispersed across the organization. That started to change in November 2019, when Teachers hired Matthew Reidy as senior vice president of business intelligence and planning and tasked him to build out its BI efforts.

The organization had so many opportunities in front of it, Reidy says. You want to make sure you’re making the smartest decisions possible. The only way to do that is to be data-driven.

Since hiring Reidy, Teachers’ BI efforts have increased, and its BI abilities have taken on even more importance in response to the pandemic.

The Start Of Something New

To build Teachers’ BI team, Reidy needed to understand where the credit union stood.

“We had to assess the landscape,” he says. “We had to evaluate what we had at our disposal, our data assets, our architecture, and the level and validity of the reporting being delivered to the business.”

Data and analytical minds were scattered across the organization. But before Reidy started pulling data assets into a central location, he wanted to make sure he understood Teachers’ endgame. The credit union’s new tagline, Smart for all, reflects the organization’s desire that representatives be the most financially literate, the most informed, the most capable.

“To deliver on that commitment, employees at all levels need to be informed and they need to have access to data on demand,” Reidy says. “It’s an enterprise-wide movement.”

Reidy started small with three business intelligence analysts and a developer. Those employees helped establish the department’s essential infrastructure enhancing systems, formalizing processes, and vetting and partnering with third-party providers when necessary.

Reidy also wanted to influence a shift in the organization’s mindset toward data. “Data is not simply a pile of information,” he says. “It’s a strategic asset and should be treated as such.”

“Credit unions are flush with data, so much so that it’s often underutilized, misconstrued, or even ignored,” Reidy says. Our competitors understand its value, and they build entire enterprises around it. When you put a concerted effort behind analytics and realize the power of your data, you can unlock a greenfield opportunity you never knew existed.

When you put a concerted effort behind analytics and realize the power of your data, you can unlock a greenfield opportunity you never knew existed.

Matthew Reidy, SVP of Business Intelligence And Planning, Teachers FCU

But that kind of shift requires time.

Teachers brought on Salesforce as its CRM not long after Reidy’s arrival, and the credit union was still setting up a 360-degree view of its member when its BI journey started in earnest. As Reidy and his team vetted third parties for BI needs, the Salesforce-owned Tableau stood out. The two software providers integrated with each other, and Tableau provided a visualization tool that any department could use, an important benefit for a credit union looking to democratize access to data.

“Everything we did was about making sure we could empower our team with self-service analytics,” Reidy says. “We were trying to position ourselves for the future. Part of that meant having a solution that could scale with us in the long term.”

Tableau played an important role in Teachers’ short-term analytics strategy, too. The credit union used the software as a central hub in lieu of a data lake to connect its disparate data sets.

Although it wasn’t the most seamless approach, we were able to merge data sources into a single, cohesive dashboard, Reidy says.

Teachers started with its members, both current and former. It imported historical information such as the age of the member, the channel from which they joined, their geographic location, how many products they use, and more. With that information, departments could filter dashboards by, for example, how many members live within a specific geography, how many live within two miles of a given branch, or how many have used a given branch in a specific, customizable number of days.

According to Reidy, the credit union continued to build from there.

Initially, Teachers imported only a small amount of data into Tableau to make sure the visualization software could quickly and efficiently process it all. But as Teachers continued to add data sources from CoreLogic for the team to pipe in information on mortgage transactions the software had no issues.

“We thought we were pushing it to its limits, but we weren’t,” Reidy says. “It left us free to answer questions and create even more dashboards.”

Painting The Picture

For the past 16 months, the credit union’s business intelligence team has fielded questions from across the credit union and developed dashboards or reports to provide the answers. The team then provides training on how to find the information next time and even has added Tableau-specific written and video education materials to Teachers’ intranet.

One example of Teachers’ improved BI: During the credit union’s regular ALCO meetings, the committee reviews presentations and often has follow-up questions that can’t always be answered in the room. Historically, someone would research the question and come back to the next committee meeting with the answer.

“Now we can answer those questions in real-time because we can pivot from the presentation right into Tableau,” Reidy says. “We can get the answers we need and make a decision in the moment.”

For Reidy, this is exciting. Data access like this encourages employees to ask more data questions, and more data questions help his team understand what to answer and build next. More than that, the additional questions and answers help the organization unlock more of its member story.

“Business intelligence brings together different pieces of the puzzle to help the organization see the whole story, the full picture,” Reidy says. “I tell my team this ad nauseum.”

Soon, that picture will be even clearer.

The credit union is hard at work building out its own in-house centralized repository that will allow Teachers to take its data work to the next level. For the credit union’s initial analytical efforts, it refreshed data monthly and sometimes quarterly. Over time, Teachers has improved those times to as frequently as daily. When the data lake is ready, users will be able to access data in real time, thereby providing decision-makers with the best possible insights.

Analytics at Teachers has evolved from insights based on historical information to insights based on real-time data. Ultimately, Reidy wants Teachers’ BI capabilities to reach a predictive state, whereby models and markers can predict needs and recommend meaningful products. Reidy hasn’t lost sight of the fact BI is meant to benefit the member. If it’s not, it should be doing more.

“We might be a service division that is not member-facing, but we know who we support,” the SVP says. “The best way we can do that is by building on sound data and leveraging the insights we see.”


July 12, 2021

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