Although technology has changed substantially over the years, virtually all credit unions share some common requirements when it comes to their core processing provider. The first of these is a need for robust, proven functionality. Credit unions can evaluate this by asking new core candidates questions like:
- What new products and services will the system let me provide to my members?
- What can you automate for me that my current processor forces me to do manually?
- How can you ensure that we only have to enter data once instead of rekeying it into multiple systems?
- How can you make my entire credit union more efficient tomorrow than it is today?
During these initial discussions, credit unions should be prepared with examples of the processes they hope to automate, functions that currently require double or triple entry, and any other areas where they feel inefficiency is holding the institution back.
A flexible, customizable system is also essential. After all, if you could have modified your current system to meet your needs, you wouldn’t be looking for a new system now.
Credit unions should also be aware that there is a fine line between the technically possible and the reasonably doable. In order to find that threshold among potential candidates, consider the following questions:
- How difficult is it to customize the system?
- Can the credit union make changes on its own, or is it required to enlist the services of the data processor (often at an added cost)?
- If a situation calls for the latter, will the credit union have to wait one to three years or even longer to get an enhancement?
Determining Third-Party Capabilities
Today more than ever, credit unions need to weigh their ability to connect a new core system with the third-party products that best meet their needs. Virtually all data processors claim to offer systems that are open to third-party connectivity, yet such statements may prove much less accurate than credit unions would hope for.
All core vendors offer add-on products. And all core vendors want you to buy their add-on products. The problem is that some core vendors encourage you to buy their add-on products by making it prohibitive to deploy and use competing third-party products. These obstacles can be technical, financial or both.
To more proactively identify potential issues, credit unions need to ask the following questions related third-party connectivity:
- Is it possible?
- Is it reasonably easy to do?
- Is it cost-effective?
The best advice here is to select a core provider that truly embraces third-party connectivity, as well as one that has active business relationships with a wide range of vendors including those that offer competing products.
Let Peers Be Your Guide
Calls to other credit unions that are using the proposed system can be especially enlightening. When you start making those reference calls, make sure you don’t limit yourself to the short list supplied by the core provider. Instead, contact as wide a range of users as possible.
As you make those calls, you’ll also begin establishing a strong and important bond with the people you talk to. Having access to the shared knowledge of hundreds of diverse, progressive, well-connected credit unions all on the same core platform can contribute significantly to your success. In other words, you’re not just buying a new core platform. Thanks in large part to the very nature of the credit union industry, you’re joining a community.
Taking The Next Step Towards Conversion
Even in the best of circumstances, a core conversion is challenging and will require a substantial investment of time, money, and people. Choose your next technology partner wisely and it should very well be the last conversion you or your credit union will ever go through.
An extended version of this article is available in Callahan’s 2014 Core Processing Guide.Ted Bilke came to Symitar in 2005, as the General Manager of Episys Operations and Development, with over 20 years of technology and financial services experience. He began his career with EDS, where he worked for 12 years. After EDS, he served as Director, LAN Management Services, for MCI Systemhouse; Vice President, Integration Services, for Bell & Howell; COO for Ascendant Solutions; and Vice President, Lockheed Martin Space Operations (LMSO). He holds a BSBA degree with a double-major in finance and marketing from Missouri Southern State College. Five years after coming to Symitar, he was appointed President.
Symitar, a division of Jack Henry & Associates (NASDAQ: JKHY), is the recognized leader in core data processing and ancillary technology solutions for U.S. credit unions. Founded as a private company in 1984, Symitar built its reputation by combining robust, flexible technology products with customer service levels that are unmatched in the industry. Its Episys core platform quickly became the data processing system of choice for progressive credit unions of all sizes, including many of the largest in the country. The company currently has as clients more billion-dollar credit unions than any other provider in the country.