Why do credit unions go out shopping for new core data processing systems? The short answer is both simple and obvious. A credit union looks for a new DP system when their current one becomes more of an impediment than an enabler. It's like deciding you're ready to go off roading and realizing that all you have in the garage is a Yugo. Of course, a new core system costs a lot more than an off-road vehicle and choosing the right one is infinitely more important.
Each week at Symitar, we receive any number of requests for proposals from credit unions around the country that have found themselves in this situation. These RFPs can run into the hundreds of pages and thousands of questions. And no matter how fat an RFP a credit union sends us, they're really only trying to answer one question: Can your core system do for us what our current system can't?
Every credit union's needs are different. That's why the market can support so many different core processors. However, in today's ultra-competitive environment, I believe that there are four elements that are essential to technology success no matter which core system you choose.
You know and I know that the world is moving faster all the time. What you're doing today may not be what you're doing tomorrow--or at least what you want to do tomorrow. Thus, the first key is a core system that can keep pace with both your credit union and the ever-changing marketplace. After all, it's having a system that can't keep pace that pushes a credit union to start looking in the first place.
The problem here is trying to predict what your needs might be in the future, and matching that to a core system today. Obviously, then, what's called for is a system that's highly flexible and highly customizable--one that has demonstrated through past performance that it will be able to adapt to anything you throw at it next year, in five years or in 10 years. In other words, you need a tool set that gives you the ability to create products and services inside the core system without adding expensive third-party modules. Rewards programs, round up checking accounts and sales tracking systems are just a few of the things that might fall into this category.
No matter which core system you choose, you'll eventually need to add a few third-party software packages to round things out. That brings me to my second key: a system that is very open in terms of third-party connectivity. The mistake some credit unions make is thinking that connectivity is only a matter of technology.
Don't get me wrong. You have to start with a very technologically open system. The more third-party products that have already been integrated into any given core system, the more confident you can feel. But you also need to consider how your core processor handles third-party connectivity from a philosophical standpoint. Do they hand you a set of buzzword-compliant tools and send you on your way? Do they make it difficult to integrate third-party products as a sales strategy for their own ancillary products? Or do they encourage you to deploy the third-party products that are right for your credit union, going so far as to provide direct technical support to your third-party vendors--even if those vendors compete with the core processor's ancillary products? Clearly you want a technology partner that lives up to this last standard.
Speaking of partners, the third key doesn't have anything to do directly with the technology. In the true credit union spirit, I'm talking about the level of customer service that any core processor is ready, willing and able to deliver. But how do you measure customer service? After all, no core processor is going to tell you that their customer service stinks--even if it does.
That's easy. Ask for a customer list. Not a short list of references. A complete customer list. And then start dialing the phone. Call different credit unions at random. Ask what they thought about their conversion. See what they think of their post-conversion service. Are the employees happy with the responsiveness of the core processor? It shouldn't take you very long to get a fairly accurate picture of what to expect from that core processor's service levels.
The last key is one that I think is easiest to overlook. It doesn't have to do with the technology itself, or even directly with the core provider. The last question you need to ask is: Who else is using this system? If you're closing in on that magical billion-dollar mark, it makes sense to look at what other billion-dollar credit unions are doing. However you choose to define your credit union, look for similar institutions and see what system they're using.
Take it one step further, though. Try to get a feel for how much users of any particular system support each other. Do they have highly active regional user groups? Do they keep in regular communication with each other, routinely sharing ideas, solutions and code? And does the core processor actively support all these efforts? If the answer is yes, you may have a real winner.
Without question, each credit union has unique technology needs. And yet, I believe that any core system that ranks highly according to these four simple criteria can probably give you what you need today, tomorrow and for many years to come.
John San Filippo is currently the Marketing Manager for Symitar, a Jack Henry
company. He can be reached at 619-278-0474 or josanfilippo@