Technically, it was a "quiet" launch among the Rockville, Md.-based credit union's 12 employees, board members and employees of the National Association of REALTORS, the 1.2 million member national trade group the financial institution was chartered in November 2008 to serve. They are serving as the guinea pigs in preparation for a wider launch to NAR's members in mid-May.
"We didn't intend to throw the doors open for everybody," said Tom Glatt, president/CEO of REALTORS, who took the helm on Dec. 15, 2008. "The systems become available at different points of time. As one comes online, we're testing the heck out of everything."
The credit union linked up with 30 outside vendors to make the virtual experience a reality, Glatt said. The biggest challenge beyond making sure the systems worked was ensuring that the site was Realtor-friendly, he added. For instance, most NAR members are self-employed, which means many receive the IRS's 1099 form rather than W-2s from employers.
The May 1 debut was supposed to be a litmus test to prove that all of the "systems were talking to each other." Members can sign on at REALTOR's Web site, www.realtorsfcu.org, through the credit union's contact center or with Total Member Care, previously known as Digital Dialogue that is now a division of PSCU Financial Services. They've also worked on making it easy for members to have the ability to not have to repeatedly sign on each time they log in. On the flip side, Glatt said the credit union's IT team also wanted to have the most stringent protections ready to thwart fraud.
"We had to make sure we have systems in place to make sure people are who they say they are," he explained.
That meant staff working nine-hour days on-site and then another three to four hours at home. Conference calls were nearly a daily occurrence with the credit union's 30 vendors, Glatt said. Some days, these were crowded meetings with several reps sitting in from companies along with REALTORS' staff and board members. As the credit union added to its employee roster, the calls became a lot easier to manage because the meetings would involve specific department heads only.
One "well-known" vendor in particular had programs and forms in place set up to convert from one system to another. The problem was those that had incompatible systems would have to start from scratch, which slowed things down, Glatt recalled.
After May 1, the focus shifted toward "managing our successes and expectations." Glatt said REALTORS is very grateful that NAR provided $15 million in capital to get the credit union off and running.
"That could evaporate overnight if we don't manage the inflow on both sides," Glatt said. "We've been coming up with 'what if' and 'Tom's fairy tales'" to replicate what would happen in various situations. Extremely high loan demand is one of those scenarios.
"I think we will get blown out of the water on loans and on the deposit side," he predicted.
Prior to Glatt's arrival to the credit union, a consultant put some discounts in place for NAR members based on surveys that were conducted. He said a lot of work previously set up by the consultant could help spur REALTOR's initial growth online. Meanwhile, the Realtors' association is expecting nearly 6,000 attendees at its legislative meeting and trade exposition in Washington later this month. And, the credit union will be smack in the middle of it all with a booth to sign up members.
April 20 could not have come faster for the credit union's staff. That was moving day to a bigger facility. Before then, for months, a dozen people were crammed into spaces meant for nine. Several people shared desks and one unlucky staffer worked at the same table that housed the copy machine. Everyone had to use their personal cell phones and e-mail addresses while those systems were being set up, Glatt said. In all, the grueling hours spent working out the kinks and the long days are starting to bear fruit.
"NAR has been just incredible and extremely supportive. While so many other credit unions are watching their sponsors erode, ours is just starting to blossom."