After seven years in the making and a maiden voyage up north, Fiserv Inc. is launching what it calls an all-new core processing system aimed at the highest end of the credit union market.
The Acumen account processing solution was initially launched in Canada as iSpectrum and was built from the ground up to use Web services and other integrating technologies, the company said.
We wrote the first line of code for this in March 2002. It went live in 2005 in Canada and now it's ready for launch in the United States," said Dave Brim, vice president of product development for Fiserv.
Acumen, its name now in both markets, takes functionality and attributes of "the Internet, the Googles and Amazons and eBays and applies that technology to the financial services industry," Brim said.
One key way that has taken shape is in system reliability, Brim said.
It's completely redundant, like the big Internet sites. The Internet itself has changed all this ... like Google with its 450,000 or so servers connected worldwide. Instead of just relying on one server, we applied the same technology to this credit union system, so that if there is a server failure it just fails over to the next server and keeps right on going," Brim said.
Other selling points Fiserv touts about its new core platform: The same browser interface for both front-end and back-office applications and a built-in, 360-degree member view, as well as deeply engrained multi-language functionality initially developed to meet French-English requirements for the Canadian market and now suited for similar Spanish-English deployment domestically.
In addition, "Acumen is completely, 100% browser-based, not just on the front end. We built it from the ground up to be that way. Whether you're front-line personnel or work in the back office, not matter what your job is at the credit union, you'll be using the same browser interface," Brim said.
Fiserv currently provides several core processing platforms to more than 2,500 credit unions and formally completed the integration of its seven formerly separate CU divisions earlier this year.
The Acumen platform is a milestone in that process, the Wisconsin-based company said, but said it does not represent the beginning of the end of those other platforms.
"We're a firm believer in choice," said Scott Butler, president of Credit Union Solutions at Fiserv. "We do not have a plan to consolidate our core systems. This doesn't change that."
The development of the new platform drew in expertise from across the company, well as strategy talks with a number of clients and potential clients, the company said.
"We just saw an opportunity, a chance to start from scratch and design a solution from the ground up that uses the latest Internet technologies and that we can target at the largest and most progressive credit unions in the country," Butler said.
Those are the kinds of credit unions, of course, with back shops equipped and often eager and anxious to develop and deploy their own applications and interfaces, something that key rivals like Open Solutions and Symitar have leveraged to sharply build their share of that market in the past several years.
"We didn't tailor our platform around those two," Butler said. "Clearly they have a certain percentage of the large credit union market, but one of those you mentioned couldn't be further away from ours in terms of architecture, and neither of them uses Internet-type technology the way that Acumen does.
"Open at every architectural level, Acumen gives credit unions who want it total ownership and control over their technology strategy."
About a dozen Canadian credit unions have installed the new platform in the past couple years, some of them running it from a service center in British Columbia, others in house. A data center in Atlanta will serve U.S. credit unions, according to Sara Brooks, chief strategy officer for Fiserv's credit union operation.
It's very rare that you can use the words 'new' and 'proven' in the same breath, but we make a point of learning from every new way in which we apply technology," Brooks said.
"In this instance, we're taking what we've learned from our deployments in Canada and evolving the solution to suit the needs of the U.S. industry," she said.
Butler, the credit union solutions president, said the company expects to have its first U.S. credit union running live on Acumen in the second quarter of 2010.
"We've been spending time and resources and investment keeping it as quiet as we could because we wanted to make sure when we came to market our clients would have something they can see and feel and be able to have in their planning horizon, if it works for them," he said.
"We are not believers in forcing clients in a specific direction," he said. "We're getting a lot of synergy from collaboration that we can share across all our platforms as we continue to work to develop more solutions."