As consumers remain cautious with their spending in light of economic fears and uncertainty, the financial industry is also vigilant. Many credit union budgets have been reduced and do not include major system replacements-but that does not mean they are missing any opportunities.
According to Celent, maintenance of existing legacy systems may account for up to 76% of financial institutions' IT budgets this year. Such a prediction suggests that credit unions will have to make due with existing core systems through 2010. As a result, executives will have to be creatively thrifty this year when it comes to keeping their legacy systems up to par with changing market demands.
Despite the constrains, credit union budgets can meet the changing demands of members and the continuously evolving technology of the financial services industry. What options do credit unions have if budgets cannot accommodate new core systems or ancillary applications?
To avoid complicated, lengthy and costly core system customization, credit unions can extend the functionality of their dated core systems by implementing front-end applications that can integrate with their existing core systems to improve compliance, functionality, efficiency and member service in their branches.
Credit unions must constantly stay abreast of numerous regulations, many of which change year after year. BSA, AML and OFAC are cited as the most common shortcomings in safety and soundness examinations in risk assessment of financial institutions. Unfortunately, regulatory changes are difficult for tellers to track, remember and implement with high teller turnover. As a result, financial institutions are at greater risk of receiving letters from examiners stating their shortcomings in these areas.
In order to ensure compliance, credit unions can install front-end software that can complement core systems to automate branch BSA and OFAC compliance processes. Such compliance software has the ability to prompt tellers to collect certain required information as the transaction occurs and the conductor is present to meet CU-defined criteria. Since the software monitors the event, the teller is not required to know or remember to execute the regulations. The software drives the process through its business rules.
Whether it is collected by the teller during the transaction or automatically extracted from transaction history in the core system, member transactions can be analyzed and filtered to simplify the review by compliance officers the following day. Compliance is ensured because required information is automatically captured and filed in accordance with credit union policies and procedures, while shifting the compliance burden away from tellers-without breaking the budget or requiring core system changes.
Software can also improve branch efficiency-especially at the teller line. Efficiency is important considering credit unions' ability to out-perform large banks when it comes to providing intimate, welcoming branches. Unfortunately, some core systems can reduce efficiency in ways that slow branch operations. Inefficient branch operation can cause members to become irritated or think something is wrong with their trusted financial institution. Long lines, cumbersome processes, slow transactions times or distracted tellers and staff leave an undesirable impression.
To optimize branch efficiency, credit unions can select technology that helps streamline workflows and improves transaction processing times. For example, if an institution wanted to decrease member wait times, it could deploy cash recyclers or cash dispensers to simplify tellers' cash handling requirements. Tellers would be able to focus on member needs while front-end software detects cash transactions and automatically dispenses the desired amount of cash. The speed and accuracy of the devices reduce transaction wait times and eliminate counting errors.
Cash handler middleware also illustrates how software modules can work with legacy systems to improve member service. Even if budgets are tight, credit unions must take measures to give legacy systems what they need to meet increasing member expectations-a determining factor when it comes to member retention and acquisition.
Added efficiency enables branch staff to focus their attention on members in ways that naturally improve sales of additional products and services while facilitating the kind of relationships that reinforce members' decision to engage a credit union in the first place.
Because of 2010's limited IT budgets, it is important for credit unions to consider extending the capability of their existing systems with front-end applications to swiftly benefit from new technology at a fraction of the cost of a new core system.
Jack Malinowski is chief technology officer for Benchmark Technology Group. He can be reached at 800-554-4582 or jmalinowski@?benchmark-us.com