Keesler Federal Credit Union has made dollar-to-pound conversion a breeze for members at three British air bases who have bills to pay.
They now can walk into Keesler FCU branches at the Royal Air Force's Alconbury, Lakenheath and Mildenhall bases north of London and submit bills for payment in British pounds.
That's thanks to an add-on created by a California consultancy to allow the Symitar core processing system at the Biloxi, Miss.-based credit union to convert payments and submit them through a processing bank to local creditors and payees.
Now the 7,500 or so military and civilian personnel who typically spend three to five years each at Keesler's English bases have one more key reason to keep the $1.7 billion credit union as their primary financial institution, said Jennifer Stanley, vice president for U.K. operations.
Stanley said the service has not yet been publicized except through word of mouth and that from its Feb. 1 launch through April 20, 112 members had submitted a total of 218 payments for processing, primarily for off-base rent and utility bills. The system also can be adapted to handle online bill pay, but the credit union is "not ready yet to focus on that," Stanley said.
"We're easing into this slowly and considered this to be in the rollout stage until now," she added. "Now that we've successfully completed that we'll start putting it in our publications and get the word out more."
Stanley said the bill pay conversion piece removes "a major limiting factor to us being the primary financial institution for a lot of our members here," and that members had been asking for it for some time.
"Being able to pay bills like this is a vital part of living and working overseas for our members," she said.
Stanley said she spoke with other credit unions in the same situation and concluded that the best solution for Keesler would be a conversion program "built from scratch." She turned to CUTEK, a technology consultancy specializing in the Symitar platform, for the project.
"It was a unique problem, something we never had to do before," said Ron Murray, CUTEK president. "What we had to do was figure out a way to use as much built-in Symitar functionality as we could and then fill in the gaps."
Using the core platform's RepGen programming tools with an HTML front end, Murray and his staff created a custom posting program that uses the daily conversion rate to take American dollars from a member account and send out a payment to local payees in pounds through Community Bank, the main financial institution used by all overseas military banking installations.
"It's kind of the opposite of what we're used to here, where when you're working with foreign currency, you normally start in American dollars and convert them to something else," Murray said.
He and Michelle Rimes, the credit union's programming manager in Biloxi, said the biggest challenge may have been the time differences between California, Mississippi and London.
"Ron would code something then e-mail me the RepGen programs, then I'd test them and send them to Jennifer and she'd test them and then we'd send the feedback back to Ron," Rimes said.
Murray added, "Really, it was a logistical problem for the most part. Communication between each of us really was what took the most time. Most of what we had to work with on the technical side had already been in place in Mississippi for a long time."