Too many credit unions put too little thought into their relationships with their credit and debit card processors and should concentrate on getting more out those partnerships.
That is one of the recommendations Lesley Hastings, director of member partnerships at The Members Group, shared in “When the Grass Really Is Greener: Evaluating Your Processing Partner at Renewal Time,” a new white paper on the topic.
“The paper arose out of what we had been hearing from credit unions about their card processor searches,” Hastings said. “Both credit unions that wound up coming with us and those that did not. They would ask us questions about working with processors, and we noticed that a number of questions kept coming up, so those were the ones we put in the paper.” Hastings said that TMG did not put out the paper to market its own products or services or to knock those provided by any other processor but instead to improve the processing experience of all credit unions.
“More than ever now, we believe that the relationship between a credit union and its card processor needs to be something of a partnership and not just a client-vendor arrangement,” she added.
Among the reasons for this shift from a standard vendor arrangement to one of partnership, Hastings explained, is the increasing complexity of card marketing and portfolio management as well as regulation. The previous card management model where a credit union simply gave instructions that the processor would carry out with varying degrees of proficiency has passed, she explained. Now, credit unions and processors cooperate in setting card portfolio management and marketing goals as well on carrying them out. But not every credit union has realized this shift and too many, Hastings said, are using the old model and often just renewing their processing contracts without more carefully considering them.
“What motivates their curiosity about alternative providers often isn’t some catastrophic experience with their current partner,” Hastings wrote in the paper’s introduction. “Rather, it’s a nagging sense that something about the partnership just isn’t right,” a feeling she described as “a sum of little things” that just stopped adding up over time.
Some of these things will not surprise, such as concerns about how much the credit union is paying for its processing and what it is getting for its money as well as whether the processor supports the level of service the credit union has established for its members.
But others are not so obvious, such as checking into the background and management of the card processor to get a sense whether the firm would likely remain on the scene for the long haul and might be a takeover candidate or whether the processor has the training and resources to understand and manage shifting regulatory requirements.
“It’s important to do a bit of research into your processor’s history to understand how it may approach the days and years ahead,” Hastings wrote. “Ask your partner how long the company has been in the business and what their plans are for the short- and long-term futures. Watch for potential red flags, like frequent turn over and sudden changes to the management structure.”
April Remnant, card services manager for the 55,000-member, $600 million Ventura County Credit Union, and Linda Rossi, senior vice president for special projects for the credit union, largely agreed with paper, particularly with the analysis of the relationship with one processor that the credit union decided to leave in favor of another.
“We really went above and beyond [for the previous processor],” Remnant said. “I lost track of the number of working groups we had on site that were supposed to help them address our concerns and needs but which finally just didn’t do it.”
Remant and Rossi said Ventura went far to try to remain with its old processor because changing processors is such a big project. Even though Ventura owned its own bin (the set of numbers on the front of credit and debit cards that identify the issuer), the credit union had to close and reissue about 6,300 cards and that was only the end of what was a very long process.
Overall, the executives said the process took about 18 months to complete and involved developing a system that enabled the credit union to more easily put proposals from competing processors on an equal footing so they could be more effectively compared.
Yet even with the difficulty, both executives said they found the process worth it. Through the processor change, the credit union gained a processor that it found more responsive to its concerns and more eager to help Ventura realize its card processing goals. And it gained a card executive as well. Remnant acknowledged that she had been more a general manager before the processor change and that she asked to become the card manager after going through the process. “Now, I want to be here when the current contract is up for renewal in 2017,” she said. “I want to be here to ask the right questions and make sure they do it right.”