Core War Battlefield So Far Produces No Clear Victor
Somebody is winning. Somebody is losing. Just don’t expect an easy to decipher who will win the battle in this update on the credit union core systems war.
On one side there is Mark Sievewright, president of the credit union division at Brookfield, Wis.-based Fiserv, and his mantra is that it’s not over until it’s over. And Fiserv, he insisted, has really just begun to reap the gains from its January billion-dollar acquisition of Open Solutions and its DNA core. Sievewright comes into the war with a giant lead.
“We have one-third of the credit union core processing business, and we enjoy a retention rate that is at or near 99%t,” said Sievewright. That means that for every 100 cores that reach the end of their contract (typically a five to ten year term), Fiserv keeps all but one in the fold, by Sievewright’s count.
On the other side there is Ted Bilke, president of Monett, Mo.-based Symitar, a division of Jack Henry. He is the aggressive No. 2 who, in the tradition, claims to try harder. Listen to Bilke and he exudes confidence. “We continue to do very well. We are trending up in the number of customers. We have new competitive takeaways. We are clearly on an uptick.”
Core system processing is not a field characterized by enormous change. By Bilke’s count, year in, year out, 23 to 36 credit unions will change their core providers. “This year, it will be at the high end,” predicted Bilke. And the process is lengthy. From start to finish, picking a new core may take a year, said several consultants.
That is despite the fact that, nowadays, there are essentially only two core system providers, Symitar and Fiserv, when it comes to larger credit unions of $250 million in assets and bigger.
The actual numbers tell that story. Data provided by Callahan & Associates as to the core systems in credit unions with assets above $250 million underline the enormity of the Fiserv lead. Of 766 credit unions in that group, Fiserv provides core processing to nearly half, 357. That number includes 64 using Open Solutions’ DNA.
Symitar (with Episys) comes in second at 257 credit unions.
No one else moves the needle.
Harland Financial, which declined to comment for this article, has 67 core processing contracts. That places it third.
FIS, which also declined to comment, has 22 among those larger credit unions. That is good for fourth.
Thus Bilke’s assertion that most big credit unions that are in the hunt for core conversion quickly narrow the search to two players. For many institutions there is no third choice.
Who is winning that mano a mano?
Survey industry experts and the clear impression among them is that Symitar is winning the bulk of its face-offs with Fiserv. “Symitar has the momentum, especially in the larger credit union space,” said Brad Smith, president at Abound Resources, a credit union consulting firm in Austin, Tex.
“Symitar is on the winning side. They are converting clients off Fiserv cores,” said Kirk Drake, CEO of Ongoing Operations, a Maryland based technology focused CUSO.
“Symitar is winning a lot of deals right now, that’s for sure,” said Scott Hodgins, a research director with Cornerstone Advisors in Scottsdale, Ariz. “It has a lot of installs. so it has good credibility. It also has a very strong service reputation.”
“Symitar is doing better in the larger credit union market because it is very open to customization,” said a senior executive with a small core system provider who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to comment on competitors. “The Symitar core can accept non-Symitar products and, with the right programming, it will do what a large credit union wants. It’s a different business model from Fiserv.”
Fiserv, said several experts, likes to sell a one stop solution, and the good news is that included with a Fiserv core deal usually are payments, online banking, mobile banking, probably P2P payments and still more as the company strives to deliver all the computing a financial institution needs to provide member facing services.
Symitar, by contrast, focuses more on providing just the core, but the upside is that it is fairly easy to integrate into it most leading add-ons that the typical credit union would look at it.
That flexible Symitar platform is winning many second looks, especially from the bigger credit unions that have the in house staff needed to personalize the system.
A search in the Credit Union Times archives underlines the string of Symitar wins, such as Kitsap Credit Union in Bremerton, Wash., which recently announced conversion off a Fiserv core and Coastal Credit Union in Raleigh, N.C., which also announced conversion off a Fiserv core.
But before crowning Symitar the new champion, recognize that Sievewright at Fiserv has a very different perspective. In an interview, he claimed that Fiserv too has been notching wins although it does not always announce them with a press release, said Sievewright.
A search in the Credit Union Times archives found a number of Fiserv wins, such as the Wauna Federal Credit Union in Oregon, which signed up for the Open Solutions CUunify core, representing the first announced Fiserv win involving OSI assets since the acquisition.
Fiserv also recently claimed two wins for its XP2 core, the $314 million Greater Iowa Credit Union in Ames and the $288 million E Federal Credit Union in Baton Rouge, La.
But where are the wins for DNA, the showpiece in the OSI acquisition, and what has become of the handful of credit unions that had announced they would adopt Acumen, the now abandoned Fiserv core?
Asked about that, Sievewright said, “It’s been a maelstrom of activity.” He elaborated that in the first 90 days following the acquisition his primary focus had been integrating OSI’s cores into the Fiserv mix and, by extension, integrating Fiserv’s add-ons into the OSI cores. “It’s been tremendously energizing, bringing the two businesses together. A tremendous amount of integration has occurred. We have been making solid progress.”
“Our pipeline is strong. You will be seeing DNA announcements,” he added.
Consultants said that probably, too, Sievewright and his team were laboring to keep present DNA clients happy and satisfied. That should not be that much of a challenge because reports had been swirling that cash poor OSI had been trimming service in the months leading up to the acquisition. Fiserv, with its deeper pockets and a reputation for providing needed service, probably has remedied those ills, said experts.
Either way, “there are questions that need to be answered before large credit unions sign onto the Fiserv cores,” said Hodgins.
And just maybe Sievewright’s group has been cobbling together answers that will satisfy the doubters. At least he expresses strong confidence. “It’s not hard, getting people to see the value of DNA. Things are going very well for us. We really have made a lot of progress.”
Time will tell on that as industry experts settle in to watch how many DNA adoptions there are, how soon.
This war is nowhere near over.