Firms Circle Credit Unions in Growing Core Space
When a credit union's core system, its single most expensive piece of equipment, is up for grabs, there are dozens of companies that want that business.
There are, in fact, few competitive core conversions in any given year.
David Gibbard, former SVP at the Birmingham Ala.-based core system company EPL and now an independent consultant in Atlanta, said this year, there will be 40 to 60 conversions; a number he also said had ticked up because credit unions are putting more demands on cores for everything from mobile payments to collections while older cores, in some cases, are proving inflexible.
Samuel Brownell, founder of CUCollaborate, a Washington-based strategic management firm that recently issued a report documenting credit union satisfaction with their core systems, offered a more bullish estimate of more than 60 credit union conversions this year. He said he has also detected rising dissatisfaction with cores among many credit unions.
At research firm Cornerstone Advisors in Scottsdale, Ariz., Scott Hodgins, senior director, offered a third opinion.
“I have not seen a huge uptake in core conversions. But I have seen a lot more looking, that is, credit unions that shop for a new core but hesitate to pull the trigger,” he said. “There won't be one big winner. There's a lot of market share out there.”
Hodgins’ last point is key. Sometimes, the core systems battle appears to be between Fiserv, which had 2,317 credit union cores according to June 2013 Callahan data, versus Symitar, with 695 credit unions, but that is just one snapshot.
While needs vary, budgets do too as well as past personal relationships with core vendors. One credit union may bash Fiserv as several others sing the firm's praises. Some may knock D & H's UltraData core and others love it. Meanwhile, some credit unions might adore San Diego innovator Corelation, while others worry about the young company's small size.
They may all be right because they are reporting their unique experiences.
Read more: Fiserv vs. Symitar ...
Jeff Leu, IT manager at the $505 million Community 1st Credit Union in Ottumwa, Iowa, said his institution recently signed to convert to Symitar's Episys core, mainly because they were fed up with the DNA core developed by Open Solutions Inc., which is now owned by Fiserv. The credit union had used the system for the past six years.
“We had a seven year contract, it's up next year,” Leu said. “That's when we will convert to Symitar.”
For its part, the Brookfield, Wis.-based Fiserv said it claimed 44 DNA wins since it acquired Open Solutions, DNA's developer in January 2013. In an email, Fiserv acknowledged that number included credit unions and banks across North America but declined to provide a credit union-only count.
At Community 1st, however, Leu said the credit union had problems with DNA when Open Solutions owned it and the problems worsened under Fiserv.
“Response time was slow and patches [or updates] break more things than they fix. There was a real degradation in service.”
Colin Morrison, chief information officer at the $969 million Kitsap Credit Union in Bremerton, Wash., led a summer conversion of Fiserv's Spectrum core into Symitar's Episys.
“We were a client for 22 years and had reached a point where we had pushed the system too far. There were noticeable deficiencies,” Morrison said. “I expected the wheels to fall off but we had no conversion issues. It went very smoothly.”
However, he acknowledged that Episys was not his first choice; it was DNA. Morrison said when Kitsap looked at it, the owner was still Open Solutions, which had encountered significant cash flow issues, he noted. That tilted Kitsap into Symitar.
“We are very happy with what we have,” he shared.
Read more: Credit unions review UltraData ...
The $350 million Greater Iowa Credit Union in Ames, Iowa, switched to the XP2 core, Lynn Carr, vice president of member service at the cooperative, said. According to Callahan data, XP2 had 189 credit union clients as of June 2013. Greater Iowa had been on D+H's UltraData but felt it had outgrown it, she added.
“We looked at Symitar, we looked at Corelation, and we looked at XP2,” Carr recalled. “We had employees from every department look at the cores and they voted on which we would adopt. XP2 had an almost unanimous vote.”
Are they happy? “On Ultradata it took us two to three weeks to train a new teller. Now, we do it in two or three days,” Carr said. “There's a lot of common sense in our new core, and we believe it will grow with us.”
Pat Ferry, president/CEO of the $350 million Members Heritage Federal Credit Union in Lexington, Ky., has another view of Ultradata, which the institution converted to in 2012. The credit union had been on Fiserv's CUBE, a system that was phased out.
“We looked at a number of systems, from Fiserv, Symitar, Open Solutions,” Ferry said. “The staff chose UltraData.”
The August 2013 purchase of Harland Financial Solutions, which is the owner of UltraData, by Canadian financial tech company Davis + Henderson “has been a blessing,” Ferry added.
“D+H has sunk money into the system and hired a lot of people. They have been very good at working with us on the issues that arose, and there are issues with any core.”
At the $187 million Alcoa Tenn Federal Credit Union in Alcoa, Tenn., President/CEO David Proffitt also praised UltraData, which his institution has used since 1997.
“UltraData is thorough, customer-centered, and they stay on top of their game,” he offered. “In the early 2000s, their service took a dip. When D+H came in, at first, I was skeptical, but it's proven to be an enhancement.”
Still, after 11 years on UltraData, Keith Kearney, president/CEO of the $178 million InvesTex Credit Union in Houston, said he could not wait to get off that system.
“It was inflexible in terms of getting data out of it,” he recalled.
As a result, InvesTex converted to Corelation, one of the newest core systems that now has 28 signed contracts including 13 credit unions, according to Corelation President Theresa Benavidez.
“It's an intelligent design,” Kearney continued. “The reporting is incredibly easy. We can pull out so much data.”
Read more: Corelation and CUSO solutions ...
From a technology point of view, while some credit union IT experts praise Corelation, the speed bump is the company's small size – a worry raised by Kent Lugrand, president/CEO of the $839 million InTouch Credit Union in Plano, Texas. When he did a conversion four years ago, he said he was impressed with Corelation: “They will be the biggest competitor to Fiserv and Symitar. They are embracing new code.”
Nonetheless, Lugrand did not convert to Corelation because InTouch's board was not willing to take a look at a new core system, he said. Instead, the credit union converted to Fiserv's cloud based Portico. That transition gave InTouch, which runs 22 branches in five different states, from Virginia to Nevada, “a robust service bureau solution.”
“We looked at a number of cores and felt that, for us, Portico was the best solution,” Lugrand said.
There are still more choices for core providers and, lately, two CUSOs have been winning deals. The Grand Rapid, Mich.-based CU*Answers announced that it brought on 10 new core customers between October 2013 and September 2014.
Scott Page, an EVP with the CUSO, said what appeals to credit unions that take an ownership position in the CUSO and sign on as core users is that they will have a say in the firm's direction. Every owner, regardless of size, gets the same vote, he added.
“We have members from $1 billion in assets to $5 million,” Page said. “Our core is robust, everybody gets the same version.”
CU*Answers is winning a lot of business, especially among smaller credit unions, Gibbard said.
“They provide an awful lot of function for a small amount of money. It's a good proposition for some credit unions.”
At CUProdigy, there are 12 credit unions on a system that was architected from scratch a few years ago, Craig Peterson, the CUSO's director of client services, said. Six more credit unions are in the implementation queue and are scheduled to be live by June 2015. He also said that in the past two years whenever CUProdigy has gone up against Fiserv and Symitar, “we have not lost an account to them.”
Confused by the contradictory reviews? Experts say cores are not one-size-fits all models.
“Is there one perfect system?” Ferry asked. “In my belief, there is not.”