SEATTLE – Telephones aren't a thing of the past at Boeing Employees Credit Union. The $4 billion, 300,000-member CU is investing in a sophisticated new voice-recognition system that will allow members access to a broad range of lending services anytime, anywhere, from any phone. It's actually an upgrade of the credit union's existing TALIS Automated Voice Lending System from Vysym Corp. of Irvine, Calif., and the CU decided to go with it after extensive studying of the issue through its own member focus groups and across the industry, said Gary Fee, BECU's director of consumer lending. "Members just often feel much better about speaking rather than trying to touch in information," Fee said. BECU expects to go live with the new system this fall, at the same time it launches its consumer loan-origination solution from Louisiana-based APPRO Systems Inc., and, last but not least, its new core processing system from Open Solutions Inc. of Glastonbury, Conn. All consumer loans except mortgages will be available on the new loan system, and members and BECU itself will reap the benefits, the big CU said. "Each day, the pressures to cut operating costs while simultaneously increasing loan volume continue to intensify," Fee said. "Since we can process these loans at a fraction of the cost of our staffed call center, and the telephone offers universal access to all of our members, we're dedicated to maximizing this service delivery channel," he said. According to Vysym spokeswoman Samn Nadel, "Members will be able to obtain loan and credit product information, including lending policies, repayment amounts, rates, fees and product benefits . as well as to complete applications for all types of loan products, and receive instant, same-call approvals based on BECU-specified credit parameters." The average call will take four to six minutes from start to finish, Nadel said. So why invest in something as "old fashioned" as telephone technology? Because that's where a lot of the members are. "Despite the growing interest in gigabits and megasquirts, the latest figures from . the U.S. Census Bureau . and others suggest the Internet's real value is likely still years away," Vysym Corp. said in a white paper on remote lending services delivery. "More than half the economic market is still not reachable through the Internet. . Further, while half of all households have PC's, those on the lower end of the economic scale, and coincidentally those most likely in need of loans, are least likely to have computers," the report said. And, according to Fee, the BECU consumer lending director: "In some cases, members are just more comfortable calling in rather than doing these things on the Internet. "Security concerns are still a part of that, although that problem is pretty well locked down, but there's still a segment of the population that's just more comfortable on the phone." CHANNELING THE COMFORT ZONE And channeling the members' comfort zones is, after all, what it's all about. "Our whole philosophy is that, because we don't have a huge branch infrastructure, the majority of our members contact us in some remote channel, so the more robust we can make those systems, the more member-friendly we are and the more we can be of service to them," Fee said. The flexibility extends through the new voice-recognition system, allowing members to use voice-recognition or touch-tone options or to ask for a call back if the applicant encounters problems that require human assistance. That can help, for instance, when members have language barriers to overcome. "In Seattle, of course, we have large Hispanic and Asian populations, and we knew we would have voice-recognition issues with that, so we wanted to make sure callers have all the options they need," Fee said. The new system also will allow the credit union a broad view of the member's relationship with the credit union, Nadel said. "Built-in TALIS flexibilities allow virtually any kind of data to be accepted from any source . in a credit union loan transaction, all data of a member is involved, including existing deposit and loan accounts, bureau reports and application data such as income and employer," the Vysym spokeswoman said. Of course, the simplicity of such a system belies its sophistication: "As to data interfaces, formatting and using proper transport communications protocols is fairly straightforward, but data-mapping to multiple systems adds complexities in timing and keeping data elements uniquely identified as required by each interface system," Nadel said. "Most important is translating all data and system processes into effective human interfaces. "This assures that call flows are streamlined, application questions are pertinent and necessary, and the loan application process is simple and swift for borrowers, with a minimum cost for lenders," Nadel said. She said the system can be hosted offsite as an ASP or licensed for site installation as a turnkey package. At BECU, the hardware investment "was very minimal," Fee said. "It just sits on a server in-house and talks to our host system. That was the only hardware issue. "There's been a lot of debate about ROI, but it was a very small investment in terms of the whole." BECU expects that of about 10,000 consumer loans a month, about a thousand of them will be through voice recognition, about 1,000 over the Web and the rest through the call center and by mail (13 or 14 percent), Fee said. Only about 300 or 400 a month are being done using the existing Vysym telephone loan system, "but we think that the fact that a lot of our members are contacting us by phone after hours means that we can get to at least 1,000 a month on the new voice-recognition channel," Fee said. At the core of all this innovation, of course, is the core processing system, and Fee said going with an open system provider like OSI "opened a lot of options for us." "It's very remarkable and it hasn't been difficult," Fee said of his credit union's technological transformation. "With open connectivity like this, we can go out and look at a Corillian (the Internet banking provider) or an APPRO or a Vysym product, bring it in, plug it in, and if it doesn't work, simply unplug it and try something else," Fee said. "It's made managing the business side of this a lot easier, because we can react to the market a lot more easily now. We just decide the solution we need, bring in the best of breed, and plug it in." -


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