2023 Tekkie Award for Technologist of the Year: Travis Frey of Dover Federal Credit Union
By John San Filippo
Chief Technology and Security Officer Travis Frey joined Dover, Del.-based Dover Federal Credit in 2016. At that time, the now $665 million, 45,000-member credit union was in disarray, technologically speaking.
Fix What You Have
“When I joined the credit union in 2016, we had an incredibly large number of DORs (documents of resolution) from our friendly neighborhood NCUA examiners,” Frey told Finopotamus. “Our technology was not good. It had become kind of a victim of ‘No one wants to do preventative maintenance because it's not as exciting as bringing on a new, shiny object.’ I was brought on to work through that and to understand the tech stack and position the credit union for growth. My discipline has always been: Fix what you have before you bring on something new.”
In late 2016, Frey discovered that an employee had been using Dropbox as a backup for credit union data for nearly 10 years. There was no malicious intent, but the credit union was still forced to treat it as a data breach. This forced Frey to create and implement a data breach policy on the fly.
“In December of 2016, we sent out 125,000 letters to members and former members across the United States members letting them know their data may have been exposed,” said Frey. He added that the following January was the “darkest time” of his career.
“I told everybody at the credit union, I will be the point person. I will take the lightning,” said Frey. “We had press, we had former members saying things like, ‘Why do you still have my data? I haven't been a member there for eight years.’ I got to go through a data breach incident response and all the stuff you always theorize about. I was living it.”
Although the experience was not pleasant, Frey was equal to the challenge. “Fixing problems like this with technology is probably the thing I'm most passionate about. “I had to pick up the pieces and try to build an understanding of where we were at.” He said, for example that the credit union hadn’t done a data purge in more than 20 years – because no one knew how to do it.
Time for a Change
When Frey arrived at Dover Federal Credit Union, the credit union was running on the Fiserv XP2 core processing platform. Applying his “fix what you have” approach, Frey attempted to fine-tune that core to adapt it to the credit union’s current needs. However, he soon became frustrated.
Noted Frey, “I finally went to the CEO and said, ‘You know what? I've been on Jack Henry’s Symitar since 2004 at prior institutions. I know how to make that system sing, dance, and squeal and do whatever it needs to.”
The credit union’s CEO had also come from a Symitar shop and agreed with Frey assessment. Thus, in January of 2018, Dover Federal Credit Union converted from XP2 to on-premise deployment of Symitar. “That opened up the ability to pick and choose the partnerships that we wanted to align with,” said Frey.
Frey’s long-term plan was to migrate to a hosted version of Symitar – which the credit union did in March of 2023 – but he felt it was important to start with an on-premise deployment.
“I wanted to clean up our data and clean up our processes before we moved it over to the hosted environment,” explained Frey. “I felt it important that my team members have the same level of Symitar knowledge that I do. In a hosted environment, you don't really need that knowledge, but I wanted my team to have it anyway. Now my team knows how to speak the Symitar language when they open tickets.” He added that this allows his employees to discuss issues with Jack Henry employees for efficiently.
And Then Came COVID-19
In late 2019, after reviewing request for proposals (RFPs) from 20 different providers, Dover Federal Credit Union selected Mahalo Banking as its new digital banking provider. “I wanted to have a core-centric model where 90% of the troubleshooting can happen right there, on the core,” said Frey, adding that Mahalo was clearly the best fit for his credit union.
In preparation for the digital banking conversion, which took place in January 2020, Dover Federal Credit Union’s marketing team began creating tutorial videos. “We were trying to get ahead of the phone calls that we knew were going to come in January,” said Frey. “Those how-to videos made us look like absolute geniuses on March 14th, 2020, when we shut down our branches and told our members to go online.” He added that, understanding that many members had never gone online before that, the credit union decided to basically rerun the communication campaign it has used for the digital banking conversion.
“It worked out incredibly well for us,” said Frey, “but we knew COVID meant we also needed to make some operational changes.” For example, testing revealed that the credit union’s VPN might not hold up well to the increased strain caused by increased call center usage.
“We identified fairly quickly during testing that the voice would work, but there's got to be a better solution out there,” noted Frey. “So we actually partnered with Glia [Technologies] in 2020 to help us with some of the phone issues, diminishing the need to have an on on-premise phone system, and really pivoting the phone system to the cloud and allowing Glia to become the omnichannel piece for us.” He added that Glia has been an important partner ever since.
Out of necessity, the credit union enabled employees to work remotely during the pandemic. However, the credit union has continued that program post-COVID. “We were able to continue with that remoteness,” said Frey. “We actually use it as a retention tool.” He added that the credit union often hires spouses of military personnel at Dover Airforce Base, the credit union’s original SEG (select employee group).
“Folks in the military often get deployed elsewhere,” he continued. “We have employees serving our members from 12 different states, plus Puerto Rico.”
Dover FCU Today
Frey said that although digital transformation is important for any credit, equal emphasis should be placed on what he calls “community transformation.”
“We’re reimagining what our branches should look like, how our branches should, what our branch storefronts look like, focusing more on financial education, things like that,” explained Frey. “While that's happening on that side of the business, on the tech side of the business, we're taking a look at our digital storefront and saying, how can we make all these things interact together better?” Frey said that the credit union is working closely with Symitar and Glia, as well a technology consultancy Technology Happens to fine-tune the credit union’s member-facing technology.
We're still prototyping a lot of that,” said Frey, “but so far, it looks like it's going to work out pretty well for us.”
Frey told Finopotamus that it’s important to pay attention to the relationship between people and technology. “The human part of technology becomes a real challenge,” said Frey. “I need to make sure my team understands what's out there.” It’s also important to keep the executive team informed, according to Frey.
“We have a quarterly standing meeting with the executive team in the IT department and we talk through this stuff, talk through blockchain,” noted Frey. “We talk about cloud-based data centers. We talk through emerging cybersecurity threats. We talk through AI (artificial intelligence), ransomware, all those hot topic items.”
Concluded Frey, “We can either put our tinfoil hats on and go to bed scared or we can keep our tinfoil hats off and live a happy life the next day.”