John San Filippo
Core Conversions vs. COVID-19
By John San Filippo
When the ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent in mid-March, core processors across the industry faced dual challenges. First, like many other companies, they had to transition their employees to a fully remote workforce. Then, with core conversions looming, they had to figure out how to complete these conversions virtually. By most accounts, the industry responded well to this challenge.
“Our entire infrastructure is cloud-based, so transitioning employees was as easy as sending them home with their laptops,” said Amber Harsin, CEO of core processing CUSO (credit union service organization) Prodigy. “It only took a day or two to get settled in.”
“We already had the infrastructure in place to move to a totally remote work environment,” echoed Rob Landis, COO for core processor Corelation.
According to Greg Flach, director of Professional Services for Fiserv, the company’s DNA group was already 100% remote. “We realized that we could leverage what we do every day to complete these conversions,” said Flach. “We were built for this.”
“After we got our own employees working remotely, we quickly shifted to what we need to do for our converting clients,” said Pete Major, director of Episys Core Implementations for core processor Symitar. According to Major, Symitar reached out to executives at each converting credit union to make sure the company understood the unique needs of each client.
“We worked with each credit union to learn what they’re most comfortable with,” said Fiserv’s Flach. He knew, for example, that the conversion would rely a lot on teleconferencing and video conferencing, but wanted to use tools the client was comfortable using.
“We typically use MS Teams internally, but if a client was more comfortable with, for example, WebEx or GoToMeeting, we were more than happy to accommodate that,” said Flach. “And we’re familiar enough with all of these that we were able to offer our clients best practices for virtual meetings using their chosen tool.”
Prodigy’s Harsin added that the CUSO knew video would be important, so the organization sent webcams to any credit union employees who needed them. “That allowed us to set up a virtual war room that closely simulated an in-person one,” she said.
In many cases, companies had to remain flexible in how they delivered training. According to Symitar’s Major, some credit union employees were initially sheltered in place with no direct access to credit union resources. “We had to initially train some employees using their mobile devices, then circle back later for follow-up,” said Major.
Whether a vendor, a CUSO or a credit union, the key to success during the pandemic has been communication. “We erred on the side of over-communication,” said Corelation’s Landis. “We almost doubled the number of touchpoints so that there was no crack or crevice for an issue to slip into.”
“You can never underestimate the amount of communication needed,” echoed Fiserv’s Flach.
All processors interviewed for this article kept communication lines open and monitored throughout the day, adjusting for time zone differences as necessary. Some aspects of a remote conversion proved to be superior to a traditional, in-person conversion. For example, the elimination of travel freed up considerable time for core processor employees. Processors varied in how they used that time.
“No travel time meant greater accessibility by our clients to our subject matters experts,” said Fiserv’s Flach. He added that the company also offered smaller, more concise training classes.
Symitar also took advantage of this extra time. “We repurposed that travel time for additional training and testing with the credit union,” said Symitar’s Major.
Prodigy’s Harsin also reported an increase in overall efficiency. “The remote conversion forced us to use a very defined path for any and all issues,” said Harsin. She noted that in a live conversion, issues can come from anywhere, for example, a conversation in the lunchroom. In the remote setting, issues all came in the same way. “This made is much easier for us to triage, prioritize and reprioritize issues as the situation changed,” she added.
When asked if core conversions will ever be run the same again, the consensus was no. “We were able to do more activities remotely than I ever thought possible,” said Fiserv’s Flach. “Going forward post-pandemic, our standard will be a blend of remote and in-person.”
Corelation’s Landis said the manner in which core conversions are executed should be driven by client need. “We’re very confident in our ability to deliver a remote conversion and are sure to leverage more virtual events in the future,” said Landis. “But ultimately we’ll go with whatever the client deems appropriate.”
Harsin explained that Prodigy’s approach includes having a conversation with each credit union to see “what they’re comfortable with.”. The elimination of that extra conversion expense, she added, “could be a game changer, especially for smaller credit unions.”