By Roy Urrico
COVID-19 has had an immediate, and maybe permanent, impact on how credit unions engage members. A Maryland credit union serving the educational community was able to respond with a well-timed digital overhaul to meet account holder needs.
U.K.-based financial technology company Finastra, which has its U.S. headquarters in Lake Mary, Fla., announced the $1.2 billion Greenbelt, Md.-based Educational Systems Federal Credit Union (ESFCU), went live with Finastra’s Fusion Digital Banking (formerly Malauzai) in May 2020 bringing an improved digital experience to its 85,000 members.
Educational Systems FCU needed to provide its members with a digital experience that rivaled the in-branch experience in terms of ease of use and functionality,” Chris Conway, president/CEO of ESFCU, said. “We were attracted to Fusion Digital Banking because it provided a robust digital solution and integrated well with other technology systems we use, including the new core (Corelation’s KeyStone) we will be moving to later this year.”
Due to COVID-19, ESFCU has additional pressure on its shoulders because of the disruption in the education community, which the credit union serves. The uncertainty surrounding schools heading into the fall, and with most of the school systems they serve going virtual, placed extra pressure on ESFCU to assure no interruption and an improved digital experience for its members. Said Conway, “For people that work in education they don't want to be driving into a branch for their own safety.”
The Fusion Digital Banking, according to Finastra, provides a consistent, omnichannel experience for the credit union’s members, regardless of the digital device used. Its open platform alos accelerates collaboration and innovation. “Now, more than ever, account holders require a robust digital experience from their financial institution,” Chris Zingo, executive vice president of Americas field operations, Finastra, said. “We were able to build out integration with their existing core to help bridge the gap while they undergo this significant technology transformation, so members can benefit from a consistent digital experience throughout the migration.”
Conway explained that although the new digital platform went live in May, it was over a year in the making. “All of us have been hearing about digital-first strategies and omnichannel, but there aren't that many companies out there really delivering on that promise. Fusion Digital Banking is one of the few leading the way.”
Conway added, “When we looked at some other platforms, it was ‘we have a browser-based system’ and ‘we have an app,’ they really were two different experiences.” The ESFCU CEO acknowledged, the credit union’s long-term technology strategy is to provide a seamless experience for its members whether transferring money between accounts or other financial institutions, applying for a mortgage or a loan, opening an account, or paying bills. “All of these features are expected in today's financial environment. We really wanted to present a solution where the member could access all those points through one platform.”
“Everybody recognizes the world is going digital and digital is more about using your phone to access financial services than it is a computer desktop. With what has happened in 2020, we are all going more virtual, so the timing could not be better,” Conway said.
The open cloud-based Fusion Digital Banking system integrates with virtually any core available in the market. The system also permits access to a large ecosystem of third-party fintech partners for additional services and innovations such as Fort Wayne, Ind.-based Allied Payment Network, which ESFCU selected for its account-to-account (A2A) and peer-to-peer (P2P) transfers.
Nikki Grove, director, account management, at Finastra, “We're really excited about bringing to market a highly configurable platform that allows our partner financial institutions to configure and tailor an experience that matches their brand and market, and how they engage with their end users.”
Converting to a new digital system is scary enough, but completing it during a lockdown made it even more complicated. Conway described how the conversion teams from the credit union and Finastra adapted to the circumstances. Normally a traditional conversion process would entail travel and meetings with system engineers to work out the details of the configuration process and design the experience for the credit union members. Complicating the conversion even further for the credit union was having four different locations participating in those virtual meetings while social distancing. “We did all of that virtually with Finastra, but we didn't miss a beat.”
Grove explained how Finastra has helped financial institutions respond during the COVID-19 challenges. “From a volume perspective, we are certainly seeing the number of transactions growing pretty rapidly right now. We are all trying to figure out a way to just create new habits and adapt to the situation.” Grove noted how ESFCU encouraged some of its members to adopt digital banking. “Before it might've been a nice to have, ‘maybe I will think about it.’ Now, it is ‘how are we going to manage our financial relationship and be able to move money?’ We're definitely seeing some higher traffic using the platform.”
Another challenge facing ESFCU was making sure members did not experience any disruption in service during the digital conversion. “A hard stop on an old system to a new system can be somewhat disruptive to their personal lives, especially in a pandemic,” Conway said. The credit union phased in the new digital structure, running it in parallel with the old system and transferring members in waves over a four-week period. “Then once everybody migrated over, we unplugged the old system and we were fine.”
Another tangible result of the new digital system should come in the way the Maryland CU develops new business. In the past, the credit union would participate in person at back-to-school events, and new educator and employee orientations. “All of that is going virtual,” Conway said. So now ESFCU participates in Zoom meetings to talk to potential members. Conway added, “(Staff) can walk them through how to self-service, open their account, fund their account, sign up for e-statements, things like that.”
Grove also described FusionFabric.cloud, a scalable, open and collaborative development platform built by Finastra. For fintechs, it has the ability to distribute and easily integrate apps to the more than 9,000 financial institutions that use Finastra solutions. “This is a platform open to all developers. We have the portal available to access and take a look at it.” That is how the Allied Payment Network connected to Finastra’s Fusion Digital Banking at ESFCU. “It accelerates the introduction of some new great ideas.”