By Roy Urrico
In December 2017, Circle, Mont.-based McCone County Federal Credit Union responded to the news that nearby Fallon County Federal Credit Union lost key personnel and needed help to manage operations. After MCFCU stepped in to manage FCFCU, they took things further and merged.
“After working with Fallon County FCU and helping it improve internal processes, McCone decided to initiate a merger, since [McCone] has always been growth minded and felt that this move would help it better serve communities across Montana,” said Emily Guldborg, manager and CEO of what is now known as Grasslands Federal Credit Union.
The official coupling took place on October 1, 2018, after the NCUA (in August 2018) and the Fallon County FCU membership (in September 2018) approved the merger; but operationally, the merger did not take place until April 1, 2019. That is when they completed converting everything onto over its core processing system, hosted by the Farmington Hills, Mich.-based CUSO Member Driven Technologies (MDT). The final pieces featured a credit union name change and rebrand to Grasslands Federal Credit Union (completed in November 2019), and the opening of its first Grasslands branch location in Baker, Mont.
With the merger completed, the $91.5 million Circle, Mont.-based Grasslands FCU said it is now well-poised to better serve members across the state. Noted Guldborg, “We now have access to more resources, enabling the credit union to more easily and seamlessly scale. Grasslands FCU has experienced a 30% growth in deposits since the merger and it has plans to expand its lending portfolio.”
CUSO Shepherds the Merger Process
MDT, which hosts the Episys core platform from Monett, Mo.-based Symitar, helped with the merger, keeping the timeline on track and ensuring everything went as smoothly as possible. MDT support areas in a full database merger process includes technical, network services, card and business analyst support, as well as Microsoft Exchange migration.
For its part, Dan Schneider, MDT vice president of project management and implementations, pointed out the CUSO shepherded the complicated merger process, including providing a private cloud alternative for core processing and IT needs throughout. “MDT provides our clients with the Symitar core platform and other solutions via a cloud-based (data center hosted) environment,” Schneider said.
MDT obtained deconversion data from Fallon County FCU and converted it into the Symitar core. Along with this effort, MDT integrated all of the FCFCU branches into the MDT data centers. MDT’s merger services included building the account, name, share, loan, transfer, card, and IRS records in a designated merger database, as well as the funding of the accounts.
Schneider described the MDT role in a merger process: “The credit union is responsible for building any additional records. MDT will work with the credit union to provide balancing reports and merge the account data from the merger database into the credit union’s live Episys database.” In addition, MDT assigns resources to assist the credit union in mapping the de-converting processor data and assists the credit union in providing data maps into Symitar.
Beyond that the credit union is accountable for conducting thorough database verification, with MDT coordinating the verification efforts, noted Schneider. MDT also provides an analysis of third-party vendor relationships, including file transfer methods, cross reference files, data files, single sign-on options and new connections.
Schneider pointed out MDT’s service-first, hybrid approach to outsourcing enables credit unions to boost efficiencies and security and reduce costs while maintaining a high level of control. In addition to hosting the Symitar Episys platform, MDT also hosts dozens of seamlessly integrated solutions to run the entire institution, including digital banking, payments, lending, security, continuity and regulatory services. “Built by credit unions for credit unions, MDT takes care of technology so clients can forge stronger relationships with their members.”
Staying Open During Pandemic
Regarding COVID-19, Grasslands FCU has not experienced the same disruption as other financial institutions during the pandemic. Guldborg said, “In eastern Montana, we have not been as impacted as other credit unions in the state and nation. Credit union leadership made every effort to keep our doors open throughout this time in order to best serve the needs and desires of our members and employees.”
While the credit union rotated its staffing on a split schedule for a few weeks, it ultimately resumed a normal schedule by mid-April 2020 with lobbies fully open. Guldborg said, “By requesting members and staff to respect government guidelines and keep transaction times and distancing limited, we never had to lock our doors.”
Guldborg emphasized physical branches exist for a reason and taking away that interaction is a hardship for both members and employees. “While many members do use digital channels to transact with us, there are many more that we need to have face-to-face conversations with because of the complexity of their request.” Guldborg suggested the in-person interaction provides assurance to many that the credit union is still strong and willing to step in and help them through a trying time. “We didn’t want to be one of the reasons that small town Main Street looked shuttered and empty.”