By W.B. King
Last year, the “Great Resignation,” as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, resulted in a record-breaking 47-plus million Americans ostensibly singing the chorus to David Allan Coe’s 1977 song, “Take This Job and Shove It.” Some left their jobs to capitalize on government benefits, others took early retirement packages and some sought better compensation and benefits. And this pandemic-driven trend continues with roughly 4.4 million people quitting positions in February 2022.
“It is more difficult to recruit and retain talent in the current environment. There is more employee demand for remote working conditions — within our employee base and among potential recruits,” said Coastal Credit Union’s vice president, project office Allen Kannan. “Positions that were previously strictly in-person have become hybrid or more remote due to COVID-19.”
The $4.7 billion Raleigh, N.C.-based credit union supports approximately 304,000 members at 23 branches. Kannan explained that prior to the pandemic turnover took place most frequently in front-line departments, such as at branches and call centers. Over the last two years, however, nonmember-facing positions also realized losses.
“Employees are retiring in greater numbers. There is more reconsideration of work/life balance. Employees are reluctant to return to in-person jobs,” Kannan continued. “The availability of remote work is allowing employees to change jobs without relocating.”
The pandemic proved an important lesson for Coastal Credit Union: Its evolving remote-work strategy was a success. And while the organization didn’t lose but rather gained 50 new employees from March 2020 to April 2022, filling certain tech-facing positions has been challenging.
“We were concerned with the workload in our pipeline and had resource constraint due to internal resources going on medical leave. We needed to augment our internal project management staff and wanted to do so in the most efficient way,” Kannan said. “Several options were considered, and outsourcing was an attractive option as we did not know how long we would need additional resources.”
Faced with the uncertain option of engaging with a local temp agency to fill tech gaps, Kannan instead turned his focus to Coastal CU’s core provider Symitar, a Jack Henry & Associates company, and its SymAdvisor solution.
Launched in 2015, SymAdvisor was initially designed around process improvement and efficiency consulting exclusively, explained Symitar’s Consulting and Custom Solutions Director Brynn Ammon, who assumes the new role of client operations director on May 1, 2022.
“The offering morphed early on based on market demands to provide more hands-on assistance to clients who needed additional help,” Ammon said, adding that since inception the company has served 308 SymAdvisor credit union clients.
Like Coastal Credit Union, the $3 billion Fairfax, Va. -based Apple Federal Credit Union is also a Symitar client. The credit union supports 225,000 members, 22 branches and 500 employees. And while Apple FCU experienced growth over the last two years, including adding a new branch, tech staffing issues were also realized.
“We had a few challenges in IT. Some underperforming team members were offered different roles to help them succeed based on their talents,” said Apple FCU’s director of core banking operations Mayur Udeshi.
“I was handed the reins of the core operations team to revamp the team and elevate the performance and positioning of the department,” he continued. “One of the things that I really needed was subject matter expertise for Symitar on the team as we had lost one of our top performing engineers.”
With a “pile of work” to do, Udeshi was in desperate need of an engineer and didn’t have time to deal with time constraints associated with onboarding.
“A SymAdvisor seemed like the most logical solution to bring on to help with immediate Symitar knowledge without spending a long time involved in getting them up to speed with our implementation because of their established knowledge of the product,” he said.
Ammon explained that credit unions usually engage with SymAdvisor for traditional efficiency and process review consulting engagements, targeted analysis engagements, insights into best practices to set up commercial services and refreshing collections queueing systems.
“SymAdvisor, as a fully augmented employee with a credit union, just has really picked up steam within the last few years. For augmentation, credit unions come to us for technical project management expertise – to help them drive projects while being able to provide subject matter expertise on the core system and credit unions in general,” Ammon said. “Additionally, credit unions have started coming to us for general expertise in running their day-to-day core application and even processing some day-to-day transactions like ACH and share drafts.”
Often a Seamless Transition
In mid-May 2020, Coastal CU engaged Symitar and by the end of the following month a service contract was signed, explained Kannan.
“Our SymAdvisor was able to begin work in early July. We had a resource to mentor the SymAdvisor on our internal project processes and other Coastal-specific products/processes, and with this method she was able to work fairly independently within a month’s time,” he continued. “To ensure that projects overseen by the SymAdvisor were on track, we had weekly meetings to work through any concerns and or issues that might arise.”
Ammon noted that usually after a few discovery calls with a client, a contract and specialized statement of work is delivered for the credit union to approve. A SymAdvisor is then assigned and the “ongoing cadence” for the engagement is planned.
“Some engagements the SymAdvisor will meet with the client every day, some will meet every few days, some weekly, or biweekly. The SymAdvisor and client will establish the best approach for tracking projects. All those details are discussed, and expectations are set for that specific client with that specific SymAdvisor,” Ammon said. “Once the SymAdvisor is working with the credit union, the level of involvement can also vary. The SymAdvisor can work 100% autonomously or can work together with the credit union’s staff, thereby providing training at the same time.”
To Ammon’s point, every SymAdvisor contract is different. For Coastal CU, the engagement was designed to augment the project management staff and related projects – both existing and forecasted.
“We supplied the SymAdvisor with VPN access to our network, a virtual desktop, Coastal email address and access to internal systems needed for work on the project,” Kannan continued. “This was designed in such a way, that even our internal staff didn’t realize that she was not a Coastal employee.”
No Need to Micro-Manage
Among the benefits of using SymAdvisor with a Jack Henry-centric project is the advisors ability to advocate for the credit union, noted Kannan.
“Having internal Jack Henry knowledge has allowed her [the SymAdvisor] to cut through the red tape much quicker than we would be able to do ourselves,” Kannan said. “It has also allowed for a better, more effective escalation path when working with Jack Henry…the added knowledge and experience that they bring to the table.”
For Apple FCU, contract signing to going live took roughly one month. This process included training to get the SymAdvisor “up-to-speed” on the credit union’s processes, explained Udeshi. He advised against “micro-managing every task and detail” as this isn’t the best way to utilize the partnership.
“The key to success is to understand that it will take some time and effort to make the engagement successful. The mindset needs to be positive and reaffirming," he continued. “We’ve used the SymAdvisor in a variety of different ways. From troubleshooting daily issues to working on major initiatives to performing a very broad assessment of how we were using Symitar as an organization, we were very fortunate to have a SymAdvisor that was willing to work in any capacity required, to make the engagement successful.”
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