Reports of 'Crash' In Wake of Merger Were Greatly Exaggerated, Says CEO

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PALO ALTO, Calif.-To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of First Tech Federal Credit Union's computer system "crash" have been greatly exaggerated, according to Benson Porter.

Porter is president and CEO of newly minted First Tech FCU, the product of a merger of Addison Avenue FCU, based here, and First Tech CU, Beaverton, Ore., which created a $4.9-billion institution that serves a number of high-profile sponsor companies, including Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, Agilent Technologies and Amazon.

Porter told Credit Union Journal reports in an Oregon newspaper stating First Tech FCU's system "crashed" and 100,000 "customers" could not gain access to their accounts were completely off base.

The far-less-dramatic reality, he said, was that over Memorial Day weekend some 80 different systems from the two formerly separate CUs were brought together, including lending, core processing and all of the operating systems. The operation was a success for the most part, other than the fact the website proved to be too popular for its own good.

"We rebranded the entire organization over that weekend and launched the new website," Porter explained. "Our members wanted to see the new website, which surpassed our expectations. The previous peak was 2,000 members on the site at once, and at launch it was 40,000. It wasn't anything 'wrong' at our end, but we had to reconfigure."

During a 12-hour period on Memorial Day, more than 103,000 people attempted to log in to the site. Porter said the heavy traffic made the site run slow, but it did not crash, as some reported.

"People were not locked out of their accounts," he said. "We migrated 1.5 million accounts with 95 million transaction records, and all channels worked from the first moment. A few members may have had issues such as passwords not being recognized, but nothing systemic. For us the rebrand was the big story and we were pretty excited about it."

Peaking Volumes

The excitement of the management team included the initial traffic loads--until the numbers surpassed the original expectations, Porter continued. He said volumes peaked on that first day as people wanted to check their accounts after the conversion, but even two weeks later the First Tech website has remained "pretty busy" as members "get used to the new functionality."

"If our normal level was 40,000 to 50,000 log-ins per day, now we are seeing 70,000 per day," he reported. "That is high usage for a membership base of 333,000, but somewhat expected given our high-tech membership. We have a higher percentage of members using the digital channels."

The integration of the two CUs was "very much on track and the channels were on track," Porter said. The website was slow for 12 hours while the back-office folks reconfigured the system. The process could have been done faster, but the fix would have involved taking a server offline-which was ruled out because the website already was running slow.

Complaining Via Facebook

First Tech had communicated with its membership for several months prior to the conversion. Porter said certain systems were closed on Saturday and Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend, but members still could transact business. Credit and debit cards were working, as were the ATMs, but all of those were in stand-in mode, meaning the networks allowed transactions but were not processed in real-time. This part of the process was "invisible" to members, Porter said, but at the back end the transactions were accumulated until the systems were brought back online.

On Monday, May 30, the credit union's branches were closed for the holiday, but the website was brought back online. First Tech's phone center also opened on May 30.

When asked about a report that one member complained on Facebook he could not access his account for nine days, Porter said the credit union monitored online complaints and moved quickly to address them, but was unable to independently verify the story.

"We didn't take things down until late Friday and they were back on at 8 p.m. on Monday," he said. "Some members use Quicken to download information from our servers to manage their finances on their desktop, and they had to reconnect to that information with the new website. For some it was easier than others, but a number of members had more browser types that we anticipated. We eventually put our members directly in contact with Intuit support, which worked really well from what I've heard."

Happier Days Now

Given the amount of activity and work involved, Porter said the team at First Tech was, "generally very pleased with how the integration happened. After two weeks we feel really good about getting back to normal operating mode. Our people have put in really long hours to make it as seamless as possible to members, and we're not happy until every member is happy."

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