Small CUs Lean On, Learn From Providers

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Listen to your Information Technology provider.

So say the leaders of three small credit unions working to stay on top of technology in the absence of an internal IT manager.

"I am the IT manager," explained Tootie Holmes, manager at $12-million IEC Federal Credit Union here. "I have to change the toner cartridges as well as hook up the server, trace the wiring, make sure the computers run and that software is loaded properly.

"But I rely on my vendor to make sure I have the best equipment and software the credit union needs to become stronger," she added.

Vendors should be approached with a degree of skepticism, the CUNA Technology Council Executive Committee told The Credit Union Journal (see related story, page 11).

These three leaders agreed: Small credit unions don't have to take their vendors on blind faith.

"I make my vendors SHOW ME that I need what is being sold," Holmes said.

CEOs can put IT vendors to the test by "getting involved," said Leo Hooper, CEO at $25-million Pacific Bay Credit Union in Oakland, Calif.

"I expect 100% up-time, reliability and ease of use," Hooper said. "So, I ask questions when system enhancements are suggested or routine maintenance calls are made. I ask why, I review costs and I use the products. I constantly test the equipment from home, work or when I travel."

Credit Union veteran Vernon Elliott, CEO at $36-million Raincross Credit Union in Riverside, Calif., also asks a lot of questions in order to build "good communication" with IT service providers, he said.

"I also use the feedback and recommendations provided to us for technical improvement and follow-up with our providers for support involving technological advancements within the industry," he said.

Vendor conferences, advisory boards and support staff can be of help, Holmes added.

Building rapport with vendors takes anywhere from two hours per month to two hours per day, the three credit union leaders suggested.

Reaching out to other CEOs is critical to staying on top of IT, they agreed.

"In order to ensure that we are getting the most out of our system, I often talk to other credit union CEOs who are on different systems," said Elliott.

Holmes acknowledged that her weak point is making sure she's getting the most out of her technology.

Although she reports increased "confidence" from networking with other credit union managers, she also relies on her "gut feeling," she said.

"If the technology is what my staff needs to provide the best service to the membership-and there is little or no hassle-then we are getting the most out of our systems," Holmes said.

Hooper knows his systems are working at top speed through "management-by-exception," he said.

"I review the exceptions to determine if our systems can provide few exceptions, and how the exceptions are processed," he explained. "From automated payment systems to day-to-day processes, the members will tell you when something is not working."

CUJ Resources

For info on this story:

* EC FCU at www.iecfcu.com

* Pacific Bay CU at www.pacificbaycu.org

* Raincross CU at www.raincrosscu.org

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