Would-Be Converts Have IT Glitches

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Two credit unions in the national news because they are seeking to convert to mutual savings bank charters got local headlines last week after experiencing near simultaneous IT problems that denied members access to accounts in some cases.

Just as the $1.4-billion Community Credit Union was undergoing a massive data processing conversion that caused members to flood the credit union's phone system with calls after they experienced problems, nearby $1.2-billion OmniAmerican Credit Union in Fort Worth was scrambling to bring its systems back online after being shutdown for four days. The credit union's online E-Branch was offline as well.

It was still unclear what crashed the system at OmniAmerican, but most systems were recovered within four days. The credit union declined to comment on the specifics of the failure, but members quoted in local media complained of being only able to make limited withdrawals from accounts and that automated payments and ACH transactions were not being made.

OmniAmerican, which is seeking to convert to a mutual savings bank charter, said in a statement that it had "experienced an IT system issue" and that it was not related to any type of security breach.

At Community CU, no systems nor data were ever lost, but when CCU became the first credit union to convert to Fiserv's CBS core processing solution, some members reported having difficulty getting through to the credit union.

Indeed, CCU CEO Gary Base, though he suggested Fiserv would point to his CU as an example of a successful DP transition, noted that DP conversions are never easy.

In his online statement to members about the roll-out of the new system, Base noted, "We worked over a year and a half to troubleshoot the system to prevent any issues in the roll out process. Of course, as it is so often with new technology, we did experience a few kinks in the launch."

But most of those kinks, Base told The Credit Union Journal, had to do with members not understanding some of the changes in the way certain transactions show up on accounts.

"We put out a conversion guide for our members," he explained. "I've been through five conversions in my 35 years in this business, and people don't always read the information you send them, and then when the changes are made, they don't understand those changes."

And when members don't understand these changes-changes in the way they access and read up on their accounts-they start calling. And calling.

"We realize it has been nearly impossible to reach our Contact Center over the past few days." Base wrote in his online statement to members. "Although we have more than 120 telephone representatives diligently answering your calls, the volume of calls has far exceeded our original estimates. Rest assured that our phone system is up and running."

Several members of Community CU who contacted The Credit Union Journal expressed frustration at their inability to make contact with anyone at Community Credit Union.

One member said his checking account could not be reconciled, even though the account was showing the proper balance.

Another member said the only way she was able to reach anyone at the credit union was via e-mail-and that was only because she happened to know a specific employee's e-mail address, and even then, she could not get an answer on a loan for which she wanted to apply.

"We have 220,000 members, and most of those have multiple accounts with us," Base related. "This is a very large, very complex credit union. To convert systems was a massive undertaking that we have been working towards for the last two years. All balances converted perfectly, all systems came up as planned, and the integrity of the system was maintained throughout. That's a successful conversion."

More importantly, Base suggested, the conversion marks a milestone not only for CCU but for all credit unions.

"This is a top-notch system that has never been available to credit unions before," he offered. "We were forced to leave our previous provider because they simply couldn't handle our size. Before, credit unions engaged in member business services only had two choices: Symitar and Open Solutions. Now credit unions have another choice."

Prediction On Future Conversions

And as credit unions become increasingly complex, offering ever more sophisticated products and services, Base predicted more credit unions will find they need to seek out new DP providers as well.

In fact, it's something Base and other credit unions that are active in member business services, have complained about in the past: lack of support for member business services from DP providers.

"There are credit unions that appear to be large in terms of asset size, but maybe they don't have as many members or as many accounts, and maybe for them and for smaller credit unions, the XP Systems and ULTRADATAs works for them," Base advised. "But for credit unions that have a lot of activities, a lot of accounts, they're going to need systems that have to be so much more sophisticated than what other credit unions need. I think there will be a number of credit unions that are going to have to change their DP systems; we're just a little ahead of the curve."

For as excited as Base is about the new system in place, he'd have been a happy man to avoid at least one conversion this year. "DP conversions are expensive. It's a massive undertaking," he noted. "Just one small operator error can be a killer. You can plug in 30 days when the month has 31, and that can create such a problem that you have to go back and recreate the entire database."

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