Ninety percent of Stanford Federal Credit Union's interactions with its members take place by computers and mobile devices, allowing 20% of its employees to work from outside the office. New unified communications and core systems are bringing efficiencies to the way the staff serves the credit union's members across all these channels.

The $1.4 billion-asset credit union was created to serve the Stanford community in Silicon Valley — the university, hospital system, the Stanford linear accelerator and related businesses around Palo Alto. "It's very high-tech, they're very highly educated members with high net worths and high credit scores," says Jim Phillips, chief information officer. "They don't pay a lot of fees, they don't tend to take out loans. They prefer to communicate over email and they prefer to be proactive and do their own transactions if you let them." (The credit union maintains its loan ratios with investments and with participations in business loans.)

The credit union does have a couple of branches located on the university to serve the student population, as well as a branch in downtown Palo Alto and another in Stanford Hospital, but branch transaction volumes are low. "Most of our membership does everything online, on mobile or with debit or credit cards," Phillips says. "It's an interesting group because they prefer to be that way; it's not us pushing them.

"They're very brainy and they'll let us know if they don't like something," Phillips notes.

SFCU recently completed a core conversion and went live on Open Solutions last Monday. "When I came on board here in February 2011, we needed to update everything in our environment, all the infrastructure from the ground up," Phillips says. The previous core system was being "sunset" by a company that had two customers, including SFCU.

Phillips began analyzing all IT expenses and realized that the credit union's telecom expenses were high for its size. "We're a very lean organization, we have about 130 employees full time," Phillips says. "But we didn't have the infrastructure in place to give our teams a better way of working."

The IT team upgraded the network, replaced all the circuits, adopted an MPLS network (Multiprotocol Label Switching, a type of network that moves data efficiently), and implemented voice over IP. Phillips looked at several unified communications systems before selecting Cisco's. "The good thing about this solution is it ties in with so many other areas of our environment," he says. For instance, the Cisco system uses the credit union's existing Microsoft Active Directory to show employees' availability over Cisco's Jabber instant messenger client — whether or not they're on the phone, in the building, at a remote location or on a mobile device.

"When our members do call us, they want help right now," Phillips says. "We can reach our experts and connect them with any member question in real time. Everybody's always on the hook and we're always available." A skills-based routing list suggests teams of experts for product and service features. Calls can be forwarded to any cell phone, home number or office number.

The credit union has enabled wireless access points throughout its buildings that tie into the unified communications system, so that it could know physically where each employee is. "We're not using that feature, but we can easily do it," Phillips says.

SFCU is using Cisco videoconferencing with touch-screen boards around the company to communicate with vendors in real time.

The credit union plans to roll out video chat in its call center to provide support for members. It uses videoconferencing to communicate among its four branches and corporate site, for branch manager and operational team meetings. The virtual call center team also meets regularly via video.

By replacing the PBX boxes and other older telecom infrastructure with voice over IP and unified communications, the credit union is saving about 60% in ongoing telephony costs, Phillips says.

A frequently cited concern about unified communications is the need to train staff on new voice, email, IM and other systems. In SFCU's case, IT staff had four days of training on the new systems, staff training was far shorter. "People just picked it up quickly," Phillips says. "Our staff is relatively young, so they were raised on IM, video and Skype. They're familiar with that type of interaction already, so it was a really quick training for them."

The technology staff is currently building integrations between the Cisco platform and the Open Solutions core. "We've been building in some screen pops, so when calls come in, we can bring up the member profile," Phillips says. "That's important to us because it saves so much time on data entry. You don't have to ask for the person's member number again." Writing such a program for Open Solutions is fairly easy because of the development tools the company provides, Phillips says.

Phillips next plans to turn his developers to creating new programs for the core system that the credit union can both use internally and sell to others on Open Solutions' DNAappstore. "We've got mobile applications for businesses we'd like to deploy," he says. A mobile wallet is in the works that would allow members to split payments, for instance, paying $20 of a $50 bill from a checking account and $30 from a Visa credit card. "We're going to make these apps available to all of Open Solutions' customers to hopefully make money on them," Phillips says. "I'd like not to be a cost center forever."