A ‘What!?’ moment
In 2007, Texans Credit Union won a GonzoBanker Award from Cornerstone Advisors for having the best core conversion of the year. That’s no small feat, but it’s all the more remarkable given a surprise development nine months into the project, just three months before going live: The core system vendor switched to a new project manager who had no involvement in the project up to that point.
Upon hearing the news, “My response was, ‘That won’t work. You can’t do that to us,’” recalls Greg Gallant, chief operations officer for the $1.6 billion asset credit union based in Richardson, Texas. “But it happened anyway.”
Fortunately, the new person was up to the task, and Texans didn’t suffer any setbacks. “For us, it was more of an emotionally unsettling issue than a technical one,” Gallant says. “It comes down to how you react. Our staff stepped up to the plate.”
Diverse staff involvement in the conversion was crucial. Texans created a 16-person core team, representing its various business units. In turn, those people worked with employees in their units.
“We wanted to make sure this wasn’t viewed only as a technology project,” Gallant emphasizes.
As the go-live date approached, all employees had to give extra beyond their regular jobs. The credit union bought everybody breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus extra treats throughout the conversion day, going out of its way to show appreciation for the staff’s involvement.
Keeping members well-informed about what to expect was another important step, Gallant says. After that, “Test, test, test,” he advises. In fact, that’s exactly how many mock conversions Texans went through. Two is standard, but Texans paid extra for a third.
“It was worth it,” Gallant says. “In the second one, we still found little things that were inconsistent or that we thought needed to be handled differently.”
Still, the conversion isn’t complete when you flip the switch on the live date. Gallant says conversions have three major milestones after they’re live:
- The first week when everyone is getting used to the system;
- The first month-end period, when statements are issued for the first time; and
- The first end of quarter, when other reports must be created for the first time.
“Then there are year-end processes,” he adds, “such as individual retirement account notices and 1099s. So even in a post-converted credit union, you have to be extra diligent about checking how the system is performing for up to 12 months after the conversion.”
Still, all of the preparation in the world won’t guarantee a problem-free conversion.
“Be realistic,” Gallant advises. “There will be issues and stress points. People will be uncomfortable. But so long as you’re aware of that when you go into the process, it’s easier to get through it.”
Next: Don’t trip over these stumbling blocks