Kawartha Credit Union: Making the switch from a legacy banking system to DNA
Kawartha Credit Union (Kawartha) is Ontario’s seventh largest credit union, serving members from Cornwall to Parry Sound through 22 branches. Founded in 1952, Kawartha has grown to be over 49,000 members strong with more than $1.95 billion in assets.
Kawartha got its start in Peterborough when employees from Canadian General Electric’s maintenance and repair department opened CANGECO credit union. The credit union has evolved significantly over the past 70 years, with multiple mergers and expansion initiatives.
To honour its history, Kawartha maintains their head office in Peterborough – which is home to several multi-national and Canadian corporations in the manufacturing sector.
Kawartha has adapted their technologies to keep pace with changes in the banking industry and to meet member expectations. After 25 years on their previous banking system, Kawartha reached a tipping point in 2016 when it became clear that this outdated technology was inhibiting their ability to provide the flexible, modern banking experiences consumers have come to expect.
When outdated systems inhibit member experience and innovation
Outdated systems stifle innovation, productivity, efficiency and the member experience. Internal resources are drained as many functions must be performed manually – simple things like deposit and withdrawal slips, and account management processes.
This exposes a credit union to security risks and prevents the innovation of competitive products and services that are table stakes in financial services.
The architecture and data modeling capabilities of Kawartha’s legacy system were simply not sophisticated enough; they lacked the API integrations that would address an ever-changing environment and enable innovation.
Kawartha knew they would need a system built for scalability that could support rapid expansion and member growth. They needed more than just a transaction processing system if they were to achieve their objectives to accelerate innovation and compete within Ontario’s financial services landscape.
Although Kawartha knew they needed a new banking system, they were also acutely aware the monumental effort required to implement a new core platform. Ask any credit union who has recently undergone a conversion and they will tell you it is by far one of the most difficult projects to complete because it has such widespread impacts across the organization.
People are inherently resistant to change, and conversions are hard not just because of the technical challenges, but because they test the parameters of human adaptability and cognitive ability. Employees and members alike are affected.
Perhaps one of the most difficult considerations is how to create an inclusive journey that allows people to be educated about and acclimatized to a change of enormous proportions. Employees will have their world turned upside down, and members will struggle to adapt to new ways of banking.
With all of this in mind, Kawartha sought a partner who could bring to the table cutting-edge core banking technology, application experience, and an intrinsic understanding of the challenges their employees and members would face.
After an extensive review and evaluation of core banking systems on the market, in 2018 Kawartha’s partnership with Celero and FISERV was announced. Fiserv’s platform is trusted by financial institutions worldwide, and Celero is a cutting-edge tech company with deep roots in the credit union system. Having implemented over 130 conversions to Fiserv’s DNA core banking platform made Celero the clear choice for Kawartha.
Celero had just over a year to complete the project before Kawartha’s contract expired with their previous banking system provider. A year is a tight timeline for a large-scale project like a conversion.
The challenge was to work against the clock to convert Kawartha to their new banking system and make the transition as smooth as possible for employees and members.
A modern banking system to accelerate innovation
We began our work with Kawartha through a series of meetings that allowed us to understand their core banking needs and the potential barriers we would need to overcome throughout the project.
By truly listening to their unique circumstances, we were able to develop a project plan that would increase efficiencies and account for possible risks, with a strategy to manage and overcome any barriers to success.
Project planning, infrastructure review, sacred database setup and configuration
Armed with a fulsome understanding of their credit union, we worked with Kawartha to review their current infrastructure and make recommendations for hardware and software upgrades prior to the conversion.
To address the human element that is so crucial to a successful conversion, we also provided extensive guidance on how to construct their internal project team who would be managing the day-to-day aspects of the conversion. Making sure they had the right resource compliment with the needed skillsets were the key considerations.
We then worked with Kawartha’s team to complete a current environment assessment that would facilitate the preparation of a sacred database to serve as the foundation for DNA.
The sacred database is key to Celero’s conversion process, allowing us to create a stable foundation and build a shell of the credit union’s DNA system. We can then configure the system and run multiple iterations and test conversions to practice and perfect the process well before the go-live conversion.
The importance of configuration and testing within a sacred database cannot be understated: overlooking or rushing through this step can lead to disaster when it’s time to convert and roll out the new banking system.
Because Celero is so familiar with the configuration process of DNA specifically for credit unions, we’ve learned efficient ways to tighten up and sometimes shorten the setup and testing process. These efficiencies were incredibly important in the Kawartha conversion because of the tight timeline.
Training and testing
After setting up a “sandbox” banking system for test conversions at each step, our focus shifted to preparing Kawartha’s project teams to begin training on the new DNA system.
With core banking conversions, we are always up front with credit unions about the considerable time and human resource commitments needed to complete a conversion.
From day one of the project kick off, Kawartha’s leadership team focused on the people aspect and relied on Celero’s proven process to socialize the new platform across the organization.
For every employee involved in the project, up to 50% of their time was committed to conversion activities. Kawartha chose to establish a dedicated project team, allowing experts from core business units to focus 100% of their time on conversion activities specifically related to their areas.
An internal resource became the training coordinator, working hand-in-hand with Celero’s project team to schedule DNA training for all of Kawartha’s employees.
Training is a key determinant of success in socializing the new platform and getting employee buy-in for the new system. Our approach is to continuously teach new features and functionalities of the new system in phases, giving employees time to apply and practice their learnings with the DNA test environment.
Celero worked with the Kawartha project team to conduct product acceptance testing, creating test accounts and mock members. The team processed transactions against those accounts, ran reports and completed other standard banking tasks. By testing products and configurations, we were able to adjust and add or remove products as required by Kawartha.
Data processing and practical application
Once Kawartha had a fully converted database where their employees could practice various business functions using real data in DNA, they took the lead on end-user training. This included back office employees who would need to familiarize themselves with the platform and conduct business process testing.
Employees were able to see a full presentation of Kawartha’s members and account data, allowing for mock processing of transactions that could be viewed and assessed in the new DNA system.
Production implementation is the final phase of conversion. Celero distributed implementation plans to the Kawartha team, and each team member was assigned tasks.
Once all member information was verified, we completed final testing with live transactions to ensure accuracy. We also set up a standardized approach for overnight batch processing and reporting in the new DNA environment. This allowed Kawartha to identify and address any reporting changes pre- and post-conversion.
To ensure their members were kept up to date, Kawartha developed a comprehensive communications plan to provide members with information about the banking system upgrade early and often.
A year in advance of the conversion, they advised members that the upgrade would be taking place, why this was necessary, and what it would mean for them.
They mailed each member a Roadmap to Conversion booklet that contained guidance on what to expect and what things would be changing. This booklet included a Frequently Asked Questions section, and a checklist to prepare.
Kawartha followed up with a post-conversion checklist for members, and ensured they had staff resources available to answer questions after the conversion was completed.
An operationally transformed credit union primed for growth
The excellent collaboration between the Kawartha and Celero teams allowed the project to be completed on time and on budget, with accurate data transfer to the new system.
Because of the upgrade, Kawartha was able to immediately expand their product offering to include a new non-registered high interest savings account, a dedicated online banking channel for small business and commercial members, and new features within online and mobile banking.
Most importantly, Kawartha was well-positioned for innovation and continued growth.
As Kawartha began its multi-year digital transformation journey to rebuild the technical capabilities of the organization top to bottom, the banking system was a key component of that roadmap. The banking system conversion would provide the core for many subsequent implementations and decisions. Celero brought both DNA and conversion expertise to the table allowing Kawartha to concentrate on making strong and relevant business decisions.Brad Best, Executive Vice President of Information Systems and Corporate Services, Kawartha Credit Union
Kawartha has also benefitted significantly from this project by creating efficiencies and streamlining their overall operations, including the three main contingencies that determine the success of a conversion:
- Credit unions employee preparation
- Early and frequent member communication
- The effectiveness of the partner vendor in getting the work done as planned in a timely fashion
Kawartha was very successful in meeting their conversion goals under the three criteria and Celero was a key partner in this success – both in resources provided and skills as required.
Successes realized and future plans
- The DNA banking system has greatly improved the quality and breadth of member data. New data edits and business rules are providing Kawartha the ability to now populate their data warehouse and provide meaningful business reporting.
- New functionality, access and support for connectivity to other systems is also positioning Kawartha for upcoming changes including payments modernization, API connectivity, open banking and the ability to integrate and innovate using fintech technologies and business support systems
Kawartha Credit Union Today
As with any conversion, the weeks that followed the system upgrade was a significant adjustment period for Kawartha Credit Union and their members. They saw increases in member inquiries as people found their footing with the new system.
As with all of Celero’s credit unions on DNA, Kawartha benefits from our year-end reporting, including detailed calendar items, running jobs, sending files to CRA on their behalf, and arranging for slips to be printed out for members.
We also work with them on release management, helping with at least two DNA upgrades per year. Release updates are pushed out and installed automatically by Celero, and we currently handle 100% of the technical implementation on behalf of Kawartha and all our credit union clients who use DNA.
We continue to support Kawartha post-conversion, and we are happy to report that nearly two years later, Kawartha is well down the path of innovation, with ongoing product improvements and rollouts that are only possible with a sophisticated banking system like DNA.