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Optimal platform integration helps create a seamless member experience.

There are bells. There are whistles. And then there's integration-the key feature in any system for automating member financial services. The better the integration, the more any automated platform can work harmoniously with all of the pieces and programs necessary to creating a seamless member experience. Your internal staff in a branch or your member online will never have to leave the system to verify identity, order forms, request a new credit card or anything else necessary to set up a new account or process a loan. All of these various programs can be accessed from within the system-saving time and money.

In addition, if your system is designed to make integration easy, you won't be forced to use only those programs or services that are compatible with the system or are provided by a certain vendor. You will be able to integrate your current forms provider, ID verification program, card-ordering service and any other ancillary products into the platform. You can continue to use your preferred vendors in each of these instances. The system also can adapt to your future needs and growth because it supports a much wider menu of options when it comes to providers, programs and add-on features. If at a later date you want to integrate some new software with the system-an e-signature or a new fraud-protection feature, for example-you can do so much more easily.

Ultimately, the better the integration, the less manual steps in the process, the greater the efficiency- in terms of reduced staff time and human error as well as increased speed. This translates to faster approval and processing times, and members will be able to access their accounts and funds more quickly.

But how to evaluate and compare the integration capabilities of different systems? Begin your due diligence with several key questions.

One of the first questions, you might want to ask a potential vendor is, "How many interfaces with different third-party systems have you handled?" Is the system designed to integrate with only a few vendors? Do they integrate with several? Have they set up interfaces with numerous core processors and vendors? If the system only can be integrated with your current core processor, you may end up boxed into a corner down the road. You will be forced to use your current core processor forever by a cumbersome system that makes integration with any other core next to impossible. On the other hand, a system that excels in integration can be set up to work with multiple core processors. Ideally, you want to work with a system that can grow and adapt with you into the future.

What about other possible software programs? Another key question might be, "Can the system be integrated with some of my current and preferred software programs to order forms, verify identity or check a credit report? Or will I be forced to choose from only a short list of providers?"

And finally, ask the money question: "What kinds of fees are involved with integration now or in the future?" Some systems can be set up to integrate with various programs, but you will be charged a huge fee to do so. If a system is built on open standards, it was designed to integrate data from various vendor programs into a broad financial services platform.

Beyond the issue of integration, if your system connects new member and account- opening functions with loan processing in one platform, you will be in the best possible position to optimize cross-sales opportunities. Using one platform for both new accounts and lending is essential to creating a culture that promotes cross sales to help you maximize the wallet share of each member.

For some credit unions, the idea of automating both the membership application process, new accounts, deposits and lending may seem daunting all at once. However, with some planning, you can easily handle the deployment in steps, sequenced over several months or even a year or more. You can begin by automating membership applications and new deposits first and add on loan processing down the road or vice versa.

Recent research continues to point to growing consumer interest in greater convenience and flexibility in services along with a high degree of personal attention. Choosing the best system to automate member financial services-one that offers optimum integration in one platform-can help you achieve all of this and more.

Branwyn Rhodes is the director of communications for MeridianLink Inc. She can be reached at 714-708-6950 ext. 2475 or
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Title Annotation:OPINION
Author:Rhodes, Branwyn
Publication:Credit Union Times
Date:Nov 4, 2009
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