Customer data integration helps credit union personalize customer experience

Vancouver City Savings Credit Union has tapped Initiate System's master data management hub to give workers a 360-degree view of customer data.

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Transforming Vancouver City Savings Credit Union, also called Vancity, from an account-centric organization to a customer-centric one is a top priority for Rob Church, director of architecture and integration at Inventure Solutions, Vancity's IT arm.

The goal, Church said, is to give Vancity's tellers and call center reps easy access to complete, timely customer data to personalize each customer experience. To achieve that, however, will require a change in both technology and attitude, he said.

"People sometimes want to slap me when I say this, but the technology is the easy part."
Rob Church
director of architecture and integrationInventure Solutions, Vancity
"It's all about embracing your customer," Church said. "We've found our users are wrestling a lot with the technology and not spending enough time with the customers, and probably they don't have enough information to provide the right kind of service or advice to our membership."

The challenge is a particularly difficult one at Vancity, Canada's largest credit union, with more than $14 billion in assets, 59 branches in the Vancouver area, and 400,000 customers. Most of its multiple business lines – including mortgage, consumer and credit card banking -- collect customer data in different systems, one a green-screen system running on Unix that is more than 30 years old, others that are cutting-edge, Web 2.0-style applications.

Vancity's initial attempt at consolidating customer data from those disparate systems in a data warehouse proved ineffective, Church said. The warehouse wasn't updated as frequently as necessary to improve customer service effectively, and the data flowed only one way – into the data warehouse.

"Data warehousing is generally some numbers of days behind in terms of how new the data is," Church said. "In some cases, that's fine. But in other cases, when you're trying to provide different types of services to your customers, you want to see the latest [data]."

Treating the customer as an individual, not just a number

So in September 2007, Vancity put out an RFP for a master data management (MDM) system for customer data. Church said the organization was looking for an MDM hub that was flexible enough to interact with Vancity's disparate systems and would help Vancity employees adapt to a more customer-centric way of operating.

"People sometimes want to slap me when I say this, but the technology is the easy part," Church said. "Changing the people and the way that the business processes operate really is the difficult part."

When a customer comes into a Vancity branch or calls the credit union's call center, for example, they are now identified by account number, he said. But many customers have multiple accounts. Vancity wants tellers and call center reps to interact with its customers as people, not just as account numbers.

"So the way we initially address our customers has to change and has to change dramatically," Church said. "And we want to have technology stop being the limiting factor."

A year after the RFP, and after evaluating a handful of vendors, Vancity decided to tap Initiate Systems Inc.'s MDM hub for the job. Church said the decision to go with Initiate, which Gartner ranked as a visionary in its latest MDM for customer data Magic Quadrant report, came down to two main factors in addition to its ability to provide a 360-degree view of the customer.

First, Initiate's MDM platform is based on a service-oriented architecture (SOA), and changes to its services that will connect to Vancity's data sources can be made fairly easily. This factor was all the more important to Vancity, Church said, because of its many disparate systems, some of which may be around for years longer, others that could soon be retired.

The other influencing factor was Initiate's data stewardship capabilities. "They've got a number of data stewardship tools that are very, very usable, which reduced a lot of training," he said. "And more important that that, the stewardship tools really allowed us to change our business processes."

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Initiate's data stewardship tools will help Vancity's staff adapt to Canada's changing privacy regulations, for example, and the type of customer data that can and cannot be collected and shared, Church said.

"The system needs to protect itself and be smart around the data that it's collecting," he said, "and we found that the Initiate folks had really put together some nice tools that our stewards didn't have to have a tremendous amount of technical knowledge [ to use]."

MDM helps Vancity workers stop 'wrestling' with technology

Having selected Chicago-based Initiate just over a month ago, Vancity is in the process of laying the groundwork for a June 2009 deployment that will include Initiate Consumer for quick customer identification, Initiate Organization to help determine customer profitability, and Initiate Householding, which will link customer data by company name and member name.

Church said Vancity is also determining which customer data to collect in the Initiate MDM hub and which data to keep in its core systems. For example, it might be easier to leave a customer's account balance information in the core banking system rather than consolidate in an MDM hub.

"In this example, let me keep the account balance in my banking system for a couple reasons: It's really easy to get to my banking system, and it's really fast, so I can just go ask it at any time what the balance is," Church said.

"But in the cases where you don't have quick and ready access, like our credit card system, I may just get the account balances every night and put them into the hub. Again, it's about changing the behavior of our users and how they interact with our customers."

When complete, the Initiate MDM hub will collect customer data from seven of Vancity's 12+ disparate data sources, cleanse it, consolidate it, then make customer profiles available for Vancity employees through a homegrown customer resource management (CRM) application. Church said that the application will also be able to access data not in the hub -- account balances, for example -- giving Vancity workers a 360-degree view of the customer.

"We want to be able to spend more time with our customers providing advice, gaining their trust and offering services that are really meaningful to them," Church said. "This [will allow] them to stop wrestling with the technology and have accurate information with which to make good business decisions, and [it will] improve the way we interact with our customers."

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