Remote control | ABA bank journal
By Julie Knudson
VSOre conversions are difficult under the best of circumstances, requiring extensive planning and well-designed processes to ensure everything runs smoothly. Add in a pandemic and the travel restrictions, social distancing measures and remote working arrangements that come with it, and converting a basic system takes on a new level of complexity. But delaying such a project is not always possible or even preferable. As COVID-19 raged, some banks continued with their basic conversion plans and learned surprising and valuable lessons along the way.
Lay the foundation
The basis for a successful base conversion takes shape well in advance of the go-live date. These early preparation activities are particularly important when bank staff and service provider teams have limited on-site access. Lori Tremonti, vice president of implementation and professional services at Fiserv, said the implementation team was a largely remote group before the pandemic and this experience has proven to be useful for customers. “I encourage the IFs to focus on setting up the mental model of their teams,” says Tremonti. This means helping workers understand how to prepare for the day’s activities and ensuring they are fully present and engaged in online meetings. Leaders should also be aware of the disruption of normal workflows for the conversion team as well as for other employees. “The fact that the FI executives are driving the conversion is essential as an endorsement and also as an encouragement for the whole team,” says Tremonti.
Ensuring that staff are trained on the new system so that they can help each other and the bank’s customers is another important part of the pre-planning process. Conversions performed remotely increase the need for comprehensive training, says Giovanni Mastronardi, president of the business banking group at Computer Services, Inc. “I worry about distance training because when people are on site , we have a conference room where we training, ”he said. “With distance learning, we believe more that people are not multitasking. Email and other distractions can easily distract employees from online training. Learning styles also come into play, with different personalities navigating distance education in different ways. “Some people are visual learners and they don’t ask as many questions, even live,” says Mastronardi. Interacting through a computer screen can influence this dynamic even more, so any distance education program should accommodate all types of learners.
At Midwest Independent BankersBank in Jefferson City, Missouri, a conversion completed in 2020 was supported by an inclusive team of stakeholders. “All the same people who decided who would be our primary supplier were the same people involved in all conversion activities and still are today as we work to take advantage of efficiencies and make full use of the new system. basic, ”says Sheila. Noll, EVP and COO at MIB. Disruptions came and went in the form of travel restrictions and local closures, but the wide reach of the conversion team across the organization and unit throughout the lifecycle of the process provided the support that the bank needed to overcome the unique hurdles of a remote conversion.
Even when regional re-openings took place and then were canceled, many parts of the MIB workforce remained remote. The group recognized the need for a communications manager to help keep the dispersed conversion team connected and ensure that information was shared throughout the project. “We had people working from home, people at our disaster recovery site and here in our main office,” says Roger Mealy, CFO of MIB. “The meetings got a little more difficult, but we got used to talking on the phone and sharing the office and things like that. Online collaboration tools have replaced face-to-face discussions, keeping MIB conversion on track for success.
The Long Island-based New York Community Bancorp team had ‘a day in the life’ in the months leading up to the bank’s 2020 conversion. Running the process successfully meant making sure all employees working from home had reliable connectivity and access to resources. “Our NYCB employees did their normal day-to-day work, and then they did a ‘day in the life’ in all of our test systems, so we were confident that everyone was properly trained on how to use the system and that they all had correct user access, ”says Barbara Tosi-Renna, assistant COO of NYCB. This preparation included publishing a manual, creating a detailed schedule of activities, and distributing call number lists so that the entire team was ready and able to continue serving customers after the conversion was completed. .
Another consideration in any conversion is to ensure that the various business units of the bank are represented alongside IT, including central operations, loans, deposits, and credit. “Everyone has to make an effort for a remote conversion to be successful,” says Jaime Manriquez, CIO and CISO at Santa Cruz County Bank in Santa Cruz, Calif., Where a remote base conversion was completed in 2020 With the right stakeholders present, expectations have been established in advance and the body of work clearly defined, preventing surprises and scope deviations from gaining a foothold. The team relied on project management software and frequent meetings to ensure strong communication and organized information sharing. “This kept everything moving forward, not only internally, but external vendors were also involved in the process,” says Manriquez, who is also a member of the ABA Core Platforms committee.
Support technology becomes a major player
Conversions performed remotely have created additional considerations for supporting and complementary technologies. “The bank’s infrastructure is key,” says Manriquez, adding that the bandwidth capacity must be sufficient to handle the increased network traffic without creating bottlenecks or latency. “When emails and file transfers are done between the vendor and the bank, they need to be delivered in a timely manner. His institution discovered that an email firewall did not have the processing power it needed, creating a lag of almost 10 minutes in some cases. “Once we replaced this firewall, we were able to speed up this communication up to a maximum of one or two minutes,” explains Manriquez. Traditional hallway chats and other face-to-face discussions should also be factored into digital network traffic flows, and a proactive review of the bank’s technological capabilities should be done early in the project.
Some banks needed to strengthen their digital collaboration capabilities to maintain their communications. A single Webex line probably can’t support an entire team through planning stages, mock conversion exercises, troubleshooting, and training. Existing call centers are generally not sized to handle the increase in traffic. “Call volumes will double in the first two weeks,” Tremonti said. “Be prepared for this in terms of bandwidth and circuitry so you don’t cut phone lines for everyone. Sizing the call center function prior to conversion also helps minimize customer wait times, as users navigate visible system changes, especially if lobby access is limited or if health concerns prevent customers from connecting directly to branch staff.
Are remote conversions here to stay?
Banks have discovered efficiencies in the remote conversion process that could be applied to in-person projects as the pandemic abates and institutions return to normalcy in their operations. Tosi-Renna found the remote structure useful in some ways. “The people we needed to reach were exactly where they needed to be,” she says. Locating files and other information often required only a quick phone call. “They were able to go directly to the site and consult the file with the owner of the business over the phone.” Where the conventional process involved working with the supplier’s on-site team, who then might need to contact someone else to confirm the status of a case, making a single call has proven to be simple and fast.
A hybrid approach to conversions will likely remain an option in the future. Tremonti says bringing the teams together on site offers several intangible benefits. “When you’re with a client, you see some of the challenges they face that we don’t see if they don’t ask about it. Sitting next to an associate gives the vendor the ability to share shortcuts and other tips to help bank staff streamline tasks in the new system. However, Tremonti adds that remote teams bring some notable benefits, such as accessing resources after hours. “We are available to them at a time when traditionally we would not have been,” she says. As regional restrictions are lifted and business travel resumes, banks may eventually choose to return to some degree of face-to-face interactions while pocketing resource efficiency remotely.
Julie Knudson is a frequent contributor to the ABA Banking Journal.