How one lender worked with a vendor to help clients weather the COVID-19 crisis

A credit union used an analytics vendor to help identify ways to help its members survive the coronavirus without hurting its own bottom line.

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Analytics are playing a significant role in the fight against COVID-19, and the seriousness of the crisis is also paving the way for more highly purposeful analytics tailored for specific industry sectors. Sound Credit Union, a Washington State financial institution, and Information Builders, an analytics and business intelligence company, joined forces to help the credit union's members.

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"Washington State was the original COVID-19 hot spot," said Troy Garry, chief financial officer at Sound Credit Union. "When the virus struck, we immediately began to ask ourselves, 'What can we do to look at the impact on our members?'"

The credit union began to watch member spending on credit cards, and what the revenue impact could be with shops and businesses being shut down.

"We looked at credit card spend from a merchant standpoint, but also from the point of view that our institution earns transaction income when credit cards are used, so less credit card use would also have an impact on our revenue stream," Garry said.

As the member impact scenario broadened, Sound Credit Union also wanted to know what the effect would be on loans if members would start to lose jobs.

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"We anticipated that members would lose jobs and/or go on unemployment, and we wanted to find ways to assist them," Garry said. "If members had loans with us, perhaps there were ways we could offer payment relief for a period of time. In other cases, we might be able to arrange a small, low-rate loan to get the members over the hump before they received their stimulus payment."

In the process, Sound Credit Union found that many different internal systems contained the member information that it needed.

"It was time consuming getting to all of this data and finding ways to tie it all together so we could analyze it," Garry said. "Our lending staff was seeing one set of data that gave them a picture of our members, and our front line staff was seeing another. What we needed was a 'single source of truth' that pulled data from all of these systems and distilled that data into a single source so everyone was using the same information."

A system integration effort like this can take months and even years if an IT department tackles it alone. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 crisis was intensifying in Washington, and there was no time to lose. 

Sound Credit Union found a partner in Information Builders and its data integration toolset. Working with Information Builders, the credit union started with a manager of digital innovation and an IT business analyst, and created an internal team from there.

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Once the Information Builders software pulled data from all of the credit union's different systems and placed it into a uniform data repository, Sound Credit Union's team put together scorecards, dashboards, and reports that began to profile its membership.

"We were successful in unifying all of the data points we wanted from disparate systems into a central data repository that was easy to use," Garry said. "That was very important."

Key to the effort was Information Builders' development of a data dictionary that defined each data item. This assured that everyone using the data, regardless of which department they were in, had the same understanding of the data.

"The data dictionary plays a vital role because different data terms, or even the same data term, can mean different things to different users," said Jon Deutsch, vice president and global head of financial systems for Information Builders. "When you work with common data terms, confusion is eliminated and decision makers can make decisions faster."

"We were able to make decisions based on how we could best help our members weather the COVID crisis, while also maintaining the health of our financial portfolio," Garry said. "We did this in timeframes that would have taken much longer had we not had the tools."

Active collaboration between vendors and clients on purposeful industry-oriented analytics can meet the needs of organizations during critical crises and deliver impactful results in non-crisis times sooner.

"There is now less trepidation and more confidence in the decision making that we do," Garry said. "We will take what we learned and plug it into new areas that we want answers to, such as how we can most effectively manage our people and material resources, and what levels of investment will be needed to do the work."

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