SAGINAW, Mich. — A credit union here has been going a little wild.

In the last few years, Wildfire Credit Union changed its name, transformed technology offerings in its four branches (three of which are new), remodeled its headquarters and is getting ready to install a new account-processing platform.

"The IT transformation is really a part of the overall transformation of the credit union over the last five years," said Tim Benecke CEO of the $685 million institution. "Our focus has been on growth goals, which required greater flexibility and scaleability as well as wanting to provide a more modern member experience."

In 2009 Wildfire CU replaced the former Communications Family Credit Union and currently serves 38,500 members, (Membership is open for anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in Saginaw, Midland, Bay, Tuscola, Gratiot, Genesee and Shiawassee counties.)

Benecke and the credit union's Vice President of Technology, Mark Schuiling, explained that since then, numerous member-facing upgrades have been adopted — including drive-up two-way video monitors.

"We moved all of our teller lines to a pod concept with cash recyclers, signature pads and receipt printers," said Schuiling. "These are barrier free opposed to a traditional teller line. We are trying to push as much as we can to the front line."

And while the technologies are user-friendly and intuitive, employee training by both third-party vendors and credit union tech staff is required.

Training also extends to the credit union's 10-person IT department.

"We have really overhauled the entire IT network, including the infrastructure and virtualized as much as possible," said Schuiling. "There always has been and always will be an IT learning curve, but I have a good, knowledgeable staff, which provided a good base to spring board off of."

Understanding DNA

In an effort to support new state-of-the-art branches that will eventually use iPads, Benecke and Schuiling said they needed to modernize the credit union's account-processing platform, a discovery process that began last October.

"We wanted to find a core solution that could take advantage of some of what we built on the virtual infrastructure and our highly available network, while staying flexible and current so we can do our own development if necessary," said Schuiling.

After reviewing various vendor offerings, Wildfire CU selected Fiserv's modern standards-based, person-centric DNA platform due to its ability to support and facilitate the credit union's growth goals.

DNA's advanced relational data model stores and manages vast amounts and types of member information, which, in turn, provides a comprehensive view of each member relationship with no redundant data, according to Schuiling. The target date for conversion is Oct. 18, 2015, noted Benecke.

"We are very early on in the conversion process," said Schuiling. "There has been a lot of discussion up to this point and we haven't gotten our hands on anything yet. But we will have the ability to do custom programming using current standard languages so I can go to colleges or other industries to get developers who will know the tools and languages necessary to jump in and do whatever we need to do."

Custom in-house programming is not new to Wildfire CU. Over the last few years, it has undertaken a variety of projects including, internal automation applications.

On the member side, Schuiling and his team have done custom coding for the home-banking platform. "If at all possible, if we can dream it up, we want to make it real without waiting on someone else to do it," Schuiling said.

And while the credit union's overall makeover was intended to increase its reach to younger members, the statistics are seemingly more impressive than Benecke imagined.

"Over the last several years, 40% to 50% of our new members have been under the age of 40 — that represents about 5,000 new members," he noted.

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