RALEIGH-State Employees' CU here is aiming to save $1.5 million per year in long distance costs by the time it finishes rolling out its new Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone system.

The $23-billion, 1.6-million member CU will start the three-year process by converting its member contact center, which is expected to be completed by Q1 2012. After that SECU's six operations centers will be switched to VoIP-ideally by the end of 2012-followed by SECU's 240 branches.

"What's really important is the consistency that this is going to give us," said Sue Douglas, SVP of electronic systems and risk management. "Everybody statewide will have the same tool set. Branch people will have the same tool set as the contact center and we'll be able to more consistently look at a member's overall relationship with us," including a function that details each time a member contacts the CU at any point.

Douglas explained that SECU's members have made great use of the CU's contact center, relying on it for transactions and other account information "to the point where we're constantly hiring and training." Meanwhile, however, "we have hundreds of branch employees that may not be busy at certain times of the day; Why can't we let them help us take these contact center calls?"

The new VoIP system-Cisco's Unified Communications Enterprise System-will route contact center calls to available branch reps if contact center reps are unavailable.

No More 'Press 1 For...'
"There will be no 'press one for a loan, press two for this or three for that,' " added Douglas. "A human being will answer the phone every time ... and if the person that answered the phone is not a mortgage loan officer and that's what you want, with this system they will be available."

Lee Mabry, SVP of unified communications, added, "We were running out of space and didn't want to invest in any more real estate. With VoIP, it doesn't matter where you're sitting."

While Douglas and Mabry were hesitant to reveal the cost of the conversion, they said SECU projects it will begin seeing savings during the second year of the conversion. "By the time we get this fully in, I would say we're looking at $1.5 million a year in savings," said Mabry.

Douglas added that "we expect to reduce future costs; we don't expect to have to build another contact center that's larger, bigger and better."

Beyond the cost savings, switching to VoIP will also help in the event of disasters. All of SECU's data centers are redundant and backed-up, but currently if one section of the state is suffering from power outages, for example, "members calling those branches would get no answer," said Douglas. "But two years from now when they call, those calls will be routed somewhere else in the state so that the member doesn't lose any service at all. If a disaster hit our contact center here in Raleigh, calls could be dispersed to our 240 branches to answer those calls."

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