Keeping your customers front and centre

From flat growth for five years to about 23 per cent growth and a 19 per cent productivity improvement. Such are the benefits of a customer relationship management (CRM) strategy implemented at North Shore Credit Union in just six months.

“The numbers are just absolutely staggering right now,” purrs a pleased Chris Catliff, president and CEO of the 42,000 member Vancouver area credit union. “Our initial case that Sierra (Systems Group) and Pivotal (Corporation) and we put together is that we would grow $73 million in two years and we have grown in assets and administration $111 million in just six months.

“I don’t attribute it to just CRM because there were things we had to put in place for it, but I do attribute it to our financial wellness strategy,” he adds. “Our whole philosophy is well-being from a holistic sense which is that you have to have financial wellness as one of the four pillars. We are partners with our members in making sure that they are taking care financially. It is more like the brokerage advisor versus the bank teller who is just trying to sell you a product. That’s how we’re trying to run our whole company. That strategy, with our technology that we’re able to use with how we have realigned our compensation around, that is more team based than individual based. How we’re pursuing that, how we’re advertising and how we have aligned our management is contributing to our growth, but it is all one strategy which is to be intimate with our members in the sense of being a trusted advisor.”

Established in 1941, North Shore offers insurance, investment brokerage and full business services through its ten branches. Clients join the credit union as members with a voice, a vote, and a share in annual returns. Membership, which is open to everyone, is made up of people living in the lower mainland of B.C. and nearby Whistler and Pemberton. A new branch that opened this spring to replace an aging branch features new seated service stations where staff can provide advice and information in a more private atmosphere. An Internet kiosk lets members access their accounts or apply for a mortgage over the Internet right in the branch.

The credit union has implemented the CRM solution designed for the retail financial services sector by Datawest Solutions and Pivotal Corporation. Pivotal provided the base software, Sierra Systems was the integrator and Datawest served as an application services provider (ASP) for the software. Datawest was already the credit union’s outsourced mainframe supplier of transactions and continues to act as the host for the CRM solution, populating member profiles on the Pivotal platform.

The new system allows information to be retrieved from the existing online banking system and populate member profiles. The profile includes account balances, demographic data, address updates and new account information. The end result is customized service to each member, whether they choose to deal at the branches with personal financial managers, through teleconsultants, or online through their PC.


“They have really embraced CRM as being a key strategy for their organization,” says Darryl Yea, Datawest chairman and CEO. “It’s not just at the teller and customer service level but throughout their whole enterprise. So it’s a way in which they redesign a lot of their business processes and how they actually do business as an organization. They look at it from the understanding of the customers’ current and future needs and trying to anticipate and design products and services that fit those needs.

“With the competition out there in banking, it is a lot about retaining your customers,” he continues. “You probably don’t get too many calls from your banker to help you out unless you are actually looking for something. (Banks) aren’t anticipating what you might need. They’re not tracking what you need. They’re not being proactive as much as they could be. So the system to help (companies) do that will strengthen their ties and loyalty of the customer to the institution.”

As a provider of outsourced financial services technology, Datawest started nearly 20 years ago as the technology arm of more than 50 credit unions in BC. In Feb. 2000, it went public through a transaction with C.M. Oliver Inc., which was already listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Since then it has been growing with national customers beyond credit unions as well as diversifying some of the services provided to financial institutions. CRM is one of these.

Yea explains that financial services companies “need to be competing not on technology or the newest devices but on how they service the customers and it’s important that they have the tools with which to do that.” He sees CRM as an important tool. “It’s really a business strategy as opposed to a technology that is important. It’s doing something in an automated fashion through lower cost technology that many companies have been doing for years and a lot of companies have to get much better at it in order to compete more effectively.”

The North Shore Credit Union chose the Datawest/Pivotal CRM solution because of their long-term relationship with Datawest, their comfort with Pivotal and the fit of the solution. Catliff says Pivotal is a well-known and local company, a Microsoft shop and offered what they needed.

“The value of having something tied in with MS products is that it’s a seamless delivery,” he elaborates. “A lot of problems with CRM are that you can buy an application but then what databases do they use? How do they talk with other databases? How do they interact with your office suite – if you’re on Lotus notes as opposed to MS Outlook or the full MS suite of products? The analytical tools were all put together in a nice packet and everything all talked together.”

He also appreciated the integration with the Internet that Pivotal offered. In comparing the Pivotal/Datawest solution to one from Siebel Systems Inc., he says the former was “a thinner version that allowed us to customize it to our needs and not have to get involved in a huge clunky system where we would be choosing things out of a menu to determine 80 per cent wasn’t applicable.” He says the solution they chose is easier for training because “everything that you have to do is on the first page of the software. It has little tabs that you click on and drill down from there. It is all very intuitive.”

“We weren’t over buying which is what some of the other products are just too much years of software development into them which you’re not really going to use,” he adds.


They were also sold on the solution’s lower price and flexibility. Perhaps most remarkable, however, is the quick implementation: three months for the first phase to have it actually working, two months to broaden it out and two months to have Internet version.

Catliff has a couple of key messages regarding CRM. “It has to be part of your whole philosophy and strategy and you have to align it with your training and your reward system and with your database and network system and everything else. The technology is really just a tool as part of your strategy.

“Our strategy is to go from order takers to financial advisors,” he continues. “To do that, we really need the full information on our members and they have to be willing to give us that information and trust us as their trusted advisor. That’s a common strategy in the financial services business. CRM generally doesn’t align with companies that try to push out a mono-line product or just try to be one with large economies of scale with, for example, a credit card.

You have to align it with your strategy because you have to make a number of changes in your business philosophy to do that.”

“The other thing with CRM is you have to concentrate on what the actual member or customer needs in the end and not just build the cool technology and try to go too far along that route,” he adds. “We had very good project management from Sierra. They stuck with our guiding principles that we had at the outset. They didn’t allow too much scope creep but they did allow us to modify things as we went along. They had the expertise in project management that we really didn’t have.

North Shore uses CRM to determine who are their most active, profitable and engaged members and to specifically market to them one on one. Members each have a personal advisor.

“Instead of having a call centre phoning at 6 pm calling you at home during dinner when that is the last thing you want, an advisor sends an email saying ‘I’ve reviewed your account and I think you should do X and send it to your work’ – or whenever and however you’ve asked to be contacted – because that all goes out to the system,” Catliff explains. “You can also set it up with your advisor to go through your financial plan online and set up a web chat and you can discuss this if you don’t have a separate line for you Internet. You can look at your aggregated holdings and discuss in real time through the web. You can also get a call back from the call centre when you’ve hit a call back icon once you’ve updated your information.”


The company builds their offerings based on life stages, but instead of mass direct mailings to the marketplace, an individual advisor with a couple of clicks on the system is able to send out specific email offers to who he/she picks in his/her account base.

“It takes work away from the marketing department and puts it with the advisor who has the real knowledge,” Catliff explains. “Receiving a piece of junk mail from a large organization despite being signed by the senior vice-president by their signature stamp is never going to be as personal as getting an email from your advisor who knows your financial plan and says ‘I think you should be considering this’ and with the philosophy based on what is best for the member and not to push product.

“If you don’t have that philosophy, I’m not sure if CRM will work for you,” he adds.

In order to remain competitive you have to adopt a CRM strategy and you have to look at tools to implement and deploy that strategy,” stresses Datawest’s Yea. “If you’re not doing it, you’re probably going to be falling behind from a competitive standpoint.”

He cautions that because financial services organizations are so diverse in terms of size, requirements, capabilities and what they do, the many CRM solutions are not ‘one size fits all’. Datawest targets the small to mid-sized financial institutions with their CRM product it markets with Pivotal and their own hosted ASP solution. More than 100 financial institutions outsource ti Datawest to speed time to market and contain costs.

“It goes beyond just the banking system itself to how you access the system – there’s Internet banking applications, telephone banking applications, you have connections to payment systems, ATMS to consider, debit cards, credit cards — so it becomes quite a large task for organizations to undertake,” says Yea. “To the extent they can look at an organization like Datawest to outsource that to and they can pay us on a per customer basis as they grow their customer base, it takes a lot of the risk out of the equation for them and a lot of the up front costs out of it. We run the operations 24/7 and keep up to date with the latest technology and provide added applications that are more cost effective.”

North Shore is one of their long-standing banking systems customers. Most recently, Datawest built an interface to the supplier’s banking system which populates the credit union’s CRM system.

“The CRM system contains a knowledge base of that customer and that type of business that the customer is doing with the institution,” Yea explains. “A lot of that information sits on the banking system as to what type of financial products they have, what sort of accounts they have, what their balances are, when they did their last transactions, when their mortgage is due. So it is a very valuable amalgamation between those two components. We’re involved in helping (North Shore) pull that together as a sort of basis for how we’re launching our offering to other credit unions and other financial services organizations.

“Financial services products are becoming more commodity-based and as they become more commodity-based you’re dealing more at price and service,” he concludes. “When the pricing levels are equalized, how do you differentiate what’s being delivered? The differentiation is going to b: how well you are being serviced as a consumer? How well are those products being designed for you specifically or as a demographic group? That’s where the CRM comes from. If you’re all selling the same widget, you’d better be selling it better than the next person or you’re not going to retain that customer.”