Credit Union Boosts Operational Efficiencies With Wireless Modems

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First City Savings Credit Union CIO Nancy Bryant turned a $2,500 investment in wireless modems into $350,000 in new auto loans. And that was in the first week.

The regional credit union, based in Glendale, Calif., found that wireless modems on Sprint's PCS network could boost a number of business objectives. First City is using a handful of the modems for its business-development sales staff, off-site loan promotions, IT support and disaster recovery/business resumption, Bryant said during the Enterprise Wireless Forum, held here this week.

"I can do more with fewer devices," said Bryant. "And our employees are getting direct access to the corporate network."

First City used several service providers to help complete its wireless solution. Message Secure, a Tyngsboro, Mass., managed security provider manages data security and messaging, while Air2Web, Atlanta, provides connectivity to mobile devices and phones for the credit union's online banking system.

Bryant first purchased wireless modems last year, when California businesses were subjected to rolling blackouts as a result of a statewide energy shortage. First City couldn't afford to shut its door during the crisis, so the company's five branch offices and senior management were all equipped with a Toshiba notebook and a Sprint wireless modem, she said.

The branches were to use the notebook and its wireless connection to tap into the corporate network to open new accounts, check balances and provide other services to customers if the power was disrupted. Many branch employees also were issued a wireless phone.

First City has used the back-up system five times since the rollout, Bryant said. One was for a rolling blackout at its Lakewood branch; another occurred after the main power line to the Lancaster branch was accidentally cut by a construction crew. First City also has used the notebooks during several other more minor failures.

"By using these wireless modems and cell phones, we were business as usual," she said.

At the same time, Bryant saw wireless opportunities for the bank's remote workers as well.

First City services 45,000 customers at such locations as the Los Angeles Country Sheriff's Department, Claremont College and Robinsons-May Department Stores. Business-development teams were being dispatched to those sites with notebooks and standard dial-up modems to help set up accounts and demonstrate new services, such as online banking. Once they arrived on site, however, they often had difficulty locating an unused phone line.

To solve this problem, Bryant provided each employee with a wireless modem as a backup. Besides visiting clients, the teams used the new wireless connections to set up on-site loan processing centers at local dealerships. The bank ended up funding more than $1.5 million in new auto loans over three separate loan drives, Bryant said.

"If we hadn't been there, who's to say whether or not we would have gotten these loans," she said.

Bryant also provided IT support staff with wireless modems so that they can log in and diagnose problems remotely when they were off work. The equipment benefited the bank in several ways, she said.

It increased response and uptime for ATM problems, particularly for those off-site, such as in remote sheriff offices or in jails. ATM uptime has increased to 99.8 percent from 99 percent since First City started using the wireless modems, she said.

"If there are problems with those ATMs, the sheriffs tend to call us right away," said Bryant.

In addition, overtime was reduced since employees were less likely to have to go into work to fix problems during off-hours. Bryant said IT staff in recent months has repaired problems at Lakers basketball games as well as on a golf course.

The credit union system includes a firewall for its back-end system and encryption on both ends, Bryant said. A recent third-party security audit was unable to crack the system, so Bryant said she feels confident about the setup.

Although that security, along with typical VPNs, slows the transmissions down, Bryant said the employees are just happy to be able to access bank data remotely. She said she's heard no complaints about slow transfer speeds.

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