Knowledge Institute Podcasts
Ahead in the Cloud: Greenfield Transformation with BECU's Fumbi Chima
Fumbi Chima, Chief Information Officer at BECU discusses BECU’s early stages of a greenfield migration to cloud computing. The discussion covers digital transformation, FinTechs, and employee experience.
Hosted by Chad Watt, researcher and writer with the Infosys Knowledge Institute.
“It's not just a digital transformation, it's a whole transformation as a company. Because we have to look at the system, look at the operating model and look at the ways of doing work.”
“We always say that at BECU, we have the secret sauce. We have a really intimate experience with our members and my job is to use technology to even make it better and make it more exciting.”
“Transformation is not just a technology project. It's about talent. It's about change management. It's about changing the dynamics of us as an organization to really be digitally first.
“I always say to people that fintechs, you have to love them. It's a cooperation. The element of fintechs that we compete with, we will compete with. Because that's our core business. But there are also elements of it that I think makes us better.”
- Fumbi Chima
- BECU is a credit union served by the purpose, for the purpose, for the members and community around providing financial help.
- BECU is an 85 year old company. To modernize the tech stack, it was more cost efficient to start fresh and transform the whole thing.
- BECU is creating a whole security platform, having a whole new data structure and then building business value streams on top of it. And the ones that they started to build most recently, using the modern technology, they can migrate it onto the new platform. The ones that they can't migrate, they build. It’s a hybrid.
- They started many years ago just migrating some of their core platforms onto the cloud. BECU partnered with consulting system integrator to help them to stand it up. And that took about 12 week assignment post strategy. Strategy took about six months. It's not just a digital transformation, it's a whole transformation as a company.
- After the strategy, they did a proof of concept. They are starting to deploy innovative tools and are using robotics process automation in some of their core processes. They’re building a whole new consumer lending platform in the old world. Once they've architected it enough and once it's all been built up in the cloud, they can then redirect that platform onto the new instance.
- Transformation is not just a technology project. This is the way in which we need to operate organizationally. Transformation is about operating model. It's about talent. It's about change management. It's about changing the dynamics of us as an organization to really be digitally first.
- It is important to cooperate with fintechs. Big companies will compete with certain elements of fintechs, because that's their core business. But there are also elements of it that makes big companies like BECU better. Companies need to look at some fintechs and integrate with them. And there may be some that they will acquire.
Chad introduces himself and Fumbi
Fumbi talks about her background
Can you give me some kind of parameters how much and what are you guys transforming? What is the scope of this and where are the edges of your big white piece of paper there?
Can you give me kind of a status update? What did you guys tackle first when you decided to take the entire universe of BECU to cloud? What was the first thing?
Why is that significant to be the chief technology and transformation officer?
Let's pretend for a moment here. I'm a teller in one of your national financial centers. I've been there for two decades. I can open a checking account. I know all 30, 40, 50 systems I needed to do and I can do it with a smile on my face. You've just come in and told me I have to change the way I do my job. I'm not very happy about that. Help me with the transformation.
Can you tell us about BECU’s posture toward FinTechs? These are operating adjacent to your 80 year old plus institution. They're doing some of the same things you do. Do you compete, collaborate, copy, ignore?
What's the most used FinTech app that you have right now?
Can you imagine the app you could build for BECU?
Chad Watt: Welcome to Ahead in the Cloud, where business leaders share what they've learned on their cloud journey. I'm Chad Watt, researcher and writer with the Infosys Knowledge Institute. Today, I am joined by Fumbi Chima, chief technology and transformation officer for BECU. BECU is a leader in the credit union movement. It has $341 billion in assets and more than 1.3 million members. It's one of the three largest independent credit unions in the nation. Fumbi joined the organization in 2022 to lead the 87 year old institution into a digital banking future. BECU is in the early stages of a greenfield migration to cloud computing that aims to bring its internal systems up to the state of the art and deliver simple, seamless service for its members. Fumbi, welcome. Tell us about your background in banking and technology and what led to your current role.
Fumbi Chima: Chad, thank you so much. It's a pleasure and an honor to be here with you this afternoon. What led me to credit union, one of those journey where particularly with BECU is really where I'll start from. The company is a purpose led organization. I've worked with a lot of global organizations in the past that we've fixed challenges or trying to solve difficult problems, but ultimately the purpose is almost something that I've always found scratching my head around and saying, "Well, what am I doing and what impact am I going to be making?" And so when I had the opportunity to join BECU as you said, it's credit union served by the purpose, for the purpose, for the members and community around providing financial help. At the core of my being and the core of my values, it resonated very much with me about how do I make a difference to the community? In this case, Washington State, Oregon, South Carolina and providing financial health to our members. So, that's really what the excitement of it is.
And more importantly, to be able to bring technology at the forefront of its journey, that this transformation journey is about how do I make our members experience better? How do I make our employees life easier so that we can serve the members better? We always say that at BECU, we have the secret sauce. We have a really intimate experience with our members and my job is to use technology to even make it better and make it more exciting. So, who wouldn't want to have that opportunity? I tell people that probably in a lot of my career which is over 25, 26 or maybe 28 years, this is the best job I have ever had. I'm serving the purpose and I'm making an impact using technology.
Chad Watt: We're talking about this technology transformation in this modernization. Going a little bit off script here, can you give me some parameters what is the scope of this? Where are the edges of your big white piece of paper there?
Fumbi Chima: It's the whole thing. When I joined about coming on two years ago, the board had asked and said, "Well, we want to do digital transformation." And at first, we looked at it as a member experience. The front-end, that's really the journey that they've been going through and I looked back and said, " That's great, I can create an app. I can put an online banking experience, it's great, but the connectivity to making it seamless and integrating with FinTech and even with other technologies, it's really hard."
And also I hear from our employee base because the good thing about being a retailer is we get to visit stores, so I use that experience and say, I'm going to visit our NFCs which is our retail centers. I spoke to our employees and I said, "What's the experience of opening a bank account?" And I actually went through it myself and it takes a long period of time and I love those customer service assistance or reps that we have, but they have to touch over... And I say it embarrassingly about 40 or 50 different systems. It's ridiculous and so you go, "My God." But they do it so well, with a smile on the face and you as a customer has no clue. It's like, "Wow, this is amazing." So, when I went through that experience, I was like, "God, we got to change a lot of things."
What I realized is we had a huge technology debt and how we architected our technology in the past, 85 year old company, it's point-to-point. You build everything together and you slug it together, like I call it a spaghetti element and now to decompose it, it's really complicated.
So, when I looked at the business case to saying, do I modernize that tech stack or do I really then go or start fresh and see what you can move through? It was more cost efficient to start fresh. So, I look at my member experience, I look at my employee experience, I look at the combination across and the integration between both and really it ended up making sense that we absolutely just start fresh. So, when you say, what are the parameters? The whole thing. We really are going to look at it from members all the way through to the employees and vice versa and being able to... The vision that we have as an organization is I can start my transaction online, finish it off physically in our NFC or I can start on the NFC and finish it off electronically through the website.
And imagine that element when we talk about our secret souce about serving our members and that's what we are known of, the employees themselves can do their job a lot easier, they don't have to touch so many touch points. So, it's looking at the whole gamuts and the journey really started with that strategy at hand. Clearly, it's not necessarily saying we're throwing the baby out the bath of water because of course it's not like you're going to build a whole new house and throw away the other piece, but we're going to architect it in a way where we are creating a whole new environment, a whole new interoperable layer. We creating a whole security as a platform, having a whole new data structure and then building business value streams on top of it. And the ones that we started to build most recently that is using the modern technology, we can migrate it onto the new platform.
And so we start going through that and the ones that we know we can't migrate and we build it. So, it's a hybrid, but I think it's an easier hybrid than what most of my other colleagues in the industry would have to do because they truly have to truly modernize and building new and putting some old stuff in there, but majority or new stuff.
Chad Watt: Can you give me a status update? What did you guys tackle first when you're taking the entire universe of BECU to modernize and to take it to cloud, what was the first thing?
Fumbi Chima: So, we started many years ago just migrating some of our core platforms onto the cloud, so that's the co-location, the element that I did. So, then made my job a lot easier to then determine what is going to be approach. So, our first approach was obviously defining what ambition is and then defining that strategy and the approach is really about making sure that we build a proof of concept. So, I think a lot of times we all say, we want to do X, Y, Z, what does greenfield mean? And it's like, well, I don't know, I can't touch it. So, we had a proof of concept just to proof the concept or can I stand up my instance? Can I set up an internal layer? Can I set up a data lake very quickly? Can I set it up whereas before it would've taken weeks?
We built, we partnered with the consulting a system integrator with us to really help us stand it up and that took about 12 week post strategy by the way, let me just say. Post strategy took about six months because the journey to help move people to understand what does digital mean? We've now actually refreshed it to say, it's not just a digital transformation, it's a whole transformation as a company because we got to look at the system, you got to look at the operating model and you got to look at the ways of doing work meeting a member needs. So, we built that strategy holistically and then now took it out in chunks, small bits so that we can show the proof. So after the strategy, we did a proof of concept. We've now built that out and we modernize it.
At the same time, we're starting to deploy innovative tools because you don't want to wait to build the whole greenfield out before defining a strategy so we're progressing very quickly. We're now using robotics process automation in some of our core processes like in the mortgage area, we deployed think about eight processes in different areas to help us look at that automation and against optimize some of our processes and make us more efficient and those bots can now, once we stand up the new technology infrastructure, we can migrate that into it. We're building a whole new consumer lending platform currently in the old world, but we've architected it enough that once it's all been built up on in the cloud, we can then build that, redirect that platform onto the new instance and the APIs are fairly versatile that you can point to older new and we've done a great work in arching that.
So, we're beginning to move a lot of that and then we now look at our operating model to say, can we take siloed business where you can build the end to end value stream on a new platform and then deploy into the new capability? So, that's the journey we're on at the moment. So, we're now moving more into platform centric approach. We had more platforms that we can start deploying, building it even currently in the old technology stack which is still complicated, but architecting in a way that we can move it into the new platform when it's ready and we're hoping that at least the first operationalizing, the new platform will be sometime this year to be able to stand up the true infrastructure, the entire proper layer, the security and start migrating those new platforms that we are built and the old one moving it in into their.
Chad Watt: You're not the CTO, you're the chief technology and transformation officer, why is that significant to be the chief technology and transformation officer?
Fumbi Chima: Transformation is not just a technology project, that's part of the first awareness and education that I had to do with the company when I joined is, this is not a technology project, this is the way in which we need to operate organizationally. And so that's where the transformation comes in because transformation is about ensuring that not only do we change from being vertical to being horizontal across, the ways in which we work needs to also work. So, there's an operating model that comes into it and transformation is about operating model, it's about talent, it's about change management. It's about changing the dynamics of us as an organization to really be digitally first. So, I'm doing both jobs and that's why it's important to distinguish the technology and the transformation piece.
Chad Watt: Let's pretend for a moment here. I'm a teller in one of your national financial centers. I've been there for two decades, I can open a checking account. I know all 30, 40, 50 systems I needed to do and I can do it with a smile on my face. You've just come in and told me I have to change the way I do my job. I'm not very happy about that. Help me with the transformation here?
Fumbi Chima: I think you will be happy about it though, Chad, because I have to deal with all those different systems and I'm saying to you don't worry, Chad, you don't have to remember all those passwords, you don't have to remember all the different elements of access and which field you have to enter. You have one screen now that you just enter and you have that dialogue with your new member that is about to join, you get to have a conversation with them, you get to know what their interests are, you put all of it in, you press submit, voila and everything prepopulates into the various systems that you probably would've needed to interacted with before, whereas before it would've taken you 15, 20 minutes now it's taking you five minutes and now you can have a conversation to really know what Chad is all about because we're a member, it's community based organization.
So, I know how I can then figure out, what other products can I offer? What's their interest? What's going on in their life so I can be aware of it and put it into our CRM so that we can serve them better? I think it makes it a lot easier because I can actually really do what I'm paid to do rather than be a data capture and having to do it. And by the way, right now you may do it and you think the form is done and then I have to call you and go, I'm sorry, could you come back again because I forgot to get your information or no and you can't give me your social security online because it's data protection? I didn't take the copy of your driver's license well so God forbid you can't email it to us because again, it's data protected, you got to come back. Are you going to be really happy as a member? And you're going to be frustrated as an employee.
Chad Watt: Can you tell us about your BECU's posture toward financial technology organizations, FinTech. These are operating adjacent to your 80 year old plus institution, they're doing some of the same things you do. Do you compete, collaborate, copy, ignore?
Fumbi Chima: I always say to people that FinTech, you got to love them. It's a cooperation. The elements of FinTech that we compete or we will compete with because that's our core business. But there are also elements of it that I think makes us better. So, those are what we need to look at, integrate with and there may be some that we acquire and integrate to build into making us better so that we have that competitive edge. And I think that's the strategy that most people are looking at and it's not any different from what we are looking at. I can't tell you specifically there's any specific one we're looking at the moment, but I think what we would say is that we continually work with FinTechs.
There's a few we have worked with in the past. We hope that the transformation because when we make our technology platform a lot more open, a lot more integrable, it makes us ability to integrate faster and better and quicker with FinTech. It allows us to collaborate, it allows us to innovate, it allows us to even potentially even acquire some of them and I think that we remain really committed and stronger that.
Chad Watt: And come back to the point that customer expectation is at the highest bar it's ever been. We expect magic from our companies because technology and because of the cloud?
Fumbi Chima: We do and if you think about it and I have a 20 year old child in the house and they basically show me all the different apps that they have starting from Zelle to Venmo to Cashplus to this and that got to be able to offer that flexibility and I just came back on vacation with my daughter and she was like, I'm going out with my friends and I'm going to Venmo things to them. I'm like, well, great. I'm looking at my son I'm going, do we have Venmo app or not? Because that is the new world. It's convenient, it's fast, it's nimble, it's quick and we have to as a financial institution react to that because it's not about the 40, 50 year old members anymore, it's about the 13 to 21 year old or 30 year old that all they know is technology and that's a new one and we have to be reactive to it as well.
Chad Watt: On that subject, what's the most used FinTech app that you have right now?
Fumbi Chima: I do Zelle quite a bit. I do a lot of Zelling.
Chad Watt: There you go. And once you've got your transformation done, can you imagine the app you could build for BECU?
Fumbi Chima: My God. That's a great question. I have a lot of apps I want to build, but if I tell you now then you got to kill me because it's got to make us the competitive, the secret sauce continues. But here is one I'd say I'd look at. I think the most important thing for me is to make not just the employee, I'll start with my employees.
I want to make their experience so seamless from acquisition all the way to retire. So, if I acquire you as an bring you on board, I want to be able to send you a link or you download an app onto me for your onboarding process, your name, your security, your pictures, and everything and you've sent it back to me and to basically with the push of a button be able to provision you with your laptop, your phone, your office and everything and send you an automation to say, welcome Chad Watt, your start date is this, here's your employee number, this is where you should be at and by the way, because it's hybrid, your laptop will be coming for you, everything is provisioned by one button.
Chad Watt: Wow. That will work for your members and probably Infosys’ members too, employees I should say.
Fumbi Chima: Well, I guess so. I'm sure Infosys is listening now so maybe that's got to build this app, but for my members, I just want them to have one app, just one and then I can push information to them because I want to be able to understand their needs and personalize the needs to them. Truly personalize to go, Fumbi, I understand in the next 30 days you'll be buying a house, here is how you're going to close all the information that you need. Your mortgage is approved, I can even do better living in the virtual world, figure out where the house is at, tell you all you need, have a button, have everything catered for and all you just need to do is press a button or push it and I'm providing that services for you.
I think that would be phenomenal. That still doesn't exist, but Hey, that would be my aspiration one way or the other to be able to do that. So, I look at both my members and my employees because my members are also my employees and vice versa and just have that seamless experience to them. That would be amazing. That would be ultimately where we need to get to.
Chad Watt: Well, thank you. Fumbi Chima for your time and your insights today.
Fumbi Chima: Pleasure. Lovely speaking to you.
Chad Watt: This podcast is part of our collaboration with MIT Tech Review in partnership with Infosys Cobalt. Visit our content hub on technologyreview.com to learn more about how businesses across the globe are moving from cloud chaos to cloud clarity. Be sure to follow Ahead in the Cloud wherever you get your podcast. You can find more details in our show notes and transcripts at Infosys.com/IKI and that's in our podcast section. Thanks to our producers, Catherine Burdette, Christine Calhoun and Yulia De Bari. I'm Chad Watt with the Infosys Knowledge Institute signing off. Until next time, keep learning and keep sharing.
About Fumbi Chima
Executive Vice President and Chief Information and Transformation Officer, BECU
With more than 25 years of leadership and technology experience in both the retail and financial sectors, Fumbi Chima currently serves as BECU’s executive vice president and chief information and transformation officer.
As CIO of Washington’s largest credit union, Fumbi is responsible for leading the organization’s technology strategy, information security and IT operations for its more than 2,600 employees. She is also committed to ensuring BECU’s more than 1.3 million members have secure, seamless access to their accounts – online and in-branch, using leading edge technology.
Prior to BECU, she served as chief information officer at adidas in Germany, where she led a customer-centric digital transformation, creating and operating an agile digital foundation. Before joining adidas, Fumbi served as CIO for several other global organizations, including Fox Network Group, Burberry, Walmart Asia’s business operations and American Express’ global corporate technologies. She is experienced leading digital and organizational transformations, and driving business outcomes through the use of technology and digital solutions.
- On LinkedIn
Connect with Fumbi Chima