4 Steps to Set Up a Data Management System at Your Credit Union or Bank

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(Last Updated On: April 10, 2021)

The time has come. Your team decided data integrity and access was crucial, so your financial institution is setting up a data management system. That’s fabulous! So what’s involved? And where do you start?

Great questions.

Before we can dive into any one system (or approach), it’s essential you have the basic steps in place to move through the process. You don’t start learning to drive a car by stepping on the accelerator! (At least, I hope not!)

In this article, we will look at the 4 steps involved in getting started on your data management journey. If you want to jump to the appropriate step for your progress, we’ll share them up front:


  1. Get Educated
  2. Create a Data Strategy
  3. Choose and Implement Your System
  4. Make Better Data-Driven Decisions

Note that these steps are valid whether you choose to go it alone in-house, hire a data guide, subscribe to a data management vendor, or some combination of them all. Each is necessary to reach the result you want: Easy and useful access to insights across your institution.

Let’s start with a bit of education, our favorite part (ok, we’re a bit biased)!

Step 1: Get Educated

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Get hooked up to new knowledge!

What is a data management system? What kind of data does your financial institution manage? Why is a data management system important?

Questions like these are the first step towards taking any action. Conveniently, you’re in the perfect place to move forward: The Learning Library! We’ve populated the Data Management section with content that puts you on the path to understanding.

Our first article helps you identify what a data management system is and how your institution will benefit. Then, you learn about the pros and cons of data management systems in what should be your second resource.

Of course, no honest dive is complete without a list of the best data management vendors to help you make it happen.

Can our Learning Library get you 100% through step 1? Not quite. Once you have a good understanding, you’ll need to look inwards at your own institution. There you can determine where you are today.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Is getting at desired data a chore? Do you have duplication? Is data consistent across departments (this is a good indicator of your data silos)? What about dirty data (inconsistently formatted or other issues that make a system struggle to read it)?

Once you’ve got satisfying answers for these questions, it’s time to build your strategy. That also earns you the progress medal to access step 2!

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Step 2: Create a Data Strategy

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Once you’ve built your knowledge base, it’s time to figure out a strategy. This isn’t just, “who does what” or “when we want it done”. Your data strategy needs to focus on why the process is in place, then what you want to be able to do following its setup.

It’s possible to do this internally without help, but we recommend working with a data consultant who has guided many institutions through this process. You’re trying to save time and energy, why waste it in the implementation?

A qualified guide can ask the right questions, then let you make the best decisions when choosing a system/approach. Questions like:

  • What are your data goals?
  • What do you want to track?
  • Which KPIs do you need to improve?

We happen to know some people and organizations providing this service. Anne Legg of THRIVE helps you build a member-centric data strategy. The CUSO PureIT also offers strategic guidance to pursue your goals.

Disclosure: While we have good relationships with these organizations and people, we don’t financially benefit from your choosing to work with them.

Step 3: Choose and Implement the System

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It’s time to make your plan a reality.

Here’s where decisions get made. What will the path forward look like? You have a few options:

  1. Select a vendor to help on your data journey.
  2. Recruit a data optimization guide to learn what’s needed to do it in-house.
  3. Ignore all outside advice and blunder through it yourselves.

Ok, so that third one doesn’t seem like a great idea. But it is an option we’ve seen taken. Unsurprisingly, the results were what you’d expect. Looking for and accepting help is never a bad thing! As Aunt May said, “you do too much…you’re not Superman, you know.”

Data Lineage & Governance

Once you’ve chosen a vendor partner, they will help you lay the plans for a data management system. Regardless of the approach you prefer, assigning data governance is essential. What does this mean?

Right now, you have people responsible for consumer loans, checking, credit cards, and mortgages. There may be a department for each, ensuring all the systems work for account holders and your staff. Data needs the same degree of responsibility.

Build a team of subject matter experts. If you’re working with a partner, they are those experts, and will help train the appropriate members of your staff. Remember, your data journey isn’t a one-and-done. It continues onward to keep your data organized and helpful.

For example, Nikki in Consumer Lending has really taken to your data effort. They will be handling all data quality defects in your LOS, correcting them when found, and putting new processes in place to ensure they don’t occur again.

This occurs throughout your institution. The data management vendor you choose, if going that route, will not do your data cleaning for you. They will provide the training and tools to make it easier, while ensuring your new processes are sustainable into the future.

A Smooth Data Flow

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Feel the flow?

Once you’ve completed your data optimization, it’s time to set up the system. You’ll work with the vendor partner, guide, or internal team to ensure the data flows and access controls are correct. In other words, do the right people have access to the right data?

Then you can create the dashboards, which are the fun part. Wait, don’t browse away! Data really can be fun. It’s all about how you visualize your insights. And you can also use their anticipation to focus on a crucial question:

What member challenges are you trying to address?

Why look at that question now? Because while you’ve been using strategic goals to create a data strategy, the visualizations must be one of the pathways to achieving them. In other words, dashboards let you see all the cool nuggets hidden inside your data.

When working with a data expert, they can help you design the appropriate dashboards or share what has been done at other institutions. Think of them like pre-made templates, all ready to go for your enjoyment!

These are a huge part of the why for your whole effort: To see things happening within your institution easily, quickly, and in (near) real-time.

See? Data visualization can be fun.

Step 4: Make Better Data-Driven Decisions

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Like colors, there are many good choices, but also definitely wrong ones.

And just like that, we’re in the future. Like all those nature documentaries and inspirational theme park rides, this is where the show ends and the rest is up to you. But you’re not alone! Your data management partner (you do have one, right?) is there to keep you on target.

According to Anne Legg of THRIVE, a data management consultant, your focus now should be to support “Continuous Capabilities”. What does this involve?

First, it’s essential to build roadmaps for your institution using these newly visible insights. These aren’t just typical KPI goals, but instead paths of improvement that you can track along the way. Then, build centers of excellence, areas in your institution where data drives actions.

Yes, all aspects of your institution should be driven by data. You’ll find some excel while others are a greater challenge to transition. Remember, the focus is always on your why, which generally will be, “making the experience easier for our account holders”.

Finally, the new data system only works if your staff follows the guidelines. Encourage adoption and proper usage across all employees. Consider working with a provider that offers regular training on data governance (ie. Enforcing the entry of only “clean data”).

With everything in place, you can begin to make better data-driven decisions that benefit your institution, staff, and account holders!

Where Are You On Your Data Journey?

Like digital transformation, becoming one with your data is a process. You won’t sign in one day and go, “ah, ha! We did it! The journey is done! Everyone, go wild!” If only that were the case…but alas. This article provides a guide to merge onto the data highway consciously.

You may continue that journey through other content in our Data Management section. And if you’re already on the path, just wondering who can help you out, fear not. We put together the Best Data Management System Vendors for CUs and Banks.

So get out there, establish your data governance, banish those silos, and start embracing the fruits of your data! To keep insights like these coming, be sure to Subscribe to the Learning Library. It’s always relevant, unbiased, and focused on your success!

Joe Winn - CU Geek

Blogger. Speaker. Part-time Jedi.

Focused on helping your bank or credit union grow in the face of emerging challenges.