Celero’s managed services has risk mitigation strategies and security tools that our experts recommend as a baseline for credit unions.
To demonstrate how credit unions are leveraging managed services in practice, we’re showcasing this managed service client interview, where we spoke with CEO of Northern Birch Credit Union, Anita Saar, for a Q&A. Here’s what Anita had to say about how Celero’s managed services has helped transform their approach to IT.
Tell us a bit about Northern Birch Credit Union’s IT background.
Anita: Historically, we ran our IT in-house with a DIY approach and a single, capable and cost-conscious IT staff resource, who also carried a few other important responsibilities. We had a simple and secure workstation-based system in a single branch location. We made incremental improvements and modernizations annually. This fit our low-cost service delivery model with low operating cost ratios in line with the caisses populaires and an exceptionally low IT spend relative to the sector.
As a forward-thinking CEO, how did you realize it was time to act regarding your digital journey?
Anita: With the changing financial services landscape, acceleration of digitalization and payments modernization, the spectre of open banking, the growth we were experiencing with more branches and merger plans, we recognized that we could no longer afford to continue as we had in the past.
At the time we were in the midst of a DNA conversion hosted by Celero, plus we were bringing in a new accounting system and a new loan origination system. We were also implementing a new IT infrastructure to support this (managed services has been key in helping us with this), integrating a merger, migrating to a new online banking system, and managing the design and build of our new signature branch after 60 years at our current location. All of this was happening at once, nevermind COVID!
As a result, we had to learn to utilize and rely on multiple external resources. Celero has played a key role in supporting us through these massive changes.
As a managed services customer, what were your first impressions?
Anita: It has been over a year since we moved onto managed services, and I almost can’t even remember how we used to work. We are no longer tied to a workstation, and the ability to seamlessly work remotely has been huge, especially during COVID-19. Celero has effectively built out both our resource capacity and capability as required — whether that is technical discussions with our seasoned and smart IT resource on the best approach to a specific issue, or working with the CEO and Board IT committee to further develop and implement our IT Governance framework.
Our internal IT resource is now free to concentrate on our many new projects and can get technical advice and discuss ideas with Celero as he needs it. He now has access to a whole IT department (so to speak) rather than being alone.
What was it like migrating to Celero’s managed services?
Anita: In the beginning, after being accustomed to fully controlling, procuring and implementing everything ourselves, it was a bit of a cultural change. The decision process through our board IT committee was prolonged, with detailed analysis, discussion and multiple reviews to make sure every detail was how we wanted it. We took a very long time to decide and then asked for record turnaround time at year end. Celero was extremely responsive and accommodating throughout.
Shortly after migration, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Very quickly, Celero helped us implement VPN remote capability and we were able to run the credit union remotely if we needed to. This mitigated significant risk for us. If we had not already implemented managed services, this would have been a very challenging (if not impossible) undertaking for us.
How has Celero’s managed services mitigated your risk?
Anita: We hired Celero to complete an IT maturity assessment and another organization to complete a cybersecurity assessment. Both identified a path forward from our workable base, but there was a lot of work to be done that we did not have resources to complete and technology decisions that were outside our expertise.
Implementation of managed services has addressed several of the cybersecurity and risk mitigations issues identified for improvement in the assessment we completed at both a strategic governance and day-to-day operational level. We have access to the systems, procedures and certifications available to a larger organization with the scale and expertise to develop and implement these.
Desktop and server cybersecurity and application update patches are all taken care of. Certification levels and security is tested and audited regularly at a higher standard than a small credit union normally could. We have reduced exposure to dependency on a single staff resource, mitigating staffing risk.
Consulting services have added value to our IT strategy road mapping, ensuring appropriate timing and prioritization of actions and initiatives to help us develop a suitable IT governance framework, policy and risk assessment.
Even the implementation of VPN has improved our security by providing secure access to documents remotely — no more risks of memory sticks, unauthorized use of personal equipment, etc.
Merger integration risks have been reduced by the easy standardization of technology, ensuring consistent systems and security that are easily scalable and repeatable.
Do you have any advice for other Canadian credit unions?
Anita: Finding a partner that has the expertise of technology and deep credit union industry knowledge was essential to the success of our credit union realizing our IT roadmap. We began with a simple and cost effective but immature starting point. We needed a trusted partner with a fulsome view of our entire business — not just banking systems or desktop services.
From the very beginning Celero worked to understand our unique business circumstances and worked with us collaboratively to find solutions, build a roadmap and help implement it. Celero understands the players, systems and what is coming up in the credit union industry and that is a definite value-add in a partner.
Contact us to learn more about managed services or to sign up.
Editors note: this post was originally published in October, 2020 and has been updated for accuracy and new insights.