CCU is a progressive and modern financial institution with a full Banking platform from current accounts, mortgage, Agri/Business loans and to traditional saving and deposit accounts. CCU has become a significant financial institution by leveraging its resources strategically to enjoy a healthy loan book and membership growth, but that growth has increased the demands and expectations on its IT systems from both regulators and members. CCU approached Nostra to undertake a full IT evaluation especially when they were considering opening their fourth branch, a new current account hub in Dundalk town center.
The traditional image of the Credit Unions is often one of a local operation offering small loans to local people. CCU still does that, of course, but as a rapidly growing operation, it now does most things a commercial Bank does, and is fully regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland. Its recent strong growth had revealed the need to enhance its IT operation.
Following Nostra’s audit they recommended Server, cybersecurity and firewall upgrades to future proof our branch network and offer additional services to our members. CCU was planning to open a branch in Dundalk, following the closure of Ulster Bank in the town centre, and management were under intense pressure not to miss the opportunity to create a visible alternative for Ulster’s former customers in the town. This meant that any IT challenges had be resolved in an exceptionally tight time frame.
We have regular in-person meetings with our Nostra team where we work out what we’ve done and what’s next, and can discuss any issues. We’ve learnt to trust them, and it really does feel like a partnership for the future.”
Proper connection problems in sub-offices were our main challenge, as one incident led to one of our sub-offices to be closed for over a week. There was a lack of IT infrastructure assurance and standards, and as Connect Credit Union’s Risk and Compliance Officer, Halala was really concerned with regards to CCU’s IT risk exposure level.
The union was planning to open a branch in Dundalk, following the closure of Ulster Bank there, and management were under intense pressure not to miss the opportunity to create a visible alternative for Ulster’s former customers in the town. This meant that any serious IT issues had to be resolved in an exceptionally tight time frame.
Nostra engaged a more robust ISP to ensure vital connections between branch offices weren’t dropping out, and installed business-grade power supplies at the union’s Blackrock headquarters.
Nostra engineers then overhauled the comms room at the Blackrock offices, upgrading the ageing servers and updating them with the latest Windows version. The single firewall was replaced by a pair of SonicWalls, and VLANs were created, effectively rebuilding the whole infrastructure.
To further address security concerns, Nostra installed its new Cloud Shield product. Although Connect Credit could not base its entire operation on the cloud at this stage because of the specific nature of the banking applications it uses, much of its office work is based on Microsoft 365 Cloud apps. Installing Cloud Shield not only provided three layers of Microsoft security — such as Mandatory 365 authentication controls, Defender for Endpoint and Defender for Office — it added Nostra’s two extra layers: app profiling and further email protection using Datto Defence, and full Datto Office 365 back-up protection.
By quickly understanding the nature of Connect Credit’s needs and concerns, Nostra was able to rapidly overhaul the organisation’s IT infrastructure with minimal downtime, and by continuing to use familiar but updated Microsoft 365 software, branch staff have noticed no real change other than the improved speeds and reliability of the network and an increased level of support. With Nostra’s help, Connect went ahead with establishing the Dundalk office, which opened last October.
Halala Ahmadi now has confidence not just in the efficiency of the organisation’s IT structure but in the robust security measures, including Cloud Shield, now in place. With regular monthly “road-map” meetings with a dedicated Nostra team, she and her fellow executives can monitor the progress of Nostra’s solutions and know they have a responsive partner that can assist them as they grow. They also feel far more positive in terms of meeting financial regulatory and compliance standards, and have even recommended Nostra to other credit unions.