“Ripe with opportunity” is how Ray Kenny, CEO of Bishopstown Credit Union describes his industry. The credit union movement has been a powerful force in Ireland’s financial history. Three million people in Ireland, out of a population of just over six million, are members of a credit union, and the total asset base of credit unions in Ireland is over 12.6 billion. The industry is full of potential, and Bishopstown has strategically positioned itself to take full advantage of the possibilities in the market through technology innovation.
With over 24,000 members, Bishopstown is one of the largest community based credit unions in Ireland. The institution prides itself on taking a proactive approach to Financial Services and understands that the needs of its members are always changing. “Our members were looking to access their cash 24/7 worldwide, either at ATMs or any Point of Sale, and conduct online banking. These were the missing links in our ability to offer full retail banking,” explains Kenny. To compete with not only other credit unions, but also retail banks, the company made it a mission to become a one-stop-shop for all of its members’ financial needs.
Changing the way a company does business is certainly an accomplishment; changing the dynamics of an entire industry is simply remarkable. In less than one year, Bishopstown has revolutionized its business and the way its members can now bank with the help of Portfolio+ and Progress Software. Using the Portfolio Plus real-time banking system based on the Progress OpenEdge platform, Bishopstown has dramatically changed the entire landscape of Ireland's credit union industry by offering members new and innovative services. Portfolio Plus and OpenEdge are at the core of all of Bishopstown’s operations and serve as the engine behind their modernized, 24/7 operation. "We feel like we have moved from a system that restricted our growth to a system that opens the door to limitless possibilities—it has been a huge transition for us," says Kenny.
Being first—that is an accomplishment very few companies can boast of; but Bishopstown can. Since implementing Portfolio Plus, Bishopstown has developed Ireland's very first Credit Union debit card that can be used at over 26 million locations worldwide. The card also offers instant text alerts and the ability to earn points that can be converted to cash. Before the new system, Bishopstown was only able to offer its members off line access to some ATMs in Ireland using an ATM card. Today, members can use their debit cards anywhere in the world to access their funds 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, wherever the MasterCard brand is displayed. In addition, each debit cardholder is provided full online access to manage their account and view real-time transaction history.
“This was a pipedream for us two years ago. We never would have thought it possible that we could provide this kind of service to our members. To date our card has been used on every continent,” says Kenny.
Prior to Portfolio Plus, the institution offered members access to a very basic Web page that provided limited information. Today Bishopstown offers its members complete online banking where they can view their funds in real time and transfer funds internally or externally (www.bishopstowncu.ie). Where the credit union was once 9-5, it is now a 24/7 business, offering both online banking and access to information over the phone for members located in any country.
The impact of Bishopstown’s thought leadership has not gone unnoticed by its local community. Recently, the organisation was honored with a reception held by the Lord Mayor of Cork, Councillor Brian Bermingham for the organization’s innovative and progressive achievements. "We received the award for our innovation in the financial services industry. We were the first credit union in Ireland to launch mortgages, financial services and to have a real-time online debit card. The award was an emotional evening for us. It was a true honor to be recognized by our local government."
Portfolio Plus has significantly impacted Bishopstown’s own internal operations. With its prior system, many functions were performed manually or by third party systems, and because the credit union has three branches, each branch was responsible for managing many of these processes individually. Using Portfolio Plus, almost all of the credit union’s processes have now been automated. "For example, to perform bank account reconciliation we previously had one person manually marking up 500-600 cheques a week," says Brian Dennehy, Branch Manager for Bishopstown Credit Union. "Today the system can automatically reconcile a cheque with the appropriate account. The process is not only automated and more efficient, but the information is certainly more accurate as well."
Before using Portfolio Plus, the credit union depended on a third party to support its local ATM card service. The process required a second bank account for each card, separate from a member's chequing account, and those accounts had to be reconciled on a daily basis. Today that entire process is managed using Portfolio+.
Large employers in the area previously submitted payrolls for deposit. They would provide Bishopstown a listing and a cheque and then employees would input that information manually into their own system. Today, those payroll files are delivered electronically and the funds are automatically deposited into the member’s account. "Electronic reconciliation is a major benefit of this system. We have optimized our business, improved our processes, and added new offerings, all while freeing up man hours and without having to hire additional employees. That is remarkable," says Dennehy.
With Bishopstown's new services, members no longer need to visit a branch to conduct business, but can instead perform many functions online, on the phone or through an ATM. This has significantly freed up man hours that the organization has been able to reallocate to other parts of the business. "The whole structure of our credit union is changing," says Kenny. "We will now have much more time to proactively look for new ways to better serve our members."
Scrambling at the eleventh hour to meet regulations can be detrimental not only to a company's productivity, but to its viability in the market. "Regulators are coming down hard on financial institutions in Ireland and it is absolutely critical that we are compliant, reporting properly and that the information is accurate," says Kenny. "Meeting these regulatory requirements is much easier with an integrated system like Portfolio Plus, which is used at companies that must meet very strict regulations and compliance requirements."
During the most recent meeting with the Financial Regulator in Ireland, Bishopstown (and other Portfolio+ credit union customers) were praised for their accurate arrears reporting. Other credit unions will have to improve their reporting to stay compliant.
With Portfolio Plus, Bishopstown will easily meet future European financial regulations. Legislation recently passed mandating that in 2012 cheques are to be phased out of the banking system in Europe, and that by 2016 cheques are to be gone altogether. Bishopstown is well positioned to meet those new rules.
Also at top of Ray Kenny's mind is fraud. Kenny says, "Financial institutions are reactive and most will enhance their methods for detecting and preventing fraud only after they suffer significant losses. We didn't want to wait for that. We proactively improved our capabilities for authentication and fraud prevention by adopting Portfolio Plus. It provides us with anti-fraud reporting, immediate authentication at the teller, and real-time mobile phone notifications."
Today's financial institution managers must carefully monitor their financial health and take specific actions if necessary. Portfolio Plus, with its real-time reporting, provides the tools to pinpoint issues as they occur and can simultaneously monitor the vital signs of share accounts, link accounts, loans, and fixed deposits.
Bishopstown spent years researching its different options for an integrated system. They looked at every system in Ireland and those used by many of the local retail banks, but none of them met the organization's needs. Dennehy says a number of factors went into their decision to choose Portfolio+ and Progress.
First, Portfolio Plus is a fully integrated system. Second it is proven technology, successfully operating in both medium to very large financial institutions. And lastly, the system is built on a solid, reliable industry leading platform.
Dennehy and Kenny have been extremely satisfied with the performance of their Progress OpenEdge platform. "The system has proven to be extremely reliable and flexible and it requires little to no maintenance," says Kenny.
Very few financial institutions have escaped the adverse affects of the recent economic downturn, but that cannot be said for Bishopstown. "From the beginning, Portfolio+ said they would be our strategic partner in helping us to succeed, and they have done just that," says Dennehy. "In fact, during the economic downturn and credit crunch we were not affected. We were able to issue members any of their loan requirements, meet their savings repayments and give them a good return on their investments. Portfolio+ has helped to make us a stronger and more agile business."
Portfolio+ Inc. connects financial institutions with customers and partners using innovative technologies. Its software solutions and open banking technology are used by financial institutions in Canada, Ireland, and the UK. With its powerful +Open Banking Platform and fully documented APIs, Portfolio+ has the power to connect banks, credit unions, and financial institutions with an evolving ecosystem of financial services technology that is putting everyday customers in control of their financial data.
Located in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Portfolio+ is used by 6 of the 7 largest financial institutions in Canada and is a part of Volaris Group Inc.
Progress (NASDAQ: PRGS) is a global software company that enables enterprises to be operationally responsive to changing conditions and customer interactions as they occur. Our goal is to enable our customers to capitalize on new opportunities, drive greater efficiencies, and reduce risk. Progress offers a comprehensive portfolio of best-in-class infrastructure software spanning event-driven visibility and real-time response, open integration, data access and integration, and application development and management—all supporting on-premises and SaaS/cloud deployments. Progress maximizes the benefits of operational responsiveness while minimizing IT complexity and total cost of ownership.
The mark of a true leader is one that constantly strives for greatness. And despite all of Bishopstown’s recent successes, the company continues to look for new ways to deliver value to the people of Ireland. The credit union is meeting with government representatives to discuss the possibility of providing citizens receiving welfare with electronic payments. Doing so would help them to build a credit history and to pay off their debt. Regulators anticipate a major restructuring of the credit union market in Ireland over the next few years. Some speculate that out of the current 532 credit unions operating in the country, only 50-100 will remain. "We intend to be one of those survivors, if not the market leader," declares Kenny. "With help from SIT and Progress we are poised to cope with any future changes in the market and to take full advantage of future opportunities."
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by Strategic Information Technology (SIT) Ltd., Stouffville, Ontario, Canada
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