Jeff Connery, CIO of inUnison Technology Services, spends half his time working out of a spartan office in the bowels of the First Calgary Savings & Credit Union headquarters in Alberta, Canada. Connery and CEO Tim Wasilieff share an office -- actually a trailer that's been backed up to a nondescript building where a wall was knocked out to create a doorway. The rest of the IT department is also crammed cheek by jowl outside the door. "We have no room here," Connery says.
Connery spends the rest of his time working at Envision Financial, on the other side of the Rockies, in Langley, outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. For a while, Connery was CIO of both credit unions -- though there had been no business merger. Instead, there was the vision of two CEOs of creating a network of credit unions across the country, providing services for traveling members, enabled by a shared technology platform and ultimately other shared services as well.
Two years ago, the credit unions merged their IT departments into a joint venture called inUnison to handle the technology infrastructure for both institutions. They also merged marketing, sales, HR and even executive teams, except for the CEOs and CFOs.
"In addition to IT services, our intention is to offer other administrative and back-office services that all credit unions need," Wasilieff says. "There's reason to believe that there will be economies of scale. It's about reducing the cost of technology by spreading the cost out among a larger number of credit unions."
It's also about merging staff in a way that there are no layoffs -- indeed, more jobs result. And about transforming a group with moribund gatekeepers into one replete with proactive leaders and trained specialists. And about installing a common software platform that provides views across myriad systems, enabling visibility that may provide a competitive edge.
"Credit unions have never been cutting edge in technology," Connery says. "Now we're looking to leverage technology. It's a big change."
This was first published in November 2007