AWS Public Sector Blog

How one regional credit union is modernizing to enhance their members’ experience

How one regional credit union is modernizing to enhance their members' experience

To understand how a regional institution approaches cloud migration as a catalyst to deliver more agility and value from IT, Amazon Web Services (AWS) invited Mark Michaels, chief information officer (CIO), and Jeff McLauchlin, vice president of DevOps, from Columbia Credit Union to share their experiences embracing cloud technology.

Columbia Credit Union (CU) is a financial cooperative based in the State of Washington. We serve over 100,000 members, including individuals and small businesses, through 16 locations within the greater Vancouver and Portland areas. We are heavily focused on reaching new credit union members and better serving our current members, as well as strengthening the local economy through expanding small business loans and investing in businesses committed to the community. Throughout all of our services, Columbia maintains a community-first focus with over 70 years of experience.

Like most financial institutions, Columbia CU offers standard financial services, such as checking and savings accounts, loans, investments, and financial planning. To delight our members and sustain our growth, we knew we needed to modernize to distinguish Columbia CU as a premier service provider within the industry. Working backward from the goal to serve every one in three people in Clark County, Washington, Columbia created an ambitious plan to migrate our IT infrastructure to Amazon Web Services (AWS) in an incremental, thoughtful way.

Creating a cultural shift in the credit union industry

Eager to preserve the high degree of trust that the community has for Columbia CU, we had to address key stakeholder concerns when choosing a cloud provider and developing a migration strategy. We were working against an ideology, one pervasive in our industry, that for data to be secure and accessible, it must be housed in on-premises servers that our IT staff could see and touch. Embracing the mindset that core systems could be run within the cloud with greater security, scale, and speed represented a cultural shift for our industry and an exciting chapter for our organization.

The decision to approach our cloud migration in phases was made simpler by collaborating with the Credit Union Team at AWS. In a multi-day planning session with AWS, we convened IT strategists and organizational leaders to create alignment between the technical needs and business considerations of our organization. Working backwards from the vision to serve every one in three people in our community, we exchanged bold ideas and set ambitious goals for our organization. The team emerged energized, and the outcome was a cohesive strategy for cloud adoption that was relayed to organizational leadership and the Board of Directors.

Ultimately, we decided to adopt AWS based on a few factors. AWS offered a mature portfolio of cloud solutions with various simple and accessible products, technical guidance, and customer services. Plus, working with AWS gave our employees the opportunity to work with the latest technologies and advance their skills working in the cloud. AWS offered clear and consistent pricing for its products and services, and we were attracted to the AWS Shared Responsibility Model – the fact that AWS doesn’t own your data, you have full access to it, you can extract it at any time, and you can control who can access the data within your organization. Importantly, AWS technology reduces undifferentiated tasks of managing infrastructure for our IT staff, which frees them up to innovate on behalf of our members.

We developed a multi-year roadmap for cloud adoption that began by migrating our disaster recovery to the cloud, which we are on schedule to have completed by mid-2023. Then, we’ll migrate our core business continuity systems, with the eventual goal of a complete cloud migration, as on-premises technology and systems age and expire. An important lesson we learned was how to distinguish between disaster recovery and business continuity – we were treating them as the same strategy. Our new target architecture will have our disaster recovery stored within the cloud at a fraction of the cost, and business continuity strategies in the event of failure. This will decrease potential downtime and improve our ability to deliver uninterrupted services to our members.

A mindful migration for staff

While preparing to migrate to the cloud, one of the unexpected benefits was the excitement and camaraderie that the credit union’s technical staff felt toward working with the latest technologies. AWS hosted an Immersion Day event, at which our development and operations teams came together to collaborate outside of the office and develop a foundational knowledge of cloud technologies. The goal was to have the staff understand the AWS Management Console, the products available for innovation, and when to leverage the AWS technical resources to address questions. With a phased approach to cloud migration, we can upskill the team with significant lead time so that they can grow and develop skills as we adopt various technologies. The result? Our team was excited to return to the office and innovate on behalf of our members.

Our next step in deployment will be to understand how we can leverage infrastructure-as-code (IaC) to create, update, and version our infrastructure so that it’s repeatable and scalable across the organization. Our team is developing programmatic ways of rolling out new technology so that once we have those pieces built, we can deploy across the organization’s multiple IT environments. Programs can be deployed in minutes instead of days, and our staff can focus less on undifferentiated tasks (like patching servers and monitoring uptime) that have little impact on our members.

Innovating on behalf of our members

Columbia CU set out to differentiate itself within the credit union industry and deliver value to its members by providing enhanced services that meet the unique needs of its community. By migrating to the cloud, we can drastically increase uptime for our services and the stability of our environment. This is something we struggled with in the past. In a completely bespoke environment with no IaC system, when we experienced failure or downtime, we had to completely rebuild a server and then put the applications back on. With the cloud, we’ve forecasted the ability to reduce that administrative toil, and the end result will be faster and more reliable services for our members.

Columbia CU’s philosophy is to provide the maximum value to our members and be the financial institution of choice for our community. We addressed uncertainties surrounding cloud adoption within our organization by engaging in a strategy planning session that helped us not only envision a future state of optimized IT infrastructure, but also codify our organization’s business strategy and vision for future growth. With the efficiencies created by cloud adoption, we will be able to pass savings and innovations on to our members and invest in our community.

Explore more ways AWS can improve member services for nonprofit financial institutions.

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Mark Michaels

Mark Michaels

Mark Michaels is the chief information officer (CIO) at Columbia Credit Union. He is a proven leader in credit union executive management, driving performance through attainment of strategic goals. He has achieved success in directing the development and implementation of organization-wide strategic plans, including duties from strategy creation to operational implementation, with emphasis on technology innovation. Mark facilitated the executive planning process involving the setting, executing, monitoring, and reporting of the strategic direction of a large organization, consistently achieving established goals within financial parameters and timeframes. He directed the development of key projects utilizing an in-depth knowledge of financial service technology systems and applications. Mark has demonstrated results by coaching and developing employees to perform and achieve the vision of the organization through accountability and performance measures.

Jeff McLauchlin

Jeff McLauchlin

Jeff McLauchlin is the vice president of DevOps at Columbia Credit Union. Jeff is an experienced cloud architect with a background in finance and consulting. Jeff has 25 years of IT experience, with seven of those years at Deloitte, Cloudreach, and Columbia Credit Union.