CUA sweeps aside final floods debris

Eighteen months after the 2011 Brisbane floods temporarily took out its Internet banking service, Credit Union Australia (CUA) has effectively rebuilt its IT system from the ground up for added resilience.
Written by Spandas Lui, Contributor

Nobody wants to deal with problems that occurred before their tenure at a new job. But that was exactly what Credit Union Australia (CUA) CIO David Gee was faced with, after taking on the role nine months ago.

In January 2011, Brisbane suffered one of the worst floods in the city's history. Water levels peaked at 4.5 metres, turning dry land into a muddy quagmire. As the waters seeped into the CBD, residents and businesses were evacuated. Credit Union Australia (CUA) was among businesses with headquarters in the area.

In the aftermath of the natural disaster, CUA's hands were full, dealing with damage to its offices and branches. On top of that, it had to cope with repairing its IT systems.

The bank's on-premise was affected by the floods, and it was forced to shut down its Internet banking services for 16 hours.

Despite CUA issuing an apology to customers, assuring them their personal data remained secure, it was called out by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) over the nationwide online banking outage.

While Gee assumed his role after the Brisbane flood debacle, he was thrust into the spotlight in his second week on the job when APRA paid a visit to CUA's headquarters.

"APRA hadn't been here for a long time, but it was very concerned about where CUA was at, from a business resilience standpoint," Gee told ZDNet Australia.

The banking and credit union regulator wanted to ensure that CUA was taking the correct measures to avoid a repeat of the January 2011 outage.

"The incident was obviously taken very seriously, because nobody wants banks to be out and people become concerned about security and so forth," Gee said.

APRA raised a long list of concerns and the CUA took steps to address them, one by one.

"We actually just finished all that work now," Gee said.

CUA effectively rebuilt its IT infrastructure from the ground up, albeit in a different location — away from the flood plains. It also put in place new IBM mainframes and laid out a new networking infrastructure. In addition to that, a new firewall and storage network was put in place.

"So we moved the datacentre to a new location that has better resilience, air-conditioning and everything else," Gee said. "We put in new gear and upgraded everything to make those changes happen."

The upgrades also helped support the bank's IT transformation, announced in March 2011, which involved replacing its core banking system with an off-the-shelf product called BaNCS. The project, for which CUA teamed up with Tata Consultancy Services, will be completed next year.

During CUA's IT upgrade, inevitably, there will be outages, but the bank will be very cautious in maintaining uptime for customers, Gee said.

"Our IT department has grown, which is counter to other financial institutions," he said. "We are actually trying to build new capabilities and capacities, as well."

NFC is where it's at

CUA has also recently released its first mobile banking app for Apple and Google phones. While it is a late-comer in mobile banking, and the app only features simple functionalities (only balance checking and money transfer capabilities), Gee said that his priority was to make it clean and easy to use for customers.

The new app is compatible with CUA's old IT system. Since its soft launch on Thursday, it has racked up several thousand downloads. Gee said that he would look at options for adding features to the app, once the transformation had been completed, but added that no decisions had been made on which features the bank would implement.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) recently launched its Kaching app for Google Android phones, featuring peer-to-peer money transfers through email or Facebook. It also announced that it will be releasing a dedicated Facebook application, which will facilitate payment transactions on the social media website.

While CUA hasn't ruled out following in CBA's footsteps, Gee was more interested in exploring banking options offered by near-field communication (NFC).

CBA's Kaching currently does not support NFC, unless users have an iPhone equipped with an iCase.

"I'm a big believer in the phone being a wallet, and that will happen with NFC," Gee said. "Some of those other technologies in between are kind of transitionary towards what people are going to get."

Gee is looking forward to banking via NFC, and is keen to move CUA in that direction.

"[NFC] is where we need to be playing in," he said. "All the other things in between have the cool factor, but I'm not sure if they are significant, in terms of servicing customers."

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