‘Credit unions are now competing with both the pillar and challenger banks’

19 Jan 2021

Declan Colfer. Image: Wellington IT

Wellington IT’s Declan Colfer discusses the development of tech for the credit union sector, evolving consumer trends, and how he keeps his team together in the remote work era.

Declan Colfer is managing director of software company Wellington IT. The Belfast-headquartered business provides SaaS tech for credit unions in Ireland and the UK, with the aim of digitising and automating processes to future-proof the sector. Last year, it launched a new mobile app for credit union members.

Dublin-native Colfer has been with Wellington IT for almost two decades, working across a number of teams before taking up the role of managing director in 2019.

‘A renewed appreciation of local services among prospective customers, precipitated by the pandemic, opens the door to new and exciting opportunities for credit unions’

Describe your role and what you do.

As managing director of Wellington IT, I am ultimately responsible for the strategic direction of the company, and ensuring our business operates well and succeeds in delivering on our mantra of making lives better. My day-to-day can vary dramatically, and I enjoy the diversity associated with delivering on our core objectives, while maintaining a laser-sharp focus on addressing future challenges inherent to our market.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I truly believe that establishing a healthy working rhythm is a key ingredient to long-term success and each day, I aim to maximise the value of time spent on particular tasks. This involves delegating efficiently, knowing when to pause and reflect, while also leaning on my brilliant colleagues for fresh insights.

Ultimately, every decision I make is viewed through the lens of the big picture – thinking how does this tie in with our strategy? By routinely asking this question, it really simplifies the decision-making process and ensures a consistency to the approach we take and the inroads we make.

Clear and regular communication with my leadership team is a critical feature of my working life and helps the strong spirit of collaboration that had defined our success to date.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

Evolving consumer trends and the highly competitive landscape. Credit unions are competing with both the pillar banks and also challenger banks that are permeating the market. People won’t accept anything less than convenient and secure banking, as well as a comprehensive suite of financial services that are easy to access and navigate, meaning that credit unions need to be firmly in tune with the demands of their members.

Our understanding of our customers and prevailing market trends has directed our efforts so far, and we are proud to offer the only full banking service built specifically for the credit union sector in Ireland.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

By catering to the banking requirements of today’s savvy customer base, we are constantly looking at new ways to provide value and support. A renewed appreciation of local services among prospective customers, precipitated by the pandemic, opens the door to new and exciting opportunities for credit unions.

Global market fluctuations and inefficiencies within legacy financial services elevates the status of local credit unions. We are proud to work with credit unions to ensure that they can service members both in branch for all their financial service needs, and also through the roll-out of a complete digital strategy including full online services, mobile app, current accounts and debit cards.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

I joined Wellington IT almost 19 years ago and started working in the help desk providing support to our software offering.

One of the great things about working in Wellington IT is the clear career progression. My progression to this particular role included spells as assistant support manager, support manager, support and implementation manager, COO and then managing director.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

I wouldn’t pinpoint a specific mistake but, in the past, I would try to tackle challenges head on without always leaning on the expertise of our wider team. It is something I had to work on in the early stages.

How do you get the best out of your team?

By encouraging and empowering each member of the team to harness their own strengths and capabilities as part of a collaborative company culture. We also place a strong emphasis on staff health and wellbeing. A well-rested, engaged staff is the foundation for a successful business.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

Quite the contrary, actually. One of the great things about working with credit unions is their inclusive ethos and the unwavering focus on delivering services to all parts of the community. Credit unions are a shining example of how to support all members of the community.

Did you ever have a mentor or someone who was pivotal in your career?

Over the course of my 19 years with Wellington IT, I have been fortunate enough to have worked with a range of highly talented and supportive professionals. The founders of the business, Alex Dunne and Kevin Taylor, had a major influence on my career development.

Since the business was acquired by Volaris in 2014, I have been able to work closely within the leadership team – led by Kevin Bradley, now current group leader – which has been a tremendous learning experience. I have also had the privilege of meeting many seasoned and dynamic leaders in businesses across the world.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I found Good to Great by Jim Collins to be a wonderful piece of literature to inform the operation of a well-run business. Scaling Up by Verne Harnish is another very powerful piece of work outlining some remarkable success stories that have inspired my efforts to grow the business.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

Having a robust planning process in place enables me to control the week as best I can. The need for strong communication channels has never been more pronounced, particularly in the remote working era.

Scheduling catch-up calls using apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams is a critical part of the working day. This extends right across the organisation, from leadership and management level to each of the teams, with one-to-one contacts and in wider business briefings.

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