Human error knocks credit unions offline most of Tuesday
Outage affected banking services at Access, Assiniboine and Steinbach credit unions
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On Tuesday, Crystal Bornais scrolled, searching for answers.
She checked company websites, Twitter — what was happening with the credit unions?
“No (customer) was able to pay us,” the prairieHOUSE Performance employee said. “We kept getting all these messages saying ‘E-transfer has failed’ and things like that.”
Services at many Manitoba credit unions had halted. Technology company Celero Communications, which some credit unions use for their banking systems, lost power at its data centre.
Celero wouldn’t disclose how many credit unions across Manitoba and Ontario were affected; however, the keystone province’s biggest credit unions — Access, Assiniboine and Steinbach — were among the group.
Access Credit Union alone has more than 168,000 members.
Online banking and ATM use, alongside other services, came to a standstill for some branches.
“The disruption was a result of a human error caused by a third-party building maintenance staff working onsite.”–Celero spokesperson
“The disruption was a result of a human error caused by a third-party building maintenance staff working onsite,” a Celero spokesperson wrote in an email.
The disruption began around 8:30 a.m., according to the spokesperson. They wouldn’t disclose further details about the incident or where it occurred, citing security reasons.
“This was not a cyber-related issue or deliberate act,” the spokesperson wrote.
All data within the centre remains protected, they added.
“We do have backup power sources for our data centres,” they wrote. “However, in this circumstance, the design of the safety mechanism intentionally shut down all power to the building, preventing our backup power system from being deployed.”
The company began work to fix the outage immediately, and banking services were running by late Tuesday.
“We will be conducting a thorough analysis of the disruption and identify any resulting actions,” Celero’s spokesperson wrote.
‘We rely on these systems’
On Tuesday morning, Bornais was confused about the situation. Her boss had returned from an Access Credit Union saying the site’s systems were down.
Bornais then checked the website of Assiniboine Credit Union, where she banks, to find their services affected too.
“It didn’t say anything about an outage,” she said. “I kept checking back to see.”
PrairieHOUSE Performance clients questioned whether the business was having its own system failure.
Outages happen, Bornais noted — just look at Rogers, where millions of customers lost service in the summer. Still, Bornais would like to see more transparency with the public in the future.
“We all rely on these systems to work. When they don’t, it’s very concerning,” she said.
Affected credit unions posted updates on social media and informed customers at physical branches, company spokespeople told the Free Press.
“I’ve been looking for information on how our data is stored and protected,” said Jeremy Rowley, an Access Credit Union customer.
He conveyed confusion Wednesday morning, wondering why some system wouldn’t kick into gear if a company had a power outage.
“I wish there was more transparency. Just kind of a confirmation that there (are) back-up plans in place… that would prevent this from happening again,” he said.
More transparency sought
Customers generally cut businesses slack when there’s open communication, according to Lukas Neville, a University of Manitoba business professor.
“In the absence of information, everyone fills in the blanks,” he said. “No matter how much you’re communicating, you’re probably not communicating enough.”
Some credit union users wrongly linked Access’s recent mergers with smaller credit unions to the outage.
Spokespeople for both Access and Assiniboine credit unions said they would work with Celero Communications to prevent future outages.
“We recognize the significant impact this has had on not only our membership, but other credit union members across the province,” Dawn Borges, Access Credit Union’s vice-president of marketing and communications, wrote in an email.
The outage isn’t a sign to ditch Celero, noted Wenxi Pu, a University of Manitoba professor who specializes in management information systems.
“They found the outage… and they fixed it the same day. I think that indicates reliability,” Pu said, adding it would be different if this were a common occurrence.
Having so many credit unions using the same service provider is risky, but also allows Celero to expand its services and beef up security, Pu said.
“The technology provider has confirmed this was not a cyber-related issue or deliberate act,” Amie Warkentin, Credit Union Central of Manitoba’s strategic communications director, wrote in an email.
“All member and organizational… services remain protected.”
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.
Updated on Thursday, November 24, 2022 12:52 PM CST: Updates typo in headline