Case study – Meridian re-evaluates modern board technology - Aprio
Meridian Credit Union branch

Case study – Meridian re-evaluates modern board technology

How can a credit union select the best modern technology to increase the efficiency of board and committee meetings and improve services to its board? That’s the question Meridian Credit Union was examining after first evaluating board portal software nine years ago.

Even though Meridian had just earned a Governance Professionals of Canada EGA award for Best Approach to Achieving Effective Board and Committee Operations, which included accolades for how effectively the organization prepared for meetings and communicated with directors, the credit union didn’t want to get complacent with how their board operated or their choice of board portal technology.

In this interview, Meridian Governance Specialist Kate MacLeod describes how Aprio board portal technology and service team stands out among the other modern board portal technology available today. She also explains how it’s not just the technology you select, but also how you use it that determines your board efficiency.

Here are some of the other insights from Meridian’s 2019 evaluation of the best board portal software for credit unions

Q: Tell us about Meridian Credit Union and your role on the board.

Kate MacLeod: Meridian is Ontario’s largest credit union and the third largest in Canada. We serve more than 350,000 members with financial services online, by phone, by mobile, and through a network of 91 branches and 13 commercial banks. We’ve grown through amalgamation of several credit unions over our 75-year history. Today, we have $21.6 billion in assets under management.

I am one of the two governance specialists on a lean corporate governance team reporting to our VP Corporate Governance. The governance specialists coordinate and manage board meeting preparation, including planning the agenda, gathering management reports, ensuring timely delivery of meeting materials to board members, and providing ongoing communication to directors between meetings. It’s also our team’s role to stay on top of evolving regulatory requirements, including those from the FSRA, which regulates credit unions.

Q: Could you provide an overview of how your board functions?

Kate MacLeod: Our board has 12 members and has scheduled quarterly meetings, plus a two-day strategic meeting. In addition, there are a number of special meetings throughout the year. There are five committees of the board: audit & finance, governance, human resources, nominating, and risk. 

Q: What led your organization to re-evaluate your board portal technology?

Kate MacLeod: We had been with Aprio for nearly a decade. Originally, we chose Aprio to migrate from an inefficient paper process, save on postage costs, and bring certainty to our data security. Aprio served us well and affordably. But with so much change in our organization and with what’s possible in technology, we thought it was time for a reassessment.

Q: Could you describe the modern board management problems you needed a board portal to solve?

Kate MacLeod: Today, Meridian is an evolving organization that now includes two subsidiaries, both with their own boards. We had outgrown how we originally set up the Aprio board portal, and we weren’t sure how to graduate up to the next level.

Our board reporting had grown in sheer volume, and locating information had become a struggle. Our method of preparing board material was to create a PDF as a single document update. For some meetings, that document was more than 500 pages – so it was difficult to search the entire document when questions arose. In addition, we increased the amount of educational and reference material shared with our boards. We were also struggling to provide diverse access for committee members, some of whom needed read only privileges and some full rights.

Q: How did you evaluate the board portal technology available?

Kate MacLeod: Our board was very involved with our corporate governance team in providing input and oversight of the evaluation. We looked at a few different portals, including Diligent and BoardVantage. Given that we were already familiar with board portal technology, we were well prepared to do a thorough comparison of the functionality and support offered.

Q: Why did you choose Aprio – for the second time?

Kate MacLeod: We were very prepared to make a change in our board portal if the value was there – but it turned out that Aprio continues to be the best fit for our needs. All we needed was an evolution in how we were using it.

Functionality wise, Aprio provided everything critical to us. Compared to others, Aprio calendaring features are the best, and Aprio’s streamlined steps to schedule or reschedule meetings is critical to us. Contact management – setting up and managing access for board members or committee members – is simplest in Aprio. It’s easy to give users read only versus active access, and that lets us provide the transparency we want across our board, without additional charges to add new committees. The audit trail of motions and meeting information is also stronger in Aprio, considering how we work.

We also really valued the Aprio team’s willingness to continuously enhance the portal. When we offer insight on how a function might be more convenient for us, they listen, and we have seen changes aligned with our feedback. We value that commitment.

And on top of all that, Aprio was the most cost effective – not that we would have only gone with the most inexpensive product! In terms of value-for-money, Aprio stands out.

Q: Are you using Aprio differently now to make board meetings and communication more efficient?

Kate MacLeod: When we shared with Aprio that we wanted to continue with them and find ways to better run our board, their service team took the lead in helping us to evolve to our “Aprio 2.0” experience. They helped guide us in reassessing the needs of our board, and advised us on the most streamlined way to operate. We evolved our setup to give board members more convenient access to materials and tools, did a refresher training round, and we’re now seeing the rewards. Board members are coming to meetings better equipped and it’s resulting in more efficient meetings.

Q: What’s different in Meridian’s “Aprio 2.0” usage?

Kate MacLeod: Here are some highlights…

  • Faster search – we’ve embraced the full power of Aprio’s search functionality, and now we’re uploading documents as modules of content instead of one big data lump.
  • Offline access / more iPad app adoption – more of our directors are now using the Aprio tablet app for on and offline access, and are able to access Aprio even if they’re on a plane or away from reliable Wifi. This convenience was a key requirement they raised.
  • Better meeting prep with agenda quick links and annotations – with our board materials manageably divided into individual reports, directors are doing more note taking and sharing comments for discussion at meetings. That better prep, plus quick links from our agenda to critical documents, has helped focus our meeting time on important issues.
  • Security certainty – we originally chose Aprio in part because of its data safeguards. Almost 10 years later, Aprio is still a leader in information security. If we ever need to clear data from a device or computer because it’s been lost, or if a director or executive departs suddenly, we can do that remotely and instantly.
  • Calendar management – we use the Aprio survey tool to find the best times to schedule and reschedule meetings. We’d heard feedback from our board that we needed to streamline our date selection email swirl. Now we use a survey to get director’s input and quickly choose best-for-most board meeting dates.
  • Speed of communication and updates – speed of information delivery remains a top priority with our board. We can prepare a board report and get it to directors within hours. The time savings in meeting preparation is invaluable for our governance specialist team, as is immediate information access for our directors. And if we ever have a situation where we’ve sent our pre-read and there’s a change, we can share an update and get directors a link to the latest version instantly, without confusion.

Q: What’s your advice to other credit unions considering or reassessing their board meeting technology?

Kate MacLeod: Within the credit union community, we’re always networking and asking for advice from peers on how to tackle issues as well as sharing our own lessons.

Many other credit unions have already chosen Aprio and been with them for a long time. After our reassessment of other board portals this year, we’re letting our peers know that Aprio is still the best fit for credit union boards in terms of the capabilities it provides and its dollar value.

Download the full Meridian Credit Union case study.

Photo credit: CBC News

Download the full Meridian case study

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