by Ian Burns, President and Chief Executive Officer, Alberta Credit Unions
Inspiring hope for a global community. It may sound like a formidable challenge, but that’s exactly what credit unions around the world strive to do every day. It’s also the theme for International Credit Union (ICU) Day, which falls on Thursday, October 15 this year. Beginning in in 1948, ICU Day focuses on celebrating the history and achievements of the global credit union movement. And as president + CEO of Alberta Central, the central banking facility and trade association for credit unions in Alberta, I’m proud to say that Alberta credit unions are some of the most innovative, hardworking and community-minded financial institutions around the globe.
The first credit union in Canada opened in 1900 in Quebec, founded by Aphonse Desjardins. Desjardins championed the idea of cooperative banking as an alternative to the common practice of lending money at unreasonably high interest rates, to improve conditions for the working class and to contribute to economic development.
The movement made its way to Alberta in 1927, with the first credit union opening in the small east-central community of Killam. Since there was no provincial credit union act at the time, its official title was consumer co-operative rather than credit union.
After the government passed the Credit Union Act in 1938, Mangan Credit Union in Edmonton became the first incorporated credit union in Alberta. In Calgary, the first incorporated credit union was Inglewood Savings and Credit Union which is now Servus Credit Union. In line with other credit unions around the world, these financial institutions were formed with purpose: to ensure that neighbours and families in distress were able to access lending, not just major borrowers.
There are some misconceptions out there that credit unions are old and unsophisticated, and that just isn’t true. Credit unions have been leaders in financial innovation for decades, delivering new products and services even before banks. Here are a few examples:
1961 – First financial institutions to lend to women in their own names
1977 – First full-service ATMs
1982 – First debit card service
1995 – First fully functional online banking
2013 – First mobile cheque deposit app
2016 – First social responsible GICs in Canada
It’s About You
As member-owned financial co-operatives, credit unions are dedicated to their members and the communities they serve. That means being part of a credit union is about more than just transactions, it’s about putting people before profits. In fact, credit unions share their profits. Last year, Alberta credit unions shared $90 million with their members through patronage and dividends.
Credit unions also give back to their communities in other meaningful ways. In early 2020, all Albertans felt the impacts of COVID-19. Credit unions played a critical role in helping Albertans and their small businesses meet their financial needs throughout the pandemic. Here are some examples:
- Prioritizing health and safety by offering online and remote banking options
- Providing mortgage and loan deferrals to help with financial challenges
- Helping Albertans access federal and provincial financial aid programs
- Donating funds, such as:
- Encompass Credit Union’s $100,000 donation to the CT Scanner project in 2019
- Lakeland Credit Union’s $100,000 donation to food banks
- Servus Credit Union’s $1 million feel good campaign to help with health and finances as we emerge from the pandemic
- First Calgary Financial’s Stepping Stones Grant to fund grassroots citizen-led projects
- Credit Unions of Alberta’s $6,000 Grad 2020 contest to support graduating high school students
- ABCU Credit Union’s $12,500 donation to local food banks; and more
When you join a credit union, you aren’t just another number. You’re a member and an owner with an equal vote for your credit union board of directors. That means you get the products, services and advice you need with your best interests in mind. You also get award-winning service (credit unions ranked #1 in seven different categories of the IPSOS 2019 Financial Service Excellence Awards), a national network of surcharge-free ATMs and a 100% deposit guarantee through the Credit Union Deposit Guarantee Corporation of Alberta.
Watch our social media posts this month as we share some great stories about real member experiences at credit unions in Alberta. Thank you to all the incredible Albertans who are a part of the credit union movement. Together we will continue to inspire hope for our community.