For most Canadians, financial institutions come in two forms: a brick-and-mortar bank or the online version of the same thing. But for over 10 million Canadians (and counting), there is an alternative option – credit unions.
Rewind back to the beginning of the 20th century when Canada’s banks mainly focused on corporate clients and wealthy investors. Alphonse Desjardins recognized a need for lending services for people of more limited means. After learning about a growing trend in Europe of cooperative, member-owned financial institutions, he launched his “caisses populaires” (the first of its kind in North America), and the credit union was born.
My friend James and I recently had the opportunity to talk with Ian Burns, the CEO of Alberta Central, the central banking facility, service bureau and trade association for Alberta credit unions. I know this might not sound like the most riveting conversation to the average person, but to two accountants, well – let’s just say we were pretty excited.
Credit unions look like a bank, walk like a bank and talk like a bank, so what makes them so unique? We answered this during our conversation with Mr. Burns and learned how credit unions have paved the way of banking innovation in Canada to become a niche in the financial industry.
Here are eight things you need to know about the Credit Unions of Alberta:
- Credit union customers are members and owners and are open to anyone. You simply need to buy a single share at a small, one-time fee. This is one of the key differences between credit unions and banks. The three largest credit unions in Alberta are Servus Credit Union, Connect First Credit Union and Vision Credit Union.
- They are convenient. Alberta credit unions have more than 190 branches and 270 ATMs across the province, giving them an ATM network bigger than most banks. They also have mobile and online banking solutions available.
- They offer profit sharing to members. When a credit union makes a profit, they share it back with members in the form of annual returns. So when you choose to bank with credit unions, you make money while you save money, whether you are making investments or not.
- Your money is 100% safe and secure. All deposits and interest, up to any amount, are guaranteed by the Alberta Credit Union Deposit Guarantee Corporation – a provincial investment insurance program. As a note, banks offer similar guarantees, but are covered under the federal Canadian Deposit Insurance Corporation.
- Innovation is key. Credit unions also claim a long list of “firsts” for Canadian banking, including being the first institutions to lend women funds in their own names (in the 1960s), the first full-service ATMs, the first fully functional online banking, and first home equity lines of credit.
- You can “ding free”. Members can access a national network of ATMs with no surcharge (in other words, you will not be “dinged” when you use an ATM-clever right?). They also developed the ding free app to help members locate the nearest surcharge-free ATM, anywhere in Canada. To download the ding free ATM locator app click here.
- They are adept at meeting customer needs. Based on their origins as financial institutions for “the little guy”, customer service is a point of pride for credit unions. Collectively, credit unions have topped polling firm Ipsos’ Best Banking Awards in the “Customer Service Excellence” category every year for the past decade.
- Credit unions meet you in real life. With a business model focused on customer needs, they are a compelling choice for individuals at any stage of life. After speaking with Mr. Burns and other members of the financial team, it is clear that Alberta credit unions genuinely care about their communities and helping people achieve their goals. If we’re being honest, they have made me seriously contemplate who I bank with.
To learn more about the Credit Unions of Alberta,visit: albertacreditunions.com
You can also find them on social media:
Facebook: AB Credit Unions
This post was sponsored by the Credit Unions of Alberta. As always the thoughts and opinions of chrissymeetsworld.com are mine.