LANGLEY, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - July 9, 2012) - First West Credit Union has welcomed the federal government's recent announcement that it was planning to expand regulatory changes that would allow credit unions to extend their reach beyond current provincial boundaries.
"Credit unions have a proven track record of providing responsible, community-focussed financial services to Canadians across the country," says Shawn Neumann, board chair of First West, Canada's fifth largest credit union. "Canadian consumers will be well served by having financial service alternatives to the federal banks. Removing the artificial barriers for Canadian credit unions is a good first start to modernizing banking competition in our country."
Neumann notes that many Canadians are surprised that credit unions-which fall under provincial jurisdiction and regulatory oversight-have been unable to offer financial services inter-provincially. He adds that the federal legislation is one avenue for interprovincial expansion; the other is interprovincial trade agreements such as the New West Partnership Trade Agreement between British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
While Neumann supports the greater consumer choice the federal legislation will provide Canadian consumers, he indicates that it is likely a few, already large credit unions in Canada that will take advantage of it.
"We believe the real opportunity for most credit unions is growth through greater cooperation and partnership," explains Neumann. "For First West, our preference is to see credit unions retain their local identity and local decision-making through a partnership model, rather than through large scale mergers or aggressive national expansion exercises."
"What Canadians love about their credit unions today is the local decision-making, local leadership and local identity," Neumann explains. "To lose these for the sake of being a national organization would be unfortunate and completely unnecessary." Neumann points to the success of the uniquely-styled First West partnership model as a positive third approach to cooperative banking.
"The First West partnership approach offers the best of being big and acting local," says Neumann. First West-one of Canada's largest credit unions-is comprised of two local divisions: Envision Financial and Valley First. Envision Financial provides full financial services to residents of B.C.'s Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland, and Valley First does likewise for residents of the province's Okanagan, Thompson and Similkameen valleys. Having preserved their local identities and local decision making, the organizations have experienced significant financial and customer growth through their collective strength. In 2010, the credit union had the highest ROA of major credit unions in B.C. and in 2011, it reported the highest customer (membership) growth percentage of major credit unions in the province.
"The response by other credit unions across the country to First West's friendly 'work-big, act-local' model has been very encouraging," shares Neumann. "There's always opportunity for progressive, like-minded credit unions to join and grow with our movement. Credit unions who join gain all the benefits of one of the country's leading credit unions without giving up those elements that make them distinct."
On whether this partnership model could extend across provincial boundaries, Neumann has a positive outlook. "Progressive government leaders recognize the importance of ensuring credit unions can partner inter-provincially. This federal announcement may be just the thing to more quickly advance these deliberations so that the home-grown success of credit unions can continue at a provincial level."
About First West Credit Union
First West Credit Union offers members the financial strength, comprehensive product selection and extended branch network of a large financial institution while maintaining local brand identities and a unique grassroots approach to service. Led by Launi Skinner, First West is one of Canada's largest credit unions with $6.6 billion in assets under administration, more than 169,000 members and close to 1,400 employees. It operates 37 branches throughout the province under the Envision Financial and Valley First brands. For more information on First West Credit Union, visit firstwestcu.ca.
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