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General News · 19th April 2014
Noba Anderson
(Great media links at the bottom.)

Last week, we - elected reps from Sointula, Alert Bay and Cortes Island who are all facing Coastal Community Credit Union (CCCU) branch closures (see http://www.cortesisland.com/tideline/show6744a5s/Regional_Director_Spring_Newsletter) - met with the CCCU CEO and Board Chair with many questions and a request to retain at least some level of service in our communities into the fall. This would allow members and businesses, who are now gearing up for the short and intense tourism season upon which our economies are so dependent, to make a smooth service transition. In exchange, we offered to work with them in any way we could to help them retain their members and continue to be the preferred financial service provider in our three communities.

Instead of any information at all, what we received in return was a letter stating “that they have reaffirmed their initial decision that these three branches and ATMs will close on July 5th, 2014.” The full letter is attached to this article.

Under section 76 of the Credit Union Incorporation Act if 300 members request that an issue be put to the membership for a vote, the board must comply. Under this provision, the CCCU was then served with a resolution with 944 signatures, collected within only a few days, calling for a special vote of the members to rescind the branch closure decision and reinstate all three to their former level of service.

What we received in turn at the CCCU Annual General Meeting on April 16th, was an unequivocal message from the CEO, Adrian Legin, that the board would not reconsider their decision. That this position was so emphatic from the CEO the same day that the signed resolution was served, certainly before the board – who is the decision making body – was able to meet and formally discuss the matter, was in itself disturbing. In fact, he stated that because the resolution pertained to an ‘operational matter’ the board was not bound to follow the direction of its members even if members did vote in support of the resolution. In fact, they went so far as to suggest that petitioners consider withdrawing the petition because it would cost too much money to put the question to the entire membership for a vote.

The CCCU AGM was attended by nearly 200 members who were mostly CCCU staff. There were also elected and business representatives from all three affected communities, including a large delegation from Sointula. After receiving the standard financial reports, all of which were very strong (over $8 million profit in 2013) we really carried the meeting. There were no other items of new business and no members discussed any other matter.

Before they even opened the floor to questions, they were very defensive about their closure decision. They said their bottom line was to make money to reinvest in the organization. They stressed that their philosophy was that of cooperation but in defending their position, their decision making process is clearly not in line with their stated philosophy.

Then the questions and member comments began. The point that was made so clear from every speaker was the total and complete lack of member engagement or consultation on these branch closures. We were never even told that there was a problem. The Cortes delegation was comprised of me as well as Carol London and Elizabeth Anderson executive members of Cortes Island Business and Tourism.

We asked if mortgages, RRSPs and other investments made at branches in town by affected island members were counted as part of the financial loss equation for our three branches. They would not answer. We asked how they calculate the incomes of each branch. They would not answer.

We spoke to the cumulative impacts in our communities of recent loss of various services and increased costs. That losing our financial institutions is coming on the heels of the other recent assaults to our communities including ferry service changes and cost increases as well as increasing BC Hydro rates and the overall cost of living coupled with the ongoing economic tightness.

We spoke to the real concern that once people leave the islands to do their banking, they will also leave to do their shopping and take their business off-island with them. We spoke to the active economic development strategies that our communities are undertaking which are moving in the exact opposite direction of this loss of service.

I referenced a CBC Radio interview that morning with Joe Cristiano, CCCU Chief Community and Marketing Officer, on ‘On The Island’ where Joe said, “We filter absolutely every decision through our vision, purpose and values; our purpose in particular. What impact will this have on the member experience? What impact will it have on the employee experience? What impact will it have on the community experience? Even after going through that detailed analysis and consideration of options, the decision was clear.” … “We believe that profit making… is as important” as serving the members.

Given they say that branch specific financial information is not sharable, I asked them to give us this community impact assessment with their detailed consideration of options that Joe referenced on the radio. After pressing the matter, their CEO said that they had not in fact done such a community impact assessment.

We asked what will happen to the buildings and land in the centre of our respective villages. We asked if they would commit to consult with us on these assets. They again did not answer our questions. All they said is that they were open to ideas.

They have given us nothing! No numbers, no analysis, no basis for calculations, no redacted staff reports, no rationale for lack of consultation, nothing!

We kept coming back to the point that Credit Unions are cooperatives and the primary difference is that their profit making is subordinate to other values, including their interests in their members and their communities. What we have seen so far of the CCCU shows us otherwise.

After the AGM, we spoke with staff members and a previous board member, all of whom were very concerned that the CCCU is straying from its vision and indeed straying from what it means to be a cooperative. We are seeing actions that are much more in line with a profit-driven bank rather than a member/owner organization.

So, the real question is, is this worth an ongoing fight? If so, there are many ways to proceed – that is the value of a cooperative and indeed democracy. We can reach out to other CCCU members, and indeed members of other Credit Unions. We can put forward many more resolutions. We can continue to generate media. If you think this is worth our effort, what I really need from members, both personal and businesses, is how these closures will affect you and what your core financial needs really are.

CBC Radio’s regional morning program ‘On The Island’ covered this story for three mornings in a row. Tuesday morning Jeff Jones of Sointula was interviewed. Listen at http://www.cbc.ca/ontheisland/2014/04/15/reacting-to-credit-union-closures/ On Wednesday, Joe Christiano from CCCU was interviewed. Listen at http://www.cbc.ca/ontheisland/2014/04/16/closing-credit-unions/ The morning following the AGM, Jeff joined Greggor again. Listen at http://www.cbc.ca/ontheisland/2014/04/17/members-protest-at-credit-union-meeting/

Also see print media about this issue here:
http://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/three-small-islands-could-lose-key-financial-services-1.967057
http://www.timescolonist.com/business/members-fight-credit-union-closings-on-small-islands-1.975679
http://www.campbellrivermirror.com/news/254798801.html
http://www.northislandgazette.com/ourtown/255402841.html

Here also is a related article about Coast Capital Savings Credit Union - http://www.timescolonist.com/business/complex-issues-face-members-in-credit-union-vote-1.942255

Please send me your feedback.
Noba Anderson