Valley First

Local Focus, Service, and Innovation Driving Membership

Local focus, service and innovation help drive membership growth at B.C. credit unions
January 16, 2014

Penticton, B.C.—No longer viewed as yesterday’s financial institution, credit unions in British Columbia are experiencing something of a resurgence as they carve out their market niche and more B.C. residents seek out local, co-operative alternatives to the big banks.

“For a longtime, credit unions were seen as somewhere your grandparents banked,” says Susan Ewanick, Valley First vice-president of banking and insurance. “On the back of the financial crisis, more people are looking for local alternatives. And, with greater attention being paid to community investment, corporate citizenship and supporting local businesses and communities—the cornerstones of co-operative thinking—credit unions have become cool, again.”

Over recent years, credit union membership across Canada has dropped by almost one per cent. However, the B.C. credit union industry has bucked that trend by growing by 2.7 per cent between 2011 and 2012. Penticton-based Valley First has seen the benefits of those returning to locally-focused financial institutions growing by more than 3,000 net new members in 2013—a growth rate of more than five per cent.

“There has been a marked shift over the last few years toward supporting local businesses,” says Ewanick. “It’s that 100-mile diet type thinking. Consumers are becoming more conscience and conscientious with their habits, with a move toward local companies. We’ve certainly noticed that trend at Valley First.”

Beyond the commitment to acting local, Ewanick says the credit union industry’s focus on serving members through different channels and its commitment to innovation is broadening its appeal, particularly with younger British Columbians.

“Over the last few years, many credit unions have worked hard to strengthen their product lineup as well as their online and mobile banking services,” says Ewanick. “Many people no longer want to visit a branch; they want service at their fingertips. At Valley First, we’ve launched mobile apps across all platforms and also introduced mobile banking specialists that can perform most banking transactions with a few touches of an iPad.

“Historically, credit unions have been first-to-market with many products and services, including introducing debit cards and ATMs,” says Ewanick. “In 2013, Valley First was one of the first to launch remote deposit capture and we’re one of the few FIs to offer free chequing and free e-transfers. As an industry, credit unions have acknowledged banking is changing. Now, we’re changing, too.”

About Valley First

Valley First is a division of First West Credit Union, B.C.'s third-largest credit union, which has 40 branches and 28 insurance offices throughout the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley, Kitimat and Okanagan, Similkameen and Thompson valleys. Led by Launi Skinner, First West has $7.1 billion in assets under administration, more than 171,000 members and close to 1,300 employees.

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