catering to their members while taking regional variations into consideration in every financial decision
Holding a unique spot in the financial industry, Alberta Credit Unions provide options when the big banks may fall short
Alberta Central is the central banking facility, service bureau, and trade association for Alberta’s credit unions. Credit unions come first in everything we do and we work every day to connect credit unions to the products, services, and partnerships they need to be market leaders.
Alberta Central strives to support credit unions in many ways, including through government relations and advocacy work, research initiatives, and sharing economic insights, and by aiming to increase awareness of the credit union difference by promoting and marketing credit unions to all Albertans.[NL1] Learn more about Alberta Central at albertacentral.com.
What are credit unions and why do they matter to Albertans?
Alberta has a long history of entrepreneurial thinking. It’s part of the mythology of the province and is woven into our identity. From the days of hard-working cowboys who were always trying to do things a bit differently, to the origins of the oil and gas sector in this province and all the businesses and communities that grew out of the subsequent oil boom, to the more recent growth of Albertan’s small business and tech sector, Albertans are a ground-breaking bunch.
We pride ourselves on our work ethic, commitment to helping one another (in good times and bad), and our unique way of looking at the world.
So, it should be no surprise to anyone who has traveled to Alberta and spent any time here at all to know that credit unions have been a part of this province for many years. Since the first credit union was formed in Alberta in 1938 by a group of post-Depression era farmers looking for an alternative to the banks, Alberta credit unions have always been about recognizing hard work, lending a helping hand, and looking at finances a bit differently than other financial institutions.
But what are credit unions? We are community-based cooperative organizations that offer the same variety of products and services as banks plus a network of surcharge-free ATMs and innovative online banking platforms and mobile apps.
But unlike banks, credit unions are owned and operated by our members. That means when you join an Alberta credit union, you have a say in how that credit union operates and how your money is invested back into the community, no matter if you live in a city like Calgary or Edmonton or a rural community like Pincher Creek or Vermilion.
Alberta has 13 credit unions in total, with more than 200 branches and 609,000 members. In 2021, Alberta credit unions had total earnings of $246 million (net income before tax and patronage bonus) and held more than $2.88 billion in equity. You can find a full list of all 13 credit unions (and a map showing all branch locations across the province) at albertacreditunions.com/find-a-credit-union.
But what does it mean to be a credit union member? One of the biggest differences is you get money back every year – when your credit union makes a profit, it shares it back with members in the form of annual returns. In 2021, $84 million went back to Alberta’s credit union members through patronage and share dividends. And of Alberta’s three biggest credit unions, in 2021 Servus Credit Union shared $54 million in profits with members, connectFirst Credit Union shared $11.8 million and Vision Credit Union shared $13 million.
Perhaps the biggest difference between credit unions and other financial institutions is how we care about what matters to our members. In 2021, Alberta credit unions contributed more than $1.2 million in the form of charitable donations, sponsorships, scholarships, and more to the communities we operate in.
Here are just a few of the ways that credit unions impact Alberta.
Local and member first
Credit unions can be found in cities, towns, and villages across Alberta. And in 15 communities across the province, Servus, Vision, and connectFirst credit unions are the only financial service providers.
Credit unions are locally focused not just because we are found in neighborhoods large and small, but also because we care about putting members first. For the past 17 years in a row, Alberta’s credit unions have won several IPSOS Financial Service Excellence Awards, including Customer Service Excellence.
Protecting the environment
Many Alberta credit unions are taking immediate steps to address environmental sustainability and climate change, with 33% reporting specific initiatives and programs in place as of 2021 and this number is only growing.
To help the environment at a local level, for example, Rocky Credit Union sponsored a LED lighting conversion project to help improve the energy efficiency of lights at a local school and reduce waste. And Vision Credit Union employees have volunteered repeatedly for community clean-up projects, such as picking up litter in public spaces.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion
Of the 13 Alberta credit unions, 52% of their board and management team members identify as women, racialized persons, or Indigenous Peoples. Credit unions were also the first financial institutions to lend to women in their own names in 1961.
As one way to foster inclusion, some credit unions have specialized accounts for newcomers to Canada. For example, Servus Credit Union offers a microloan program, in partnership with The Government of Alberta and the Bredin Centre for Career Advancement, to help newcomers pay for licensing and/or certification programs so they can work in their field after they arrive.
Alberta credit unions are working towards reconciliation, with 50% adopting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action #94 and actively engaging in the healing journey.
One example of this work came from Rocky Credit Union, which was part of the local sponsorship of a Powwow at Sunchild First Nation in 2021. The event was hosted by the Foothills Society, comprised of members from both Sunchild and O’Chiese First Nations. Staff volunteered at the Powwow and a subsequent Round Dance event and all participants were thrilled to work first-hand to support reconciliation efforts in the community.
Enhancing member financial literacy is important to Alberta’s credit unions. One way we do this is by providing products and services that encourage prudent spending, balanced budgets, and building wealth over time. We also partner with organizations such as Junior Achievement and Each One Teach One to deliver financial literacy lessons and educational programs to young people.
Vermilion Credit Union, for example, provided financial literacy training to several classes at local high schools in 2021, with a total of eight presentations delivered to more than 150 participants. They also partnered with “It’s a Money Thing” to offer free financial literacy videos on their website.
Growing small businesses
Alberta credit unions serve more than 6,700 small and medium-sized business (SME) members, with more than 33% of these SME members identifying as women or racialized persons.
In 2021, Alberta credit unions lent $8.21 billion to businesses across the province through commercial lending programs. For example, Vision Credit Union offers specific agriculture banking products that are built to suit the specific needs of Alberta agri-businesses.
Credit unions have always been leaders in innovation, from being the first to offer full-service ATMs and debit cards, to being the first to put forward a mobile cheque deposit app and to enable mobile payments.
And credit unions continue to focus on transformation and innovation, with all Alberta credit unions continuing on a digital transformation journey in 2021, investing in technology and systems upgrades to ensure they meet the needs of their members now and in the future.
Learn more about Credit Unions of Alberta here: albertacreditunions.com.
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AT A GLANCE
What: Alberta Central serves as the central banking facility, service bureau, and trade association for Alberta’s credit unions.
Where: Alberta, Canada