Credit union customers in the south-east interior might soon have access to more services and more convenient banking if a proposed merger goes ahead.
Seven local credit unions in the Columbia Valley, Boundary and Kootenays are in talks to merge into one large regional banking institution.
The credit unions announced on Thursday they’ve been in talks since last fall.
“I think it’s an amazing opportunity,” says Tom Murray, the CEO of the Nelson and District Credit Union. “I’ve always wondered why we do things independently. I think there’s a great opportunity here to do some wonderful things for our members and our community.”
Murray says the idea of merging has one that has evolved over time.
“The credit unions in this area have been cooperating and collaborating for a long time,” he stated. “The credit union system looks at our area (now) and says, ‘you guys collaborate better than anybody we know’.
“So, we’ve been working a long time and it was a natural progression as to look at ways to make things better for our members and our employees and our community. “
About 82,000 individuals and businesses bank at the seven credit unions, which have branches in 22 communities. The credit unions combined manage about $2.2 billion in assets.
The credit unions involved in the talks include the Columbia Valley, Creston and District, East Kootenay Community, Grand Forks, Heritage (Castlegar), Nelson and District, and Kootenay Savings Credit Unions.
Murray, who’s credit union has about 9,500 members, says there’s no regulatory or financial pressures on the credit unions to merge- but there could be real benefits to being part of a larger institution.
“All the credit union branches would all be under the same organization,” he says. “So, a Nelson and District member who happened to be in Castlegar or Cranbrook or Trail could walk in and be served like a regular member. Today we can’t do that.”
Another service would be a 24-hour call centre for helping members.
“We just can’t afford to do that a small independent credit union,” says Murray. “Together as a stronger credit union that’s a service we can probably offer.”
Merging might help ease the regulatory burden and the increasing expense of technological improvements that customers expect, he says.
Murray cautions that right now the merger idea is still at the talking and exploring stage. But the institutions have agreed to being work on a formal business case to confirm it makes sense to proceed. That’s expected to be completed by the fall.
Each of us independently come to a decision if coming together is a benefit to our members or if the risk is to great,” he says. “Some or all of the credit unions may choose not to join the larger institution, he says.
That business case also must be approved by the various individual boards, membership, and provincial and federal banking regulators. That won’t happen until the spring of 2018.