As a long-time credit union member, I joined when I was five years old; I was gravely concerned by the article in The Reporter announcing the East Coast Credit Union’s proposed merger with two other credit unions in Nova Scotia.
I was taught by founding members that credit unions were formed by the people, to create financial security for their families and community. Over the years, our local credit unions helped with the growth of a proud rural culture where people helped each other. Now, once again, we are being tested. We are being asked to believe that “bigger is/must be better” and decisions about our financial future are better made by those further away from community by the resolution of yet another proposed merger.
North Eastern Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Credit union members will remember the results of previous ECCU mergers. Jobs lost or jobs moved to Halifax. Good jobs, which helped individuals stay in their rural communities.
Now decisions are made in Halifax, leaving local branch managers without the power to act, based on first-hand knowledge of their unique communities. It is my understanding, some managers, stripped of their powers, left their position, in frustration at this very situation. Members, including younger ones, are affected directly by the increased time it takes for decisions to be made, under this centralized, urbanized system. What once took a day or two can now takes a week or more. Replacing fishing gear, fixing a leaking roof, catching a good deal on a new home or a car cannot wait.
A system of decisions void of a local knowledge, leaves members feeling ghosted by their merged credit union, resulting in an increasing outmigration to banks for certain products, even if they are just a number there as well.
The hard reality of previous mergers is witnessing of the lack of promised growth, being replaced by the closure of small rural credit unions. The prior closures, decreased branch days/hours of operation and personalized services, paled in comparison to the loss of the East Margaree Branch. Not only did the current board strip that community and the rest of us, of a branch representing the historical birthplace of Nova Scotia Co-operative Movement, but it added to that insult by not even considering the community’s request to keep the building for a daycare.
Even governments allow communities to use closed schools for other purposes to benefit the community. Members who witnessed that refusal felt a real embarrassment (and anger) that a credit union board could be so callous and lacking in the understanding of the co-operative movement goals and vision.
What is going on here? Is this merger yet another step toward the destruction of small local credit unions; proud institutions that have been the cornerstone of our rural communities for many years. We are witnessing urbanization and a corporatization of credit unions across the Atlantic Provinces. The local credit unions’ community culture, values and the very principles of cooperation, are being sacrificed for profit. I wonder what Moses Coady and Jimmy Tomkins would say if they were here now, and our grandparents who had the courage to build co-operatives and credit unions at a point in history when times were very hard? At the very least, even if we lose our uniqueness and history, we should be sure to tell our children the history of our Co-operative Movement; a movement that is recognized around the world, but sadly, seems to have been forgotten by those who attempt to control our destiny.
Because I left ECCU in anger a few years ago, I continue to be a proud member of Sydney Credit Union which voted against the merger of 2016, I cannot vote. But my family and friends will be voting no.
I believe in the value of credit unions, and the board of directors needs know that many members also believe and care what happens to their communities and to their credit unions. ECCU members, like Sydney members, welcome a board of directors who want to truly grow the co-operative movement. To actually increase the membership, not just take the same number of members and put them together under one name and call that growth!
Members welcome co-operative networking and shared services, which don’t compromise the unique strength and knowledge of local communities. Let’s network in a way that makes rural communities stronger financially and culturally. We can do this. We can do this together. We are a proud co-operative people.