In the game of soccer, one of the most important positions is the centre midfielder. Much like a quarterback in football, the centre midfielder is the leader of the team, playing both offense and defense and constantly on the move.
Don Coulter, the newly appointed president and CEO of Concentra Bank, has played centre midfield since he was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Toronto. “I liked playing centre midfield because it required creative thinking and innovative and new approaches to scoring and winning — much like business,” says the former CEO of Coast Capital Savings Credit Union (543,000 members, $20 billion in assets).
A soccer player from childhood, Coulter began competing on the international stage as a teenager, sometimes as captain, facing the top club teams in the United States, South America and Europe, often coming away with MVP honours. Eventually he played for several semi-professional leagues, including the National Soccer League.
Having exchanged cleats for business shoes, Coulter is now content to watch his kids and wife Anna, a former collegiate provincial all-star soccer player herself, burn up the pitch while occasionally picking up the coach’s whistle. So what better analogy than the beautiful game to discuss Coulter’s new role helming Canada’s newest schedule one chartered bank, which provides financial services to credit unions across the country. (Concentra serves more than 85 percent of Canadian credit unions.)
In many ways, Coulter is moving to a new division, from retail to wholesale, while playing in the same league for a support team that has deep roots in the cooperative system. (Concentra was formed in 2005 by Cooperative Trust and SaskCentral, a majority owner.)
“When Concentra received its continuance charter last year, it went from being a federal credit union to being a bank,” Coulter explains. “And, as that is the case, there are a lot of key financial vital signs that a bank has to think about: profitability and risk, all those things. But that’s not the purpose. The purpose, to my mind, is to help credit unions be successful.”
“We need to make sure we look at the cooperative model we have and modernize it and really come together to offer Canadians an alternative to banks.” – Don Coulter
In this metaphorical scenario, the opposing team would be the big banks. “They have their role,” says Coulter, explaining that, with their emphasis on putting shareholders above customers, the big banks have also left a problematic trail of low financial literacy in their wake. “I wanted to continue having a role where I could try to shape the future improvement of the financial services marketplace. That’s a passion for me.”
Much like Canadian soccer on the world stage, the credit union system is evolving. “Credit unions have all the right things in place, what some people would call the right conditions to win,” says Coulter. “But we need to execute, we need to make sure we look at the cooperative model we have and modernize it and really come together to offer Canadians an alternative to banks and do banking in a different way.”
National consolidation is one potential strategy in the modernization playbook. For many years, Canada’s credit unions have been exploring options to consolidate the geographically distributed networks and system partners as a means of reducing costs and improving efficiencies. Concentra, as an important player in the second tier, could potentially play a pivotal role in the creation of a nationally unified and internationally capable financially cooperative financial network. It’s a vision that was presented in Central 1 Credit Union’s Discussion Paper, published in late 2016, If Not Now, When? Supporting Credit Union Success: Next Steps in the Future Role and Structure of Centrals and System Partners.
The consummate team player, Coulter says it would be premature for him to discuss long-term strategy. “I think what Concentra — what the board wants to do and what I want to do—is be part of the discussion with the centrals and the leaders of credit unions across the country, to work in a collegial and collaborative way to shape the future.”
Concentra will be focused on building, Coulter adds, “scale and capabilities to work with and service credit unions in an effective and efficient way, so the credit union system can be competitive and can in fact thrive and grow.”
Still, as a metaphorical central midfielder in the credit union system –- the CEO who led Coast Capital Savings when it applied to become a federal credit union, a member of the Large Credit Union Conference and a board member of the Canadian Credit Union Association, Coulter is well-positioned to look up and down the field with 360-degree vision. “I’ve seen that helicopter view of the entire system,” Coulter says, noting that while federal credit unions are not for everybody, “credit unions need to realize that change is a certainty.”
In the meantime, his focus is on the ball directly in front of him. In business, as in soccer, Coulter says that sometimes too much time is spent on the idea of winning the game instead of developing skills, relationships and the daily habits of excellence that allows everyone to score. “For the first 90 days, I’ll be putting in a lot of energy by meeting people, listening to them, building relationships and working with my colleagues to make sure we’re making the right moves for the short term and the long term.” ◊