This past September in Halifax a milestone was achieved — the creation of Atlantic Canada’s first shared credit union branch. A collaboration between East Coast Credit Union (41,000 members, $700 million in assets) and Provincial Government Employees Credit Union (3,000 members, $33 million in assets), the branch gives both entities a bricks-and-mortar presence in the financial district while helping provide improved service to a vital market. Or, as the two credit unions announced in a media release, the move is “co-operation among co-operatives in the truest sense.”
As with all partnerships, the shared branch offers key benefits to both. Provincial Government Employees had been exploring moving out of the downtown core due to high rents. At the same time, East Coast was looking to create a footprint in that same downtown core but had also been deterred by onerous rents. By banding together, the two credit unions share renovation costs and a lease.
Aside from the immediate and obvious synergies, East Coast CEO Ken Shea says that a number of factors unique to Atlantic Canada made it even easier for the two credit unions to work together. Importantly, each has a distinct clientele, with East Coast open bond and Provincial Government Employees closed bond. Shea says that the two credit unions spent a lot of time discussing the importance of a solid marketing plan to explain the new co-location to staff and clients. “We knew we had to make sure everyone was clear that this was not a merger — that the co-location was a way to use our collective strengths,” Shea says. Even before the branch opened, credit union staff put a lot of effort into making sure clients understood that when they entered the Halifax branch they could be condident that they would be banking with their preferred credit union.
Though the current staffing team at the new branch belongs to Provincial Government Employees, they are fully authorized to do transactions for both credit unions — from opening accounts to managing term deposits and loan applications. Given this organizational setup, staff from both credit unions worked closely together in the months before the branch opening to ensure they fully understood each other’s processes and products. Today, employees confidentially help clients from either credit union with any product, service or issue. “Going forward we are very conscious that we need to share pricing and marketing with each other in advance,” says Shea. Over time, if the volume of business grows sufficiently or staff determine there’s a need for a specific area of expertise not currently covered, East Coast might add one of its employees to the Halifax team.
Although both credit unions have done their own marketing to make members aware of the new branch, Shea envisions more co-advertising in the future. As for signage, the fact that branding for credit unions across Atlantic Canada is standardized (members are used to looking for the credit union symbol, which always sits atop the name of the individual credit union) meant it was easy to put dual signage on the front door. “It’s not jarring at all,” says Shea.
Looking to the future
The co-location is an interesting twist on opening a new branch and one that other credit unions might take a closer look at, especially in larger cities with prohibitively expensive rents. “We’re serving members better and in a way that’s more economically viable for both members,” says Shea. “And, after just a few months, we’ve already added a few new members as a result of the convenience of this new location.” East Coast and Provincial Government Employees have taken advantage of a unique opportunity, he adds, and look forward to refining their collaboration in the months ahead to ensure it continues to flourish.◊