Hands across the water
North Shore Credit Union considers merger game again, but this time with Victoria-area credit union
By Chris Woodall
North Shore Credit Union is once more playing the mating game, this time starting on steps toward a merger across the water with Victoria-based Pacific Coast Credit Union.
If successful, the merger would combine Whistler's fairly substantial credit union — Whistler is one of 10 NSCU branches — with a three-times-larger financial institution ($600 million in assets for NSCU versus $1.8 billion for Pac Coast).
"It's still too early," says Jane Milner, North Shore's CEO, to say if the two credit unions will start full-on procedures to merge.
"As soon as we have something substantial, we'll announce it to our members," Milner says.
North Shore has gone courting before.
NSCU seemed to be close to a merger with Fraser Valley Credit Union a little less than a year ago. That deal originally was to be a triumvirate involving Delta Credit Union.
The marriage was called off a few weeks before credit union members were to vote on the proposal when differences in management style began to emerge.
Pac Coast is B.C.'s fourth-largest credit union. VanCity Credit Union is the largest in B.C.
A small fact-finding team from each credit union is visiting the other at the beginning of what will be a lengthy and thorough courtship ritual to explore whether a merger should be considered.
Some of the investigation will be to compare the corporate "culture" of each credit union: the way the credit unions are structured, the personal styles of managers and the egos involved, the way information flows up and down the corporate hierarchy, and training and motivational methods.
Differences and similarities in financial systems, and services offered to members are other checkpoints on the list.
One merger consideration that wouldn't apply here is if credit union branches have overlapping jurisdictions.
The jurisdiction conundrum is a peculiarity of credit unions generally.
Credit unions try not to have competing branches serving the same town or the same neighbourhood. That partly explains why Squamish Credit Union hasn't set up a branch here, for example, or why North Shore hasn't a branch in Squamish.
Departures from that are the presence of "industrial" credit unions that serve a specialized community such as a teachers or police members or ethnic credit union.
With that in mind, a merger between North Shore and Pac Coast would be unique in that the "new" credit union would have branches in at least four widely spaced municipalities: Whistler, Victoria, North and West Vancouver.
Even the giant VanCity credit union doesn't have that geographic scope.
The teams will report to their boards of directors by late January.
Credit unions are best described as "co-operative banks."
Credit union "members" — anyone with a credit union account qualifies — will have an opportunity to vote on the merger proposal, if it gets that far, some time in mid-April or later.
Merging operations should give the entities cost-saving efficiencies as well as a larger financial clout.
"We've been in touch with them for a long time and have gone back and forth to trade ideas," Milner says of the two credit unions, who share the same type of banking system.
Credit unions are chartered by the provincial government, whereas banks have federal charters. British Columbia's top credit unions are the largest in Canada outside Quebec.