Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Employee News

Tonight I had the opportunity to visit our retiring Manager of Lending Services, Greg Comeau in Corner Brook. Greg retired from Leading Edge Credit Union on January 31st, 2011, after spending over 4 years with the former Brookstreet Credit Union (BSCU) and Leading Edge Credit Union. Greg has been in the financial field for over 30 years in numerous capacities. Prior to retiring as the Manager of Lending Services, he held the position of General Manager of BSCU. Greg was instrumental in recommending a merger between BSCU and CVCU. His years of experience and humorous personality will certainly be missed, however we wish Greg and his wife Margaret all the best.

We would also like to congratulate Trudy Keeping, Branch Manager of Port aux Basques for accepting the Manager of Lending Services position. Trudy joined the credit union three years ago and comes with an extensive leadership background. We are delighted to have her take on this new role effective April 1st. Congratulations Trudy.

Welcome back Sarah Nash, FSO, St. Georges Branch. Sarah has recently came back to work after a year maternity leave with her son. Welcome Back Sarah!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Grade 5 Presentation

I would like to extend a big thank you to Mr. Whitehorne and Mrs. Ingram for the invite to speak to the grade 5 class in Port Aux Basques on Ghana, Africa. I really enjoyed interacting with the class as they learned about many topics of this great Country. The questions were fantastic and all the students were so engaged. They all indicated that they learned a great deal about the people and wildlife of the area. Some of the kids came up after the session and advised they are making a goal to go visit someday.

The Grade 5 Class

The purpose of the visit to the classroom was to let kids know how other people live in the world. Also it was my responsibility to inform them on my mission and the good work that is being done by credit unions in that region. I provided them a video that showed even the poorest kids made a habit of saving their money for a rainy day. In most cases the money went towards paying the school fees to attend school. It is important that our kids learn the value of saving. All too often kids are leaving high school to attend post secondary school, or go out on their own, and simply do not know how to budget or maintain credit. There are not many financial management courses in school that teach such life lessons so its up to us as parents. The school savings program was developed for this very purpose. The credit union visits the school once a week to collect deposits from students and track their progress. Kids learn that depositing very little amounts can be quite rewarding. Parents are encouraged to support this practice with assigning a goal to the savings. The goal will allow the kids to physically be rewarded with savings and hopefully continue the practice in adulthood.
It was a pleasure today tying the importance of savings in the country of Ghana to the classroom in Port Aux Basques. Thanks again to the teachers and students for their support!

Toni with the Smock on

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Credit Unions, Do You Question Why You Choose Them?

This week, fresh from just returning from Ghana, Africa where i was volunteering with the Canadian Co-operative Association I received a call from a member. Oddly enough the member was distraught and questioning why he should be dealing with Leading Edge Credit Union. He felt that Leading Edge Credit Union (formerly Codroy Valley Credit Union) has lost its roots. The name was changed, corporate office moved from the Codroy Valley, the credit union merged with Brookstreet Credit Union in Corner Brook,  director meetings were not being held in the Codroy Valley any longer, fees were more than the local banks, and the technology that was being offered never matched the banks.
The reason I am typing this in my Blog is to outline that I was troubled by the call. Although I have been around for 12 years and most of the decisions he mentioned I was directly involved in, I had to think long and hard about his accusations. Yes the name changed to remove the physical connection as a result of the merger. Both Brookstreet and Codroy Valley credit union had to sacrafice thier name for the betterment of the credit union. After an extensive business case, the best decision was to move the corporate office, there were numerous reasons for the move, from renting to building, to future expansion possibilities. Fees, well its simple, we always monitor our fees and try and maintain a 20% discount from our competition, and I am confident we are doing that. What is really interesting is although the member did not agree with the merger to position us to be more competitive, allow us to have dedicated staff, and allow us to invest in cutting edge products, he complained about the lack of a money transfer system. We have a new money transfer system being launched in the next few months. This new service accompanies the expansion of taxation services, a wealth managment specialist, a commercial lender, and a dedicated risk manager to the list of new things Leading Edge Credit Union commenced since the merger.
I do take these calls seriously however, so I asked myself what can we do better to maintain our roots and give back to the community. Over the next few months I will be meeting with the members of the Board, my management team and staff to identify some options. The Business Plan for 2011 already calls for several initiatives;
  1. Display cases in the Doyles and Corner Brook branch to celebrate the history of the credit unions. We will be going to our membership to ask for any memorbila that we can display.
  2. More member education sessions that will deal with investing, and other interesting topics.
  3. Scholarships in each of our locations.
  4. Continuious support in the international development movement.
  5. School savings programs in the schools in where we operate.
  6. Staff are encouraged to become vounteers in thier community.
So the question to the general membership, what further social responsibilites do you feel your credit union should be involved with?

Being a member of a credit union you are part of a larger family. You can take comfort in knowing that credit unions are international and members are very similar. Most credit unions were developed as a result out of necessity, and members continue to appreciate the fact that credit unions help people. People before profit! This is certainly in the case here locally where we opened up in three locations left vacant by the banks, and one location where a bank wouldnt even consider opening. Members have the luxury of having a financial institution in thier community providing services that are competitive and convienently located. Internationally, you can walk into any credit union and feel welcome. They are doing great things to help millions of people. Have a look at this link to see some of the work they are doing.

Back to my delima, the member has the right to question the roots. It's one of the great things about credit unions. Members have a vested interest in the operation and they should certainly influence its direction. Being a part of a credit union however goes beyound the local roots. Its a movement that spans accross the globe. By supporting a local credit union, members are investing in others around the world. My work in Ghana, was supported by the members of Leading Edge Credit Union. The Board allowed my extended absence for three weeks so that I could volunteer for this worthwhile cause. I am sure that the recieving credit unions in Ghana would send thier thank yous to each and every member if they could :)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pictures and Memories

 Here is a picture of the very first credit union we visited. Wa Community Credit Union serves over 9000 members in the town of Wa. They are very proactive in micro-lending with a portfolio of over $700,000 dedicated to assisting small groups to access money for various purposes. Some groups have joined efforts to borrow for a tractor to assist them with farming. What is unique and very inspirational is the fact that they also have field agents that work with the borrowers. Simply lending them money is not where it stops, they provide them education on numerous topics. Financial literacy is the biggest topic. Members who receive micro-lending products are taught a series of lessons on good financial management. They are also taught skills in bookkeeping and banking so that they can understand how credit is granted and the importance of good credit.

We had the opportunity to meet a lady who is living proof of the success of this program. She received a small loan to assist her in buying a few items in which she could sell. This process continued with several loans as she expanded her business to now having a very successful boutique. It was a pleasure meeting her and as she describes it, she wouldn't be in the financial position she is in now if it were not for her credit union. As a woman in Ghana, it is very difficult to ascertain financing, however the credit union is there without this stigma, and these success stories are very common :).

Monday, February 7, 2011

On my way!

Well here I am in Halifax airport after my long journey from ghana, Africa. Arriving to an airport surrounded by snow was a welcoming site. I find at this time I am flooded with a huge mixed bag of emotions. First I find it hard to accept that such a trip would create such questions and observations that I am experiencing. Although we spent the full day in London, getting training on how to adapt to the shift in coming back, it still is hard to describe.
I am happy that I am almost home, and although I am in Halifax, I can feel the atmosphere that maritime people express. The warm smiles, the casual conversations with their friends and their relaxing type of attitude. It is a welcoming feeling!
Reality also now presents itself in numerous ways. Although I was working for the credit unions of Ghana in the last few weeks, my own work with the credit union was left behind. I am blessed with great staff that certainly held down the fort, however the feeling of knowing my return to work is near brings about anxiety. Of course then there is my personal life in my hometown that was paused in my absence. The anxiety is building on returning to driveways that need plowing, and to seeing my family again. 
I cannot discount however the void I feel by leaving behind my co- workers in Africa. The bonds I have formed with these people in the last little while h been such a rewarding experience. I know that the advise myself and my colleague from Ireland provided to the credit unions were very useful and will impact them in many ways. Its the personal connections that I will miss, as we certainly formed great relationships. My good friend Abraham, a new manager of Wa Community Credit Union, reminds me of myself when I first started with the credit union. He is facing the same challenges as I faced back in 1999. The system in Ghana is about 20 years back from where the credit union system is in Canada, so as a coach we have to remember this when making recommendations. When he advised me that he liked the recommendation I made that the board consider having Internet in the office so he can communicate with other managers, partners and continue assistance from me, it reminded me that our recommendations seem trivial but have huge impacts. This is a guy that has to bring in his cell phone to charge at the office because there is no electricity where he stays. They have very unique challenges such as delinquency levels of 20 percent. In an environment where it should be less than 5 percent, they lack the training, policies and procedures to manage this portfolio. I am confident that the material we left behind, the training we suggested will help him tremendously. 
My good friend Calistus, who was our driver for two weeks. The traffic in Ghana is unbelievable and you need to be highly skilled to drive there if you want to be safe and protect your passengers. Imagine being on a four lane highway bumpers to bumper, the cars next to you are not road worthy, people are standing in the medians tying to sell everything from booster cables to water, and mopeds and bikes are flying up the medians, and the sides of the roads. Throw in a few goats, chickens, and pigs and huge speed bumps that nearly take out the bottom of your car and you got complete madness. In the month of January there were over 250 people killed in traffic accidents, so now you can see why having a good driver is so important. He took us to the northern part of Ghana which is about a 14 hour ride from the airport. We did this in two days as it is not recommended to drive at night as again most of the vehicles on the road are not road worthy. Calistus, who makes a meager living as a driver, still offered what he could to us. He purchased bananas for us, provided us one of his prized guinea fowls in which he raises. It was admirable that he would do without to make his guests feel comfortable. He has an aspiration to take pictures as he can make some extra money taking pictures of funerals, weddings, and other events. When I told him that I would like to help him pursue that dream he was delighted. I told him I would find him a camera, thinking digital of course. However he asked where the film would go. This is another example of how I perceived things would be here in Canada, not realizing that a digital camera is no good to him, as printing pictures is too expensive. So now I'm on the hunt for a 35 mm camera, lol. He said he will learn on how to develop his own pictures. He expects to collect about $1.20 a picture which is great money over there where an unskilled worker earns about $50 Canadian a month. It was a pleasure meeting his family and I look forward to continuing a relationship with him. 
On our visit to the oldest credit union in Africa, we meet the manager Humphrey. He is a great guy that was so happy to meet us and quiz on business improvements. Over the course of two days we prepared a detailed report to assist him and his board strengthen their credit union. It was very rewarding to learn that the board before we were leaving started to put the report in motion. 
It was very interesting having a board meeting outside in the shade. In one case we even had a goat walk through our meeting, ha. The boards of all the credit unions however were engaging and were very serious about our recommendations. They truly have the people who bank with the credit union in their mind as they try new innovative things to strengthen their operations. They do a wonderful job in providing the poorest of people an opportunity to save and borrow for micro financing loans. Loans as small as $50 for seeds, were granted providing people with a small start to lift them from poverty. They spent huge amounts of time educating their members on money management, business, and other training. It was quite amazing to be a part of this. 

So many stories will be told over the next week, as now I have my Internet back. Once I get into work I will upload some pictures. Right now, I am pleased to be on my last leg home, and look forward to seeing everyone and doing numerous presentations on this experience and how it ties to leadership, development, and social responsibility.