Projected North Island closures of Coastal Community Credit Union branches this summer threaten to leave residents of Malcolm and Cormorant islands without local banking services, and residents and civic leaders plan to fight the proposed July 5 closings.
CCCU branch offices in Alert Bay, Sointula and Cortes Island are slated to be shuttered in a cost-saving move announced last Thursday by credit union officials.
"It will be devastating," said Tasha Nelson, manager of the Sointula Co-op store that has its business account with the credit union. "And I thought we were cut from the same cloth — the Co-op and credit unions are both owned by their shareholders, and share with their members. We're not supposed to be a corporate greed situation."
Blindsided by the announcement, representatives from all three affected communities quickly responded, seeking more information from credit union officials. In a fact sheet sent to answer some of those questions, the credit union admitted the closures — and a reduction of hours on Quadra Island — would impact 16 employees and roughly 2,000 customers.
“We considered the impact to our members, employees and communities before making these difficult decisions," said Adrian Legin, President and CEO of CCCU. "While these were very difficult decisions, I’m confident the actions we’re taking are the right ones and in the best long-term interest of our 110,000 members and clients, and our organization as a whole.”
The changes come following a review by the credit union of its services in all branches and regions, which determined the affected branches are not "financially viable." But the institution has not told local leaders how much the branches are losing.
"So far they have not been forthcoming in individual branch profit and loss statements," said Michael Berry, Alert Bay mayor. "Also, the way it rolled out was curious; they said they considered everything before arriving at their decision, but they had zip for consultation with anybody who lives here. In essence, they're saying, 'Without any of your input, we have considered everything.'
"Well, we want them to consider our input."
Berry, Regional District of Mount Waddington Area A director Heidi Soltau of Sointula and Noba Anderson, Soltau's Cortes Island counterpart with the Strathcona Regional District, are working together to try scheduling a meeting with CCCU officials during this weekend's Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities (AVICC) conference in Parksville.
If that yields no satisfactory result, they plan to attend the CCCU AGM, set for Apr. 16 in Nanaimo.
"At this point, the focus very much on direct communication with Coastal Community Credit Union," said Jo Mrozewski of Alert Bay. "The three communities are working on list of questions; there's just so much more information that's needed by our communities."
The proposed closures are a particularly bitter pill in Sointula and Alert Bay, where little more than two years ago branch hours were cut to three days a week from five. The announcement also comes just as both communities are engaged in community consultations for long-term economic planning.
"We're trying to connect to secure our economic future and stop the outflow of residents," said Joy Nagel of Sointula, which is engaged it its Growing Malcolm Island project. "This isn't helping us."
Coastal Community said it will continue to support affected members through online, mobile and telephone banking, mobile specialist services, 24-hour MemberCards, as well as in-branch support at any of their other 21 branch locations.
But that is of small comfort to business customers like Nelson of Sointula's Co-op, who noted she makes cash drops at the local branch three days a week. Now, she and other cash businesses on both Malcolm and Cormorant Islands will need to ferry to Port McNeill, a three-hour time commitment and ferry expense, with the added risk to security.
"I do not see this as acceptable," Nelson said. "We have some people who are going to actively look for solutions. As a membership, we deserve to be heard."