Coastal Community Credit Union branches in three small island communities closed their doors for the final time last week, rolling trucks of money and ATM machines out of branches in Sointula, Alert Bay and Cortes Island.
The July 5 closures came even as the Financial Institutions Commission (FICOM) reviews an appeal brought by Sointula members, whose resolution for a vote of the full membership was rejected in early May by the CCCU Board of Directors.
And residents of Alert Bay have already begun seeking other solutions to the loss of their only banking outlet, sending the summary of a community-wide survey to at least four other institutions in hope of enticing at least one to Cormorant Island.
“I’d say we’ve wasted too much time trying to convince Coastal Community of the error of their ways,” Alert Bay Mayor Michael Berry said. “CCCU may have lost their way as a credit union, but not having financial services on this island is not an acceptable alternative.”
The closures have had an immediate impact on businesses that deal with cash transactions — who must now arrange transport of deposits across the water — as well as residents who also deal primarily in cash and those who may not yet have embraced online banking.
CCCU announced the impending July closures of the three branches in March, following its board elections, saying they were no longer financially viable. The news was greeted with outrage in the local communities, which had already had hours reduced to three days a week and which claimed the institution had abandoned its mandate as a member-owned business.
After local members were rebuffed in their attempts to gain an audience with the board at its Annual General Meeting in Nanaimo in April, Sointula lawyer Jeff Jones drafted a resolution meant to force the board to call an election of the credit union’s full membership to determine the fate of the branches.
But CCCU rejected the resolution, admitting the minimum number of signatures required had been exceeded but claiming the petitions were invalid because the full draft of the resolution was not submitted with each set of signatures.
On May 20, Jones informed FICOM of his intention to file an appeal of the credit union’s rejection, but had to wait while the commissioners determined a procedure for the unprecedented step.
The appeal was finally filed, on behalf of Sointula residents Bruce Burrows and John Malthouse, on June 2.
“All of the documents have been filed and we’re awaiting a FICOM decision,” said Jo Mrozewski of Alert Bay, who filed an affidavit in the appeal and who serves as a liaison between the appellants and the Alert Bay community.
If the appeal is upheld, CCCU would have 90 days to call a vote of its 80,000 members. What is not clear is whether the vote would be on the original, rejected, resolution calling for the branches to be kept open.
“The question is whether the resolution will be as we worded it, or will CCCU and FICOM go in and re-word it,” said Mrozewski.
As the Sointula members formulated their appeal, the ‘Namgis Band on Cormorant Island enlisted the partnership of the Village of Alert Bay in securing a consultant to survey of local residents and businesses on their banking requirements, usage patterns and preferences. The summary of that survey was completed just over a week ago and forwarded to “at least four” potential partners in the banking industry.
“We’ve asked them to get back to us by July 11, with both interim and long-term plans,” said Berry. “This is an immediate need, and hopefully it will generate longer-term solutions as well.”