Island Savings vital to Island communities

Former B.C. Co-Op Association executive cautions against credit union takeover

With three days left in the voting for the proposed merger of Island Savings and First West, many questions remain unanswered for Island Savings members.

It remains unclear just exactly how a larger credit union will actually benefit Vancouver Island communities if they lose control of their credit union in the process.

The key to local investment in a credit union is always local control. This is the heart and soul of a truly successful credit union – one that lives its co-op principles. Lose this and all bets are off.  With Island Savings assets being transferred to the mainland, along with its head office and its loss of director seats, all Island Savings members can do is hope and pray that bigger means better. Unfortunately, and as we have all seen with the bank fiascos of recent years, this is far from certain.

Bigger in this world almost always means even less representation of local community interests, as money drives to higher profit opportunities in other regions. With the majority of members in the merged organization being in the Okanagan, Thompson and Langley areas, where is the incentive to invest in Island communities?

The recent announcement by Island Savings CEO Ron Dewar of a $2 million endowment for Island communities if the merger goes through is not reassuring. Rather, it seems as though the offer is an attempt to ward off precisely these fears of loss of local investment by a credit union that has operated successfully on the Island for over 60 years.

The drive toward larger credit unions across B.C. is part of a process ongoing for the past 15 years or more. Along with it has come a growing corporatization of credit union boards and a style of management and business more reminiscent of the mainstream banks, which prompted many members to join credit unions to avoid.

Island Savings is an institution that is vital to the economic health of local communities precisely because it remains under local control. It would be folly to forego this for the vague promises of “better services and increased benefits” that, compared to the maintenance of local investment, are a poor bargain indeed.

John Restakis

former executive director

BC Co-operative Association