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Members are everything – Insights from Canada’s community specialist Vancity

The first two weeks in June 2018, I spent at Vancity Credit Union. I was hosted by the communications and marketing department, who welcomed me with open arms. Rhonda Nowak, the external communications manager organized a full schedule. During my stay, I was able to have extensive exchanges and gain a comprehensive insight into the organization, its values, its work methods and communication strategy. This personal experience was inspiring and useful, as I got a look behind the scenes and was thus able to talk to many Vancity staff freely and openly.

“For our members” – this is the foundation of every Vancity activity. The Credit Union is owned by its 525,000 members and contributes 30 percent of its net income to those members through dividends, patronage, and grants to community organizations. The ties are strong and the needs continuously identified on several levels, in personal encounters, in the 59 branches, in focus groups, in regular surveys.  In short: “our values-based banking model is grounded in the local economy“[1].

I got to know several Vancity members, who identified with the values-based approach of Vancity, including the marketing supplier Fairware, whose founder told me, it just made sense, to align her sustainable business model with her finances. And whose needs were very similar, too. Vancouver has the third highest housing prices in the world. So affordable housing is a major issue and Vancity is doing its best, to finance and consult with various organizations (i.e. currently, there’re various religious associations in Vancouver, whose land has attracted investors’ attention). Another matter are the high living costs which is why Vancity promotes the “Living Wage” (and also became a Living Wage employer and also trying to improve its supply chain).

The colleagues from community investment are all about creating a good impact. I was amazed by the way, Vancity is engaged and embedded in its community. This is especially true in terms of people in need. This becomes most obvious at Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside, where many homeless and low-income people live. Right there, Vancity provides access to basic banking services with Pigeon Park Savings. It’s an impressive story, including the people who work there.[2]

There’s also social enterprises funded by Vancity, like United We Can. For many “binners,” who collect bottles and containers to redeem deposits, it’s a convenient way to return their collected items. Additionally, the Vancity Foundation promotes the Binners’ Project, which is able to increase peoples’ confidence and dignity. Another project that could be adapted elsewhere is the financial literacy programme.

During my stay, I also witnessed the inauguration of a new mosaic in front of the Vancouver HQ: Reconciliation, which has been a key issue in Canada’s development, is at heart of Vancity’s understanding of its role in society. It aims to include the principles of reconciliation into its work and partnerships. Apart from its strong public commitment, I also observed how it was communicated on FB and the blog.

Speaking of making yourself heard, I was very eager to learn about some of Vancity’s approaches in communication. The internal comms team works hard to provide the staff with the information they need and present it in a way audience appreciates it (which apparently is original and creative; they also seek to improve the intranet). The external comms team has gained continuous media attention with their own reports on public issues, i.e. about the financial health of women in March 2018. They work because they combine original data with a comprehensive analysis and a values-based perspective.

Target your audience – this idea also works with Vancity’s blog that has useful content not just for millennials. It includes financial advice, events tips and more. Much used to be promoted on Facebook but there’s a critical reflection about FB especially after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Finally, I would also like to mention that Vancity has established a reporting scheme that includes the SDGs and is partially working with the agile working method. And these are just a selection of impressions I experienced during my stay. As a result of my visit, I am able to identify the strengths and potentials of GLS Bank and our work, I took away several ideas and got to know new colleagues for future exchange. To have a deeper understanding of each other can be a fundamental advantage for GABV members, especially in a competitive and changing environment that financial institutions will face in the upcoming years.

The article is written by Julian Mertens, Spokesperson and Communications Specialist, GLS Bank


[1] https://www.vancity.com/AboutVancity/InvestingInCommunities/ImpactLending/

[2] https://www.vancity.com/AboutVancity/VisionAndValues/ValuesBasedBanking/FinancialLiteracyAndBasicBanking/BasicBanking/

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