Close to 40 people filled the seats at the Legion banquet hall in O’Leary to discuss the merger of four P.E.I. credit unions.
It was one of the public meetings scheduled around the Island to answer questions from members ahead of in-branch voting April 14-28.
Evangeline-Central Credit Union is one of four P.E.I. credit unions planning to merge. If it is voted in, the new organization - as yet not named - will consist of Evangeline-Central Credit Union, Malpeque Credit Union, Tignish Credit Union and Provincial Credit Union.
“Together we are building something special and have a chance to make history,” said Alfred Arsenault CEO of Evangeline-Central Credit Union and keynote speaker at the meeting.
He said the time is right with all four potential partners in a strong financial position.
Arsenault presented an overview of the merger plans and afterwards, several members had questions.
“We had a merger three years ago,” said David Baglole, an O’Leary resident and long-time member. “I’m with O’Leary Credit Union, we merged three years ago. Why do we have to merge again?”
Arsenault said the members don’t have to merge, but the board at all four credit unions feel it’s the best move - for now, and in the future.
“We need to invest in technology,” said Arsenault. “If we don’t attract some of our younger members to be members of the credit union where is our future? … If you don’t have it (technology), they’re not with you."
Almeda M. Thibodeau was concerned that the personalized service characteristic of credit unions will be lost as the merger makes for one big organization.
"Credit Union had a very special interest and a very special service that you used to give. I do not want that to go out the door,” said Thibodeau.
Arsenault emphasized the plan to keep the staff working in their current locations, serving the same members.
“The (new) credit union will operate in what we call the decentralized model. Today with the technology that we have, it’s very easy to come together without necessarily being in the same building,” said Arsenault. “So there will be no need for staff to re-locate. The intent here is we will not have a standard head office.”
Thibodeau, a francophone, also asked about bilingual service, which Arsenault said will continue as it is now, and that commitment is included in the bylaws.
The merger will result in a projected 84 per cent growth for the new credit union, said Arsenault.
“As a credit union, it’s not profits that drive us, I don’t want to leave the wrong impression here, … it’s not all about the bottom line,” said Arsenault. “However, in order to deliver what we want to deliver to our members, we have to be profitable, we have to be financially strong.”
Several people were concerned that the merger would mean less representation on the board and fewer services in their areas.
“Lot of big words there,” said John Arthur Ramsay, O’Leary Credit Union member. “One word you got in there is 'inaugural board' and representatives from each (credit union), and that’s fine, but that’s the start. Down the road it could be capita, it could be whatever that’ll determine how many members are on it. Look at our school board, look at our health board, what’s happened.”
With the proposed merger, the inaugural board will consist of three board members from each credit union and it’s written into the bylaws that board members will continue to be from the four areas serviced by the legacy credit unions.
Peter Bulger, O’Leary Credit union Board member, also replied to Ramsay’s concern.
“Credit Union members, members at large, will need to stay engaged in their credit union and make sure that their areas are represented,” said Bulger. “Maybe not everything can be enshrined in the constitution, but if you have the right members in your board, you will be well represented.”
Changes are coming and Arsenault knows it won’t all be smooth sailing.
“I can’t stand here and tell you everything will be perfect when we amalgamate," said Arsenault. “It won’t be. I guarantee you, it won’t be. But it won’t be either as separate entities.”
The future of the proposed merger is in the hands of the members now.
Detailed information and the merger plan documents are available online at strongerformembers.ca
Alison Jenkins, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Journal-Pioneer