The Boards of Directors Lakeland Credit Union and Vision Credit Union have begun formal merger discussions.
Vision Credit Union has its head office in Camrose, and serves 17 branches. Most of its branches are in the central Alberta/Battle River region, with half a dozen in the northwest part of the province.
Lakeland Credit Union CEO Kelly McGiffin says Vision is a very good match for a merger.
“We’d only want to look at a partnership if that was a cultural match that offered some of the diversification that we think we need in terms of economy; that they were complementary; and that they respected the regional relevance that Lakeland’s always been able to build success on,” he said.
”And with Vision, we found that that partner hit all the checks.”
He said “economies of scale” make it logical for credit unions to form formal partnerships. Shrinking margins in the finance sector mean that small, regionally-based institutions are at a disadvantage when competing with national banks.
“When you start to figure out how do you cover those costs with a reduction in your income, in your margin, and still stay competitive, what other options do we have? Can we be stronger together by combining some of those resources to better afford new expertises and new products, new services, new consumer expectations? And so I think you are seeing more and more consolidation as a result. The challenge is how do you do that without just becoming a branch of a bigger organization?” he said.
“We think this model really answers that by having a regional approach that retains a fair amount of autonomy within that region under a larger umbrella.”
If approved by the members of Lakeland and Vision credit unions, the merged institution will operate under the Vision Credit Union umbrella. But McGiffin says the Lakeland branches will maintain their brand.
“It’ll be known as the Lakeland Region of Vision Credit Union,” he said. “Vision was very respectful of the success of the Lakeland Credit Union and the Lakeland organization, and felt that legacy should be kept.”
McGiffin said it’s also important that Vison’s existing service area borders on Lakeland’s, but the two don’t overlap. Among other things, this means the merger won’t lead to staff layoffs.
McGiffin said their philosophies and cultures also line up well. One key compatibility is the principle of patronage, or returning profits to the membership. Not all credit unions offer that.
“Lakeland has always been a very big proponent of returning profits to our members and our community, and those have been significant,” he said. “When we looked at Vision, their profit return was at an even higher grade than ours. And we thought, well, that automatically tells us that culturally they think the same as we do in terms of co-operative benefit for our members and our communities.”
He said the strength of Lakeland Credit Union has been its ability to serve local membership and respond to local economic conditions. Under the merger, that autonomy will be continued.
“What we’re building into the strategy is a very regional model. One of the things that we understand very clearly is that the success that Lakeland’s been building for 80 years has been on our ability to reflect what’s happening locally, having local decision making, local leadership.
“Boots on the ground is what we’re calling it, is critical to the model we’re building. So we don’t see losing anything, but just adding a very strong back room where you put this third- and fourth-largest credit unions in Alberta together,” McGiffin said.
Both credit unions intend to host virtual and in-person town hall meetings, as pandemic restrictions allow. An information site, www.ruralvisionab.ca, will be updated on a regular basis with the latest information about the merger.
Vision and Lakeland Credit Unions plan to bring the proposed merger to a vote of their respective memberships this fall.
According to a joint news release, if members of both credit unions vote in favor of the merger and the required regulatory approvals are received, the amalgamated credit union will serve more than 35,000 members at 19 locations, with more than 269 staff members and approximately $1.9 billion in assets.