Osoyoos Credit Union
Local community is focus of Osoyoos Credit Union’s work
When Greg Sol began his banking career, he started with one of Canada’s national banks.
Born into a banking family, Sol, now the chief executive officer of Osoyoos Credit Union, moved around British Columbia as his father took positions in the north, the Kootenays, Kelowna and around the Lower Mainland.
Early in his career with the Bank of Nova Scotia, Sol had a conversation with his aunt, who was then working for a credit union in the north after working for a major bank.
“She shared with me the difference and that resonated with me,” recalls Sol. “So I moved over to a credit union.”
He’s worked with credit unions ever since, moving to Osoyoos to start with Osoyoos Credit Union (OCU) in August 2015.
OCU has served the Osoyoos community for more than 76 years, first opening in January 1946. It has just one full branch located at 8312 Main Street in Osoyoos, but recently it has been establishing part-time satellite offices in Rock Creek, Oliver and Keremeos.
The Rock Creek office, opened in 2019, has served as a model for the other two. It is equipped with an automated teller machine (ATM), but there is no teller service. A staff member, however, is there two days a week to assist members with mortgages, loans, and other financial services.
It's even possible to use technology to videoconference with an Osoyoos-based financial planner or with commercial lenders, for example.
Recently, an ATM was added at the Keremeos location at the Ambrosia Building, and one expected early in 2023 in Oliver at the former Osoyoos Indian Band office on McKinney Road.
Sol says the goal of these satellite offices is to better serve existing OCU members who live in those communities – rather than to compete against other financial institutions.
“We’ve seen some people that have joined us as well, which is nice,” he adds.
And because the satellite offices are only used two days a week, non-profit organizations in those communities are able to use them on other days.
This is an example of one of OCU’s four values – supporting the community. Which brings us back to the differences between national banks and credit unions that led Sol to make the switch early in his career.
“There’s so many things, but honestly I think it’s the people and the culture,” Sol said when asked about the differences. “We are here to help.”
Major banks aim to increase shareholder valuation – to increase their share prices so shareholders, who may not even bank there, can make capital gains on their investment.
In contrast, credit unions are full-service financial cooperatives. Profits go to the members.
“We’re not here for the shareholder valuation,” said Sol. “We’re here for our members’ valuation, which is different.”
The OCU has a board with up to nine directors, who are from the community and have been members in good standing for at least a year. They are elected annually by the membership.
“The board are the ones who set the direction,” said Sol. “I’m their employee.”
Having decisions made locally means these decisions are made with the local community in mind. Sol gives the example of how financial institutions had to handle borrowers who lost their jobs due to the Covid pandemic and had trouble making their payments.
“We were able to support them not only through unique programs, but because we make the decisions for our community,” he said. “I can’t emphasize that enough. The board is in Osoyoos, knowing exactly what’s going on here.”
In contrast, a national bank might be making decisions for Osoyoos at a Toronto office, he added.
OCU is guided by four values. In addition to community spirit, it also values accountability, professionalism, and independence.
“That’s the core of who we are,” said Sol. “We talk about our values at every board meeting and staff meeting and in our one-to-one conversations.”
That can be as simple as a staffer driving home a member who had to pick up groceries. There’s a personal connection.
But beyond those core values, OCU is also able to offer the same banking services as any other financial institutions, in part through networks of credit unions across the country.
“We certainly offer all the products and services that you would expect,” said Sol. “I don’t think you’d be lacking on anything from a national institution versus a regional organization.”
OCU is a member of the Canadian Credit Union Association (CCUA) which is a trade association with credit unions and Centrals across Canada.
OCU is also a member of Central 1 Credit Union, an umbrella organization for credit unions in BC and Ontario which provides the backend for numerous banking services.
For example, they settle payments between institutions, so when a member deposits a cheque from another institution, the funds are received in the member’s account.
“We aggregate those [services] as a credit union system,” said Sol. “So Interior Savings, First West, all the other credit unions you can think of in BC and Ontario are owners of Central 1.”
There’s also a peer group representing the various credit unions between Osoyoos and Revelstoke, which meets twice a year. Sol points out that this can lead to informal cooperation, for example sharing a draft policy or a best practice with another institution in the Okanagan Valley, rather than each institution reinventing the wheel.
These associations give OCU and other credit unions the national reach they need to compete with major banks having thousands of branches nationwide. But credit unions are much more plugged into the local community.
Part of that local connection is volunteerism, with staff encouraged to volunteer on business time with local non-profits and charities.
“We have a volunteer program that is formalized, because community is one of our values,” said Sol. “We also support our community through our community giving funds.”
OCU normally gives out $50,000 annually in community grants through two intakes a year. In 2021, OCU’s 75th anniversary, they allocated $75,000 instead.
Those funds have gone to schools, playgrounds, non-profits, and charities for programs that support economic revitalization, and access and inclusion.
“We’re here to support our community and we take that very seriously,” said Sol.
Story and photos by Richard McGuire
Osoyoos Credit Union
8312 Main St.
Osoyoos, BC V0H 1V0