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Financial cooperatives: An economic powerhouse for communities

Posted on Wednesday March 03, 2021

Financial cooperatives: An economic powerhouse for communities

Can you contribute collectively to the prosperity of communities? For cooperatives, the answer is an easy yes. Cooperatives play a key role in stimulating local economies and are central to them. UNI CEO Robert Moreau highlights the purpose and essential role of financial cooperatives.

Serving the community: The primary mission of cooperatives

The wisest among us still remember the not-so-distant past when their community was not served by the big banks because it was considered too small or too far away. Yet, according to the 2016 census, 79% of Canada's population centres still have 10,000 residents or less. Mr. Moreau calls financial cooperatives "a response to an accessibility problem through local leadership. Financial cooperatives, like UNI in New Brunswick, aim to bring quality financial services to all regions of the province, a legacy they continue today and one that appeals to young and old alike. Today, more than a quarter of New Brunswickers are members of a financial cooperative, and that number keeps rising.

Cooperating, a fundamental principle

"Cooperatives were created to serve the community, not themselves," Mr. Moreau says. What is the impact of that principle?

Through his contact with members, Mr. Moreau can tell that the principle resonates with them: "People see UNI as a driver, something that makes the community flourish. Few organizations have the resources to have a significant and direct impact in a community. People see this impact and value it."

What are the advantages of cooperatives in 2021?

·         Collective dividends that help communities grow

·         Expertise that matches or exceeds that of other banking institutions

·         Employers of choice

·         Social involvement and employee commitment

·         Decision-making hubs that are here to stay in New Brunswick

·         Substantial regional autonomy

Sharing the values of citizens

Mr. Moreau is convinced that, in the long term, "the principles underlying cooperatives will become more and more important in the community as citizens seek more authenticity."

"At the core, our purpose—UNIted for a prosperous UNI and its members—defines us and makes what we do meaningful," says Mr. Moreau. "We don't support charities to make ourselves look good in marketing campaigns. UNI shares the wealth created by the community with the community. UNI is everywhere, all the time, because it's our primary identity. We don't seek profit at all costs. Unlike banks or publicly traded companies, UNI doesn't aspire to gain at the expense of its members, but rather for their benefit."

Adjusting to the changing needs of local communities

An aging population, growing mobility between cities and rural areas, a digital shift and more. Such are the changes affecting the population of New Brunswick and the world—and UNI is watching. Mr. Moreau believes financial cooperatives can make a valuable contribution in today's environment. In response, UNI is adjusting, adapting and remaining relevant to the community.

"UNI is staying focused on the needs of our members. We are constantly adjusting. For example, credit and mortgages were a priority for the majority of our members a few years ago, so we had more advisors specializing in this area of expertise. Today, many of our members are more focused on retirement planning. With that in mind we've acquired the expertise and know-how of two major regional financial planning firms to further the excellence of our wealth management team and better meet this need," he explains.

The health of communities: UNI is there

Online transactions are gaining ground and an aging population is demanding more health services. How can cooperatives support these changes? By changing how certain buildings are used.

As an example, Mr. Moreau cites the recent conversion of the Inkerman service location on the Acadian Peninsula: "Most members today prefer to do their day-to-day transactions without going to a service location. More than 80% of these types of transactions (bill payments, transfers, government remittances, etc.) are carried out online. At the same time, with an aging population, the need for medical clinics is increasing. After the Inkerman service location was closed, the building was donated and it was transformed into a medical clinic. This project was made possible by the local leadership of citizens and UNI members.

The values of young people: UNI is there

Adapting to an aging population does not mean neglecting younger members.

"Young people are aware of the issues surrounding cooperation and community involvement, care about the environment and are committed to social justice. Like UNI, they support sustainable prosperity, responsibility and solidarity. Young people are embracing the cooperative model and want to be participants, not just spectators. We are therefore well positioned to offer them an institution and services that meet their expectations. UNI's core values of solidarity, responsibility and courage guide our development and decisions."

Economic development: UNI is there

Mr. Moreau describes cooperatives as regional development accelerators, noting UNI's unwavering support for business. "When you support businesses with resources and expertise, you improve the community as a whole. When they succeed, they give back to the community. This support is even more essential in smaller regions, where you can build personal bonds of trust with members."

This virtuous circle, in which positive spin-offs snowball, is also found at UNI. "We're an employer of choice. The taxes we pay stay here. The profits we make are redistributed here, and we support projects and initiatives that benefit our communities," says Mr. Moreau.

Regional communities: UNI is there

Forget the image of a big boss sitting on a throne and monopolizing the decision-making process. UNI works "with cooperative committees made up of community leaders to set priorities. Instead of supporting big national causes, we choose to go in a very focused and targeted way, project by project," to have the biggest impact, says Mr. Moreau.

The Voilà! contest is a good example of this. To turn their ideas into reality, people were invited to submit projects that would bring about change and contribute to the well-being of the community. Prizes ranged up to $50,000. The contest was judged by members, who were the only people allowed to vote. According to Mr. Moreau, Voilà! was a huge success. "This kind of contest is very powerful. It mobilizes an entire community and highlights projects and organizations that need it."

This level of involvement sets cooperatives like UNI apart from other players in the financial sector. It is a testament to our uniqueness and pride!

Tomorrow's economic challenges: UNI is already there

Mr. Moreau encourages the development of cooperatives on a larger scale. "Cooperatives grow out of the needs of communities, so they’re best placed to meet those needs. If we could find ways to foster their emergence in all areas—agriculture, fishing, housing and more—they would be an incredible driving force. Cooperatives contribute in such a positive and sustainable way. With more cooperatives, New Brunswick's economic future would be even brighter. We also need to think about ways to support entrepreneurship. We have great entrepreneurs, and we need to nurture them."

As the guardian of an 85-year-old institution, Mr. Moreau remains humble. "We're part of a long history, and we’ll be leaving its legacy to those who follow us for the next 85 years. This long-term perspective must guide all our choices. My job is to ensure growth and continuity for UNI and its members."

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