At times, when credit union people get together, we talk about the seven co-operative principles. And of these principles, the one I hear people get most excited about is principle seven, co-operation among co-operatives. It's my own personal favourite too.
Co-operatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co-operative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.
In British Columbia, we're lucky because we get to live up to the promise of good old-fashioned co-operative principle number seven all the time. I chair the Direct Banking Strategy Committee at Central1, which is a way for leading BC CUs to co-operate in planning the future of MemberDirect, the online/mobile banking platform provided by Central1, and used by literally all credit unions in BC. This means that representatives from many different credit unions get together, under the auspices of our central, Central1, and share strategic direction, admit when we don't have one, find common goals and arm wrestle over priorities. We, dare I say it, co-operate.
In the end, there are pros and cons to this approach. There are times when we want to move quickly on something, but we're slowed down because of our co-operative platform. But, in my opinion, this is outweighed by working together, and often quickly, on features we all find of value. It also means that when a large credit union like Vancity enhances the product, smaller credit unions benefit from it.
Although Vancity branches are nearby many Coast Capital branches, I regularly collaborate and co-operate with my peers there. It's a relationship I value tremendously. I don't see them as competition, but as co-opetition. I want us both to do well, and I don't want to steal members from other CUs, I just want Vancity to do slightly better than them. And I know (or hope) they feel the same way about us.
I don't see this approach south of the border very much. Maybe it's happening and I just don't know about it (if so please let me know). I wonder what it would take for credit unions to band together on initiatives they all know they need to focus on, and find ways to co-operate for the benefit of the many. What are the opportunities and what are the barriers to co-opetition?
William Azaroff lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He is Director, Business & Community Development of Vancity, Canada’s largest credit union. William works on a team overseeing Vancity's entire granting slate to develop members' communities, improve financial literacy, develop new businesses creating positive impact and, ultimately, to grow the Vancity brand and business.