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I’m watching the Vancity AGM by webcast and will liveblog. (Can one ‘liveblog’ when watching a live webcast?)

Note: these are in no way to be construed as official minutes. I am giving this a shot! Sorta citizen journalism. I may or may not manage to accurately blog as I watch. [update: note I often used the word ‘we’ in the blog. I don’t mean to imply I’m part of the ‘we’, it was simply blogging using the word used by the speaker]

Chair of the board, Patrice, is going through the formalities – rules about how the business of the meeting will be conducted (eg. say your name and branch; if it’s personal, this isn’t the place etc.)

Commenting on the BikeShare program – take a bike, ride it a couple weeks, then pass it on. This is a symbol of how Vancity helps its employees and the community make positive change.

Year in review: saying goodbye to Dave Mowat, CEO, and welcoming Tamara Vrooman. A year of incredible market disruption. Achieving carbon neutral – Vancity started thinking about how to reduce its impact on the environment (energy use in building, how our employees commute, and eliminating use of paper). [ed note: I can testify to this – they really do encourage us to commute, including negotiating discounted yearly transit passes for us, and our garbage bins are teeny-tiny]. Dockside Green is another example of leadership – affordable housing development in Victoria shooting for Platinum LEED status.

Another leadership initiative: helping the ‘unbanked’ start banking. Inspired by Dr. Yunnus, Vancity has advanced its own micro credit program. Vancity offers a match-saving program – for every $1 a person saves, Vancity will match up to $3 – resulting in 9 people being able to purchase a home, in partnership with the Futures Foundation {?}.

Vancity is always, at heart, a financial institution. Patrice is reviewing the mergers and growth of Vancity over the past year.

Because it’s a cooperative, $5.2 million of the profits went right back to the members.

Now introducing CEO Tamara Vrooman [I heart her. She’s delightful, straight-shooting, competent]. She was deputy finance minister when the board found her. One of her first priorities was to meet with members to find out What’s working? What’s not? and swiftly discovered how to support our members and communities. She tells it like it is, whether good news or bad. [applause].

Ms. Vrooman informing the crowd of the Cdn essential: hockey scores up to the moment.

One of the things that interested her in Vancity was the opportunity to listen and talk face-to-face with members. This was not something she could do as deputy minister (her former job). Now she will tell us about the results.

Good news: VC fundamentals strong – assets under mgt grew by 15% – nearly a historical year. $17 billion, including assets at Credential. 14,000 new members through mergers; 19,000 new members through organic growth. Equity remains strong. Broke the $500million mark. Capital Adequacy Ratio had robust 12% (only 8% is required).

Community Leadership funds also strong.

Underperformance coming up now.

Profits fell by 32%. Particularly steep. 3 reasons: ABCP, general narrowing of margins in industry, increases in cost base.

Note: Subprime is new word chosen by the American Dialectic Society. America grew overzealous in its mortages; bundling mortgages to fund businesses. Vancity grew its assets by selling 2billion of packaged mortgages. But in the states, investors funding the bundles, discovered that some of the (non Vancity) bundles were subprime mtgs. Vancity could no longer securitize (ie. sell the bundles) even though Vancity’s mortgages were not subprime. We took a write down of 20%. About 30 of our members had invested in some of our […. ACK…. streaming crashed …] Vancity paid out those members (?), well ahead of Canaccord doing something similar for its investors. Ms. Vrooman is very proud of this.

Other tough news: both our employee engagement and our service performance scores have declined in 2007. What are we going to do about it?

Areas of concern – feedback from members she received –

1. Transactions take longer than they used to.

2. We could do more community initiatives.

3. It doesn’t seem like we’re equipping our staff.

4. We’re not first to market these days.

Staff agreed with these assessments.

So, in November, she restructured the leadership team to be more streamlined. Key Focuses:

1. Retail and branch review (including fees to atms, line-ups)

2. Wealth management (many members who don’t have large sized investments want quality advice)

3. Improved technology. Staff are nimble, do workarounds, but major look at new technology.

4. Innovation. We’ve been the first on so many things historically – ethical investing, enviro visas (1990), internet banking. Good ideas come from front line staff. Will start talking more to them.

5. Social Finance – recognizing we have a capacity to do business in a way that’s sustainable in terms of our communities and the environment.

6. Commitment to staff – we will do fewer things, do it with their direct input.

Tamara is inviting members to contact her directly. Her e-mail: [email protected]

Closing with a reminder of our values – integrity, innovation, responsibility.

________________________

Q&A time

Q: why is our efficiency ratio higher than banks? 87%

A: because we give more service. But 87% is still too high to be sustainable.

Q: What steps will be taken to avoid similar difficulties in the future, such as ABCP? eg. getting caught up in US-led problems.

A: VC is looking hard at this. $77million VC had in ABCP represents less than 1/2 of 1% of VC total assets. But still, we didn’t understand fully enough what we were investing in, and took others’ words for it. It was not transparent, it was intricate, but still, we didn’t look hard enough at it.

Q: When I was at the branch one day, someone was complaining in line. Staff said “we are short on employees”. Is there a problem with wages? What is the poverty line, and what is the minimum wage VC pays its employees?

A: Our wages are very competitive in the market. FSR starts at $35K plus strong benefits and supports – pension plan, creative benefits plan based on the person’s needs. Training opportunities. But there are still more jobs than people in this market. This is why employee engagement is so important.

Q: – sound cut out –

A: people who bought ABCP [ARGH – lost connection again]

Q:

A: ING has low efficiency ratio – in low 50%’s. Credit union is not going to go that low, as we want to serve our members. We do need to get the trend going back down, in a way that’s consistent with credit union values.

Q: Thanks staff, has had no complaints. Staff bend over backwards. [Thanks!] Do we have an ombudsperson? Why not?

A: No, we don’t. Members concerns can go through the CEO or the Board. Ombudsmen are required in some environments. Ms. Vrooman’s belief is that each employee has the opportunity to bring up concerns, and her obligation is to address those in a transparent way. She hopes we don’t get to the place where we need one – it’s an admission of failure. (applause). Patrice comments she also receives letters, as do her colleagues on the board.

[missed about 10 min, connection broken]

Comment to Board from audience: Olympics coming to Vancouver. Potentially, a widespread shame. Can VanCity work on the homelessness issue? Similarly, a potential food crisis is coming. Last, focus on the arts, bridges our diversity. Congrats to new board.

Q: Daily interest on chequing is extremely low. Margin between this interest and how much loans charge is to big. Answer that funds can be kept in savings is not satisfactory – people forget to transfer funds into savings. Just because banks aren’t giving good interest isn’t a good enough answer.

A: Vancity does indeed offer higher interest options. Members want more option on savings options. VanCity is looking at options. However, the differential is not as great as they have been. VanCity will continue to look at best value.

Q: 10 pages in a brochure. It could have been on one page – conspicuous consumption. You guys have got to smarten up. Do some housecleaning like the average consumer does. This is ridiculous.

A: We heard you, John. Thanks for your comments.

Comment: A board of directors member from 1954 “I’ve survived all that”. Agrees we should emphasize homelessness. Answer is not policemen. Addictions need to be treated as an illness. We must let our governments know that illness is not a crime, it creates crime.

Q: Flaherty says regulators screwed up. Is that true?

A: In terms of the credit union regulators – they are appointed by the provincial gov’t, public servants. The Financial Institutions Commission has been cautious and prudent ensuring the members’ interests are preserved. Other provinces have different schemes. We have a good relationship with our regulator.

Comment: Please consider continue sponsorship of a program and actioning some recommendations [I didn’t understand- program at Balogna?]

Q: No qualm re: ombudsman. But wishes the problem had been explained first.

___________________________

Minutes are available by signing at the table. [errrrr — maybe email and ask?]

Door prizes being offered. Meeting adjourned.

That was way more fun and interesting than I expected. Next time I may be tempted to be there in person.

Again, this is the personal perspective, not official in any way, on the agm. If you want the real thing, ask for the official minutes, or maybe the video will be archived.

About the Author


Imagine if Canadians were known for being all over their money. Engaged. Proactive. Getting out of debt. Savvy. Saving. Generous. Nancy wants to help. Nancy started her own journey with money over 15 years ago, and formed her company “Your Money by Design” in 2004 to help others along the same path. It’s not the usual financial advising/investment stuff. It’s about taking control of day-to-day finances –managing monthly cashflow effectively, spending appropriately, getting out of debt, saving. If you're ready to take control over your finances, pop by her business site, YourMoneybyDesign.com

8 Comments

  1. Impressive, thanks Nancy. My only quibble is that Vancity doesn’t have a capital “c”.

    [Reply]

    Apr 22, 2008
  2. Hi Nancy, thanks for writing this up. I feel like I got the gist of it despite not being a member of Vancity and being in Massachusetts USA. Great stuff going on at Vancity CU.

    [Reply]

    Apr 23, 2008
  3. @William D’oh! *slaps head* I knew that. I knew that. I’ve edited and think I got most of them. Tx for dropping by!
    @Morriss nice to ‘meet’ you. Just checked out your blog and have bookmarked.

    [Reply]

    Apr 23, 2008
  4. Nancy, I’m a board member from UFirst FCU in New York State. I found it very interesting to sit in on your liveblog from the general membership meeting. Vancity is much larger than UFirst but we have similar challenges. Compliments to Vancity for being so open.

    [Reply]

    Apr 23, 2008
  5. Jennifer

    Hi William and Nancy:

    Vancity used to have a capital C. It doesn’t anymore. It disappeared a few years ago with a change in logo and colours etc. I guess that’s what they call “rebranding”.

    I was at the AGM — as you report, Tamara Vrooman was impressive and a straight-shooter. There are some issues that need to be addressed and this does seem to be one forum where members can voice them.

    There was some talk of members being able to bring issues forward to people on the board, as the board is meant to be there to represent concerns and interests of the members. What was interesting is that while Vrooman gave her e-mail and direct line to the audience on a projected slide, the board did not display theirs. On the last page of the Annual Report, there is an e-mail address that would probably get to them. However, there was no invitation to do so. My most optimistic assumption is that they will be looking for ways to engage members so that all voices are heard. This is always tricky in any level of governance.

    I hope you come in person next year. They gave out bus tickets to those of us who used transit to attend which was a nice gesture.

    [Reply]

    Apr 24, 2008
  6. Great live-blog Nancy – your insights are also very valuable.

    🙂 And you’re most definitely getting yourself a nice overseas audience!

    [Reply]

    Apr 24, 2008
  7. simon

    thanks for the recap…I couldn’t make it this year so it was nice to get a great recap.

    [Reply]

    Apr 25, 2008

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