Once upon a time there were only big banks, where men — and
only men — wearing suits sat smoking cigars in cozy, wood-panelled boardrooms while most average working people were left out in the cold. Then came credit unions — financial institutions for the rest of us.
Today, there are almost 4,500 credit unions in 97 countries, serving 172 million members and controlling US $1.1 trillion in assets. The European Association of Co-operative Banks accounts for another 34 million members.
Just like many citizens of democratic countries know little about their history and rights, a significant number of members don't know the history of credit unions and the power that membership represents.
Quebec is home to North America's first credit unions, or
caisse populaires. The
Caisse Populaire de Lévis opened on January 23, 1901 with a 10 cent deposit! Alphonse Desjardins, a parliamentary reporter, founded it because he was outraged when a Montrealer received a court order to pay nearly $5,000 in interest on a moneylender's loan of $150.
English-speaking Canada and the U.S. followed Quebec's lead. Running a financial institution on the principles of democracy may not seem like a radical idea today, but in the first half of the 20th century, when profit-motivated banks made it difficult for the average citizen to borrow or invest, it was revolutionary!
Since the 1930s, Canada's credit unions have led the financial services industry in innovation. Here are some "firsts" we've achieved:
The first credit union in Saskatchewan began in 1910, another followed in 1916 and by 1938, 14 credit unions had opened their doors, with many more to follow. Over the next eight decades, credit unions flourished, expanding their membership, opening additional branches, and eventually giving way to numerous mergers.Affinity Credit Union, as you know it today, is a product of 80 years of partnerships with fellow credit unions across Saskatchewan and is now among the largest 15 credit unions in Canada – and growing – thanks to the support of members like YOU!