• By: OLM Staff

Canadian Credit Unions are supporting women in business

Over 5.9 million Canadian enjoy the benefits of being part of credit unions—for-profit, community financial institutions that put their members’ needs first.

Credit unions offer access to all the benefits of traditional banking, including lines of credit, mortgages chequing accounts, and savings accounts. The key differentiator between banking with a credit union instead of with a bank is that when you become part of a credit union, you're a member-owner.

Since operations are community-based, credit unions offer more for the members, including profit sharing and giving back to their communities. Credit unions can be provincially or federally regulated, and all deposits are well insured. All members can vote for the board of directors for their respective union under a one-member-one-vote principle regardless of the amount of money deposited by that member.

With 219 credit unions in Canada (excluding Desjardins), these financial institutions have become a popular alternative to conventional banking. Purchasing a membership for a credit union can be as low as $1. Opening an account at a credit union is the same as at other central banks in Canada: members need to be in proper legal standing and fill out the appropriate documentation.

Credit Unions across Canada are leading the charge to empower women in business. The President and CEO of the Canadian Credit Union Association, Martha Durdin, commented, “Our goal is to educate more Canadians about what credit unions are and how they work so they have greater awareness about what opportunities are available to them – whether it’s simply for opening up a chequing and savings accounts, obtaining a mortgage or business loan or seeking investment advice for their new venture. We are working tirelessly to advance gender parity in the financial sector. Currently, 34% of credit union board members and 30% of CEO/GM positions are held by women. By contrast, only 8% of leaders in all Fortune 500 companies are women. Similarly, women currently account for 35% of credit union directors and 50% of the senior and middle management roles across the system. Credit unions are driving significant change in opening the door for future female leaders and entrepreneurs alike.”

In keeping with their ideal of giving back to the community, Conexus Credit Union, Saskatchewan’s largest credit union, reiterated their support for women in business on International Women’s Day 2022.

In 2020, Conexus signed the Saskatchewan Women Entrepreneurship Charter, an initiative launched by female entrepreneurs in the province to close the gender gap in business ownership. This follows a long history of credit unions being at the forefront of female financial independence. Signing the charter seemed only natural as credit unions were the first to issue loans to women in their own name.

Vice President of Member & Community Engagement Nicole Westerlund said, “Signing the Charter falls within this value and signifies our continued commitment to breaking the bias and moving the needle closer to gender parity in Saskatchewan.”

Conexus has taken it a step further. They have established gender parity on their board of directors and the executive leadership team. In Addition, not only did they sign the charter to ensure female success in the business world, but their Cultivator tech incubator program supports tech startups run by women. To date, the program has assisted 29 female-founded tech startups in the province.

Westerlund said that Conexus is “proud to work with so many female entrepreneurs, leaders, founders, and changemakers across the province every day, and we’re excited to be a part of this movement to amplify our ongoing investment in women entrepreneurs.”

Other Canadian credit unions are also trying to lead by example. The Canadian Credit Union Association runs a national mentorship program to give women additional support and confidence to take their next career step.

The Cape Breton Credit Union and Sydney Credit Union are also working on new ways to empower women by offering microloans of up to $10,000 to help develop business while also offering mentorship. These loans will have a non-compounded rate of four percent and will be interest-free for the first six months.

Out west, Vancity Credit of Vancouver British Columbia is offering a business loan program for all who identify as a woman along with non-binary people through the Unity Women Entrepreneurs Program. This program, in partnership with WeBC, provides flexibility and mentorship so female entrepreneurs can make their business work for them.

Canadian Credit Unions show the value of having a community-based financial system that provides financial independence from large banks for its members and believes in social responsibility by giving back to the community that its members come from.

For these organizations, International Women’s Day is about more than making feel-good social media posts; it’s about striving for gender equity in their own company and supporting women who need help the most across Canada.

Photo: iStock