First West Credit Union

First West Credit Union

April 06, 2015 14:13 ET

First West Leader Sees Credit Union Spirit Making a Difference Abroad

LANGLEY, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwired - April 6, 2015) - Catherine Dangerfield recalls the stark contrast between two vegetable stands she observed while in Uganda in February. One stand was an actual booth with shelves stacked high with several different kinds of well-cultivated vegetables. The other consisted of a few bunches of wilted greens resting on a blanket on the dusty road. The woman who had the bigger, more successful stand was a member of the local savings and credit co-operative, or SACCO, as they're known as throughout Africa. The other woman with the sparse set up was not.

Dangerfield, a business banking assistant vice-president with First West Credit Union, was in Uganda as part of a team of coaches with the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA). CCA is a not-for-profit co-operative which establishes and strengthens co-operatives, credit unions and community-based organizations to reduce poverty, build sustainable livelihoods and improve civil society in less developed countries. CCA delivers programs for the Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada (CDF) and other organizations which help communities fight poverty and create more secure lives through community-owned co-ops.

The vegetable stands were located outside one of the SACCOs Dangerfield volunteered at and provided a poignant and lasting illustration of the importance of co-operatives and credit unions.

"I think it's easy to lose sight of the true essence and importance of co-operatives and credit unions," Dangerfield says. "As a co-operative, our credit union might look and feel like any large business, but it's our co-operative roots that makes us different than the banks and we need to hold on to that."

Co-operatives have deep roots in Canada, boasting more than 9,000 that provide goods and services to some 18 million members across the country. Credit unions, which are co-operative financial institutions, invest more than $37 million annually in the economy and millions more in their communities. They serve more than 10 million people and are the only financial institutions in more than 380 communities. Credit unions are also important supporters of local businesses, providing loans to support small business growth across the nation.

First West has supported the CCA and CDF for more than a decade, contributing more than $300,000 to international development efforts. Complementing this financial support is First West's commitment to other CCA initiatives including its Women's Mentorship Program, and its credit union coaching program. In past years, First West leaders have travelled to Ghana, Malawi, Uganda, Taiwan, Sri Lanka and Botswana to participate in the credit union coaching program and women's leadership forum, sharing information and learning from co-operatives overseas. Launi Skinner, CEO of First West Credit Union, spent nine days in Cambodia learning first-hand about poverty alleviation through co-operatives in developing countries.

For her volunteer efforts, Dangerfield found herself providing advice to the managers and boards of directors of two SACCOs, in two different stages of development. The problems she and her team uncovered will ring true to many credit union leaders: membership growth and referrals, loan delinquency, deposit growth. But addressing these challenges requires solutions often taken for granted in first world countries.

"How do you get people in a poor country to deposit money into the credit union when they desperately need money?" says Dangerfield.

In Canada, the issue has a different shape, but it's cut from the same cloth: as taxes, costs and competition continue to mount, how do credit unions continue to create value while keeping more money in members' pockets? The answer could be somewhere in Dangerfield's Uganda experience.

"The credit unions we worked with are in the process of teaching their communities the concept of co-operation-that everyone can benefit by pooling their resources, as limited as they may be," she says. "In Canada, we have the long, storied history of co-operative-based businesses, so we don't have to convince people it works. Canadians just have to tap into a credit union to experience the power of co-operation."

To learn more about CCA, visit

About First West Credit Union

First West Credit Union offers members the financial strength, comprehensive product selection and extended branch network of a large financial institution while maintaining local brand identities and a unique grassroots approach to service. Led by Launi Skinner, First West is British Columbia's third-largest credit union with $10 billion in assets under administration, nearly 240,000 members and more than 1,700 employees. It operates 54 branches throughout the province under the Envision Financial, Valley First, Enderby & District Financial and Island Savings brands. Visit for more information on First West Credit Union.

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Contact Information

  • Media Contact
    Jason Brown
    Manager, Public Relations & Communications
    First West Credit Union