Messages from Launi and Shawn

CEO's Message

Launi Skinner

Eleven years ago, members of Envision Financial and Valley First came together to create First West. Members appreciated that the efficiencies and capacity realized as a result of the credit union’s increased size would bring greater value to their banking experience. They were looking to increase the strength and stability of the credit union, but expected the new credit union to maintain its local brands and community connection.  

We delivered on that expectation and as a result, other credit unions saw the value in the First West model and soon joined our network. In 2013, we welcomed Enderby & District Financial and in 2015 we were proud to add Island Savings. Along the way we have kept our members’ needs at the heart of everything we do. We continue to invest locally— in our brands, employees and leaders and regional offices. Decisions are made as close to our members as possible.

First West has also harnessed our increased size to keep hard-earned money in our members’ pockets by introducing best-in-class products like our Simply Free Account® and Unlimited Chequing for Business®, while at the same time supporting our communities and members in times of need.  

For example, during COVID-19 and the accompanying economic turmoil, First West demonstrated its ability to use its size and financial strength when needed, while nimbly responding to the needs of our local communities and members. Our members didn’t have to wait for us to catch up; we were ready when they needed us most:

  • We kept thousands of members in their homes through deferred paymentsensuring members did not default on their mortgages and loans. 
  • We were able to offer critical government financing programs to small businesses almost as soon as they were introduced, ensuring our small business owners had access to the capital they needed to keep their businesses running.  
  • Without missing a beat, we extended hours and doubled the size of our telephone-accessible Member Advice Centre. As a result, we were able to assist with tens of thousands of member inquiries and at the same time make countless proactive calls to members like you—a reassuring outreach to offer assistance and a caring, understanding ear. 
  • We accelerated roll-out of enhancements to Forge—our digital banking platform—so that members could make deferral payment requests, apply for CEBA loansor make CRA direct deposits safely online. 
  • We were able to distribute more than $1 million in COVID-19 community funding and support to keep our towns and cities strong during this crisis. 

First West and our local divisions—Envision Financial, Valley First, Island Savings and Enderby & District Financial—were able to do all this and much more because we have continually adapted to and readied ourselves to meet the current and future needs of our members. 

Now we need to keep a good thing growing by becoming federally regulated. In this information package, we lay out for you why it’s important that we take the courageous next step to become federally regulated.  

I hope you share a tremendous sense of pride, as I do, that we are growing responsibly and thoughtfully, ensuring we give back to our members and communities along the way. I’m confident that with our long track record of acting locally and caring for our members and communities, First West is ready to grow beyond our provincial borders.  

I’m excited about the future of our credit union—but we need your support. Will you join me in voting YES on our special resolutions to keep a good thing growing as a federal credit union?  

Board Chair's Message

Shawn Neumann

The board of directors and I often ask ourselves:  

How can First West draw on its cooperative values and ensure it is resilient and relevant in times of change, uncertainty and disruption?  

One of the board’s most important functions is to look at how we position the credit union for success– how we create a strong financial institution to serve members’ needs now and in the future. We look to the horizon, guiding our business as we anticipate the needs of our members and prospective members. 

“Today, our credit union must compete with fintechs and banks that don’t have the same geographic and regulatory restrictions we do.” 

Whether because of rapid digital advances or the ramifications of the COVID-19 crisis, the financial services landscape looks vastly different today than it did even a decade ago. Today, our credit union must compete with fintechs and banks that don’t have the same geographic and regulatory restrictions we do. They can easily operate in B.C., across Canada and beyond. It is not a level playing field and this puts us at a disadvantage as we work hard to keep pace with technological changes and the investments needed to anticipate our members’ needs of the future.  

Standing still in a fast-moving environment creates the risk of being left behind. We must continue taking prudent, proactive steps to ensure we remain strong in times of change, uncertainty and disruption.  

For the last eight years, First West’s board of directors has explored several scenarios related to the credit union’s long-term strategic direction, including becoming a federally regulated credit union. After extensive research, due diligence and important conversations with members and employees, we decided that applying to become a federal credit union so that we are no longer constrained by provincial barriers is in the best interests of our members, employees and the credit union.  

In fact, part of the reason our credit union was able to successfully navigate the economic conditions resulting from COVID-19 was because of the preparatory work we have been doing to become a federally regulated credit union. We built our liquidity, grew our capital, improved our processes and invested in digital technologies. putting us in a strong position to withstand the extraordinary challenges posed by COVID-19. In doing so, our members didn’t have to wait for us to catch up— we were ready when they needed us most. 

Let’s keep our credit union resilient for today and ready to grow for future generations.  

With the unanimous support of First West’s board of directors, I recommend and encourage you to join us in voting YES on the special resolutions to become a federal credit union.  

Thank you for taking time to vote and being part of creating a strong future for your credit union. 

On behalf of the board of directors,