From $50 and a dream, ACU celebrates 75 years

Assiniboine Credit Union has come a long way as it celebrates 75 years in business, growing from only $50 in assets to more than $4.5 billion. But this Manitoba credit union hasn’t veered away from the values and ideals of its founders three-quarters of a century ago.

For Kevin Sitka, ACU’s Chief Executive Officer, it was a time to look forward as much as back.

Moments like these are important milestones — an opportunity to reflect on the journey we’ve travelled, and an opportunity to look forward to the future we want to create together,” Sitka told the crowd gathered in the ACU branch at 3217 Portage Ave. on February 23, 2018 to celebrate ACU’s 75th birthday.

“It’s very much who we are,” Sitka said of the celebration. “A local celebration for a local credit union, to be close to who we serve. Seventy-five years of ‘Money Doing More’ feels fantastic. It’s a great day for us as an organization, for our members, our staff and our community partners.”

From streetcars to transforming banking

The goal of ACU’s founders — streetcar drivers employed by the Winnipeg Electric Company — was to transform banking by putting people first. They pooled their money in the new organization they owned together and governed democratically out of the original branch located on Assiniboine Avenue.

Seventy-five years ago, a small group of thoughtful, dedicated citizens came together to create a financial co-operative,” Sitka said. “Their vision was a financial institution that would do more for them as members, and do more for the communities they lived in — Money Doing More.”

Their first loan was for $50 to help a member pay an emergency medical bill. “It wasn’t about charity, it was about neighbours helping neighbours, it was about creating a new model that would replicate this helpful impact over and over again as each loan was repaid and the credit union grew,” Sitka said.

ACU has grown far beyond what the founders ever could have imagined, from nine member-owners to over 120,000, and from simple deposits and loans to world-class financial services including wealth management and an insurance brokerage.

“But the essence of who we are has not changed,” Sitka said. “From that first loan of $50 to help a member, we continue to provide credit to our member-owners right here in our communities, whether to help them own their home, start a local business, get that first car, or pay for their education.

“There were others in our communities also creating credit unions with a similar purpose — making sure that their financial institution was focused on using money to serve people and communities, not simply maximizing profits,” Sitka said.

And over the years, some of these credit unions came together to form the Assiniboine Credit Union that you see today.” Credit unions including Vantis, Astra and Buffalo all became part of what ACU is now.

We own this credit union together, and the success we’ve achieved over the years is something for us all to be very proud of, and grateful for,” Sitka said.

After 75 years, how does ACU define its success?

“Success includes doing our part by engaging in reconciliation,” Sitka said. “Success includes being chosen and trusted for financial services and advice by more Manitobans than any other credit union in the province.”

Sitka said for ACU, success also includes welcoming more than 750 new members last year at three ACU branches located in communities where other banks have all left — Gillam, West Broadway and the North End.

We are proud of who we are and the impact we have. We believe we honour the vision and purpose that the founders built ACU with — and the vision and purpose of the many other founders whose credit unions form who we are today.”

Success also means being named one of Manitoba’s top employers and one of Canada’s greenest employers for seven consecutive years. It’s also about promoting green transportation by employees and diverting over 75,000 pounds of material from the landfill last year through composting and recycling.

$75 million in financing for affordable housing

“Success in our 75th year also includes surpassing $75 million in financing for affordable housing,” Sitka said.

To help support the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba’s (IRCOM) commitment to creating successful transitions into Canadian life for refugee families, Sitka passed along an ACU donation for $7,500 to the organization’s Director of Programming, Fitsum Getahun. IRCOM provides transitional housing programs and support services for refugee families, and ACU has proudly been involved with them for many years.

Fitsum Getahun, Director of Programming at IRCOM

“ACU has been an important partner, and we are grateful for this relationship,” said Getahun. “ACU provides grants to essential programs, provides support to our financial empowerment programs, raises money to support our asset building program.”

Last year, ACU also provided a special grant to launch a program that helps refugees pay off their transportation loans.

Through countless social impact tours, ACU has given IRCOM the opportunity to share our story with ACU employees,” Getahun said. “We’ve been honoured to welcome ACU folks who might not have known much about our work, as we work to increase the wider community’s understanding of the newcomer experience.”

According to Getahun, IRCOM looks forward to many more years of working with ACU. “They’re very community oriented and they consider the needs of the downtown and low-income communities and newcomers to Canada,” Getahun said. “We both have the same goals and mission.”

Making a valuable difference in the community

For Brendan Reimer, ACU’s Strategic Partner for Values-Based Banking, the birthday celebration was a chance to take stock of what sets ACU apart.

“We’re always asking the question, who is still left out and is there something we can do?” Reimer said. “That’s about our values, which are focused on how we can have a positive impact on our members, our employees, our communities and on the environment. That’s what guides our work, and that’s what we mean by values-based banking.”

While banking is ACU’s industry, Reimer stresses that is not the organization’s purpose.

Our purpose is quality-of-life around us,” Reimer said. “We’re finance and banking, that’s our business, but that is just our vehicle to create change — it’s not our purpose. Our purpose is to improve the quality of life for our member-owners and for the communities around us, especially for those looking for an opportunity to succeed and build a better future for themselves and their families.”

Brendan Reimer, Strategic Partner, Values-Based Banking at Assiniboine Credit Union

Deep roots in credit unions

Alain Molgat, President of ACU’s Board of Directors, has been involved on the board for about 10 years.

“I come from a small Manitoba francophone community — Laurier — where the only financial institution was a Caisse Populaire, so that’s where my roots are,” Molgat said. “I started as a member of a small credit union with my dad opening my first savings account there.”

I think it’s a wonderful milestone,” he said. “On behalf of all our board members, I want to wish all the management and staff a great celebration — they certainly deserve it, serving our members across the city and even up north where we have a couple of branches. I think they do a fantastic job delivering financial services.”

Molgat takes great pride in ACU’s 75 years of service. “What sets us apart is our values-based approach to delivering financial services. I think it’s a clear separator and gives us an edge in the market.”

Linda Hampton, Manager of Member Services for ACU’s 3217 Portage Avenue branch, was happy to host the 75th birthday celebration.

“It’s very exciting,” Hampton said. “Credit unions have been part of my life for a long time. My first job was with Astra Credit Union when I was 19 years old, and all my jobs have all been with credit unions.” Along with Astra, Hampton worked at other credit unions including Airline and Starbuck.

“ACU is strong and we’re in the neighbourhood — everybody knows Assiniboine,” she said.

Susan George, a long-time ACU member who first joined Astra Credit Union in 1970, made sure to attend the celebration which was hosted at her ACU branch.

“I like the great service,” George said. “They’re very accommodating, very helpful. If you need assistance online, they’re there for you. If you want to speak to someone in person, they’ve got someone immediately. They get involved a lot in the community and I think that’s a good thing. They’re really supporting us.”

The celebration in photos

up next

From 1943 to today: How ACU continues to build a sustainable future for all

About Jason Halstead

Jason is a Winnipeg-based journalist and photographer who has been published across Canadian media.

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