Growing a financial community in Winnipeg’s North End

Determination, hard work and partnerships have contributed to the revival of a neighbourhood that is steeped in history and pride.

Assiniboine Credit Union’s North End branch at 360 McGregor Street opened nearly seven years ago in January 2012. At that time, mainstream banks had all but abandoned the neighbourhood — leaving fringe financial services like cheque-cashing and payday loan outlets as the only options for many.

L-R: Assiniboine Credit Union McGregor Branch staff, Marian Guerra (Member Service Representative), Brad Wasyluk (Manager Member Services), Kristi Tkach (Branch Manager), Anna Velasco (Member Service Representative) and Engel Leon (Finacial Service Representative).
Kristi Tkach, Branch Manager, Assiniboine Credit Union

ACU saw a need for accessible and affordable financial services — something that aligned with one of the credit union’s driving principles. Since opening, the branch has continued to attract members. The branch now has more than 2,200 members, up from 1,300 in 2016.

We’re still growing and it’s not slowing down,” said Kristi Tkach, former Branch Manager. “You think it’s a small community, but over the past two years we’ve almost doubled our membership base. There is a real need for us to be here.”

Opening a North End location

Mcgregor Branch before the official opening

In the lead-up to the opening, ACU, along with the North End Community Renewal Corporation (NECRC)SEED Winnipeg and other organizations, set up the Community Financial Access Centre to better understand the neighbourhood’s needs.

Brent Differ, Branch Manager, Assiniboine Credit Union

It was about getting an idea of what the community wanted,” said Brent Differ, the original McGregor at College Branch Manager and current Financial Advice Leader at ACU’s Rivergrove Financial Advice Centre.

“People are passionate about this community, including those who lived here in their youth. They saw the opportunity to work on the revitalization of an area they considered home, whether or not they live here anymore.”

When ACU gauged the commitment of prospective investors in a new branch, the response exceeded expectations.

“Members of the community basically said they’ll put their money in and open accounts to ensure this happens,” Brent said.

“There was an excitement in the community and within ACU as an organization,” Kristi recalled. “No one was really opening new branches.”

Part of the North End community

For mainstream banks, decisions on branch viability are about net profits, but for ACU, the decision-making process goes deeper.

community around mcgregor

“It’s because we have a triple bottom line,” Kristi said of ACU’s focus on positive social impact and environmental and economic sustainability.

It’s still about the branch being profitable,” Brent added. “The branch provides all the services other branches do. Mortgages done here have a real social impact because it is an underserved community. It’s not just about memberships, it’s people bringing their investments, their credit and making this is a full-service branch and contributing to that social goal.”

RBC Closing at the mcgregor branch

The branch’s building was formerly home to an RBC outlet that closed in the mid-1990s. The new ACU branch had to work to gain the trust of a neighbourhood abandoned by mainstream banks.

It took a lot to build that membership, just because I think people were waiting to see if we’d stick around,” Brent said. “It’s further proof that ACU is walking the talk. We can talk about economic development and social impact, but it was actually turning an unoccupied building into something valuable for the community.”

But stick around ACU did. Most of the branch’s staff live in the area and share the pride of North Enders.

“We’re proud to work here,” Kristi asserted. “Our staff members love working here serving the members. We live and work here. We’ll always be here. I think it’s who ACU is.”

A positive impact on members’ lives

A community of more than 30,000, the culturally diverse North End has Canada’s highest urban concentration of Indigenous Peoples, is home to a high percentage of newcomers to Canada, and has the youngest population in Winnipeg.

Contest Winners from McGregor branch opening

“Many of our new members opening accounts may never have had a bank account, so we focus a lot on financial literacy and educating new members,” Kristi explained. To help educate their young members, branch staff have held presentations for youth groups on the basics of banking and hosted homebuyers’ seminars.

Our community partners contribute as well with different programs through SEED Winnipeg, a non-profit organization that fights poverty and works on inner-city renewal, Urban Circle Training Centre and Citizens’ Bridge,” Kristi said. “When prospective members come in and don’t have proper ID we can refer them.”

Citizens’ Bridge, which is part of NECRC, helps people acquire birth certificates so they can open accounts.

“We work closely with ACU,” said Eva-Marie Stewart of Citizens’ Bridge. “When people are finding employment, many employers won’t take them on if they don’t have a bank account.”

People dealing with Employment and Income Assistance or receiving the Canada Child Benefit or GST rebates are also required to have direct deposit.

“We’ve worked with people up to two years trying to acquire birth certificates through Vital Statistics,” Stewart said. “Accessing a bank account is magical for some people. Some go decades without one and live with all the hardship that goes with that.”

ACU also provides Citizens’ Bridge with annual grants for infrastructure and outreach programs.

“It’s huge for our clients,” Stewart said of ACU’s McGregor Branch. “It really fills a gap. It’s about accessibility.”

Exploring new opportunities in the North End

Selkirk Avenue’s Urban Circle has also had a long relationship with ACU’s McGregor Branch.

Our Saving Circle program, delivered in partnership with SEED Winnipeg and the United Way Winnipeg, is strongly supported by ACU and our students are warmly welcomed at the branch,” said Haven Stumpf, Urban Circle’s Executive Director and lifelong resident of the neighbourhood. “ACU staff attend our winter and summer solstice ceremonies and ACU contributes to the traditional ceremonies. The ACU staff feel like part of our extended family.”

Eleanor Thompson, Urban Circle’s Founder and Director of Development and Finances, has also lived in Winnipeg’s North End for over four decades.

Urban Training Circle, Haven Stumpf - Director of Operations and Eleanor Thompson - Director of Development & Finances/FounderEleanor
Urban Training Circle, Haven Stumpf – Director of Operations and Eleanor Thompson – Director of Development & Finances/Founder

We can’t say enough about ACU’s decision to open the branch,” said Eleanor. “ACU has demonstrated support for the people of the North End by recognizing the strength and resilience of our community and sharing in our collective vision for economic and social equality. Urban Circle has been a leader in the revitalization of the Selkirk Avenue community and we couldn’t have done it without ACU located right here in the midst of our community.”

More than just seeing barriers to break down, the McGregor Branch is focused on exploring opportunities. ACU has committed to being a leader in community development by serving residents, businesses and non-profits, hiring locally and keeping money circulating in the area.

“With Selkirk Avenue being revitalized by things like the Merchants Corner and the University of Winnipeg’s Department of Urban and Inner-City Studies, there are a lot of like-minded organizations and businesses who really feel a sense of community here,” Kristi said.

A unique branch for a unique part of the city

It’s a neighbourhood with many established families and an area many see as a great place to buy their first home,” Brent said. “There’s a huge diversity of members — people from different walks of life all coming for different services.”

When it comes to highlights of the branch’s history, he pointed to the royal visit by Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall in May 2014 and receiving a National Community Economic Development Award from the Canadian Credit Union Association in May 2016.

“It means what we’ve tried to do in this community is being recognized and appreciated. The hope is maybe it would encourage other financial institutions to set up here. That hasn’t happened yet, but it would add friendly competition and it would further prove what we’re doing is working.”

About Jason Halstead

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

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