Economic recovery: Going beyond the balance sheet

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On behalf of Michael Leonard, President & CEO, Atlantic Central and League Savings and Mortgage

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed fault lines in our society. The virus does not discriminate, but its effects are not felt equally. Small business owners, workers in devastated industries, like tourism and hospitality, women, and BIPOC have all disproportionately borne the brunt of the burden.

The unique value of credit unions is that we are focused on helping people during all financial milestones in their lives—the exciting moments and the more difficult ones, like a global pandemic. People who have been forced to rely on government support, who have turned to family and friends for loans, or who have dipped into hard-earned savings to make ends meet—these are the people we are committed to helping. In 2019, credit unions were responsible for over 21% of lending to small and medium-sized businesses, a share as great as any bank.

We are supporting small businesses in so many ways across the credit union network in Atlantic Canada. Through the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA), we have issued over 3,700 loans totalling $196 million, supporting small businesses and not-for-profits with interest-free loans.

But not all our impact is so big or obvious. In summer 2020, we launched our Loyal to Local campaign, which saw every credit union employee given $25 to spend at a local business or support a local organization. When combined with credit union donations, more than $67,000 was raised, creating a positive ripple effect across local economies.

Our greatest asset during this pandemic, however, has not been found on the balance sheet—it’s the honest advice and individual attention we pay to each of our members. We know them, we care about them, and we understand their unique needs, dreams, and yes, sometimes fears.

Like so many, the pandemic has forced us to accelerate existing plans and adjust on the fly. To better serve our members, we accelerated our efforts to adopt digital technologies. By the end of this year, every credit union in Atlantic Canada will offer mobile payments and all members will be able to open an account, apply for a loan, or make a deposit online. These important steps will make our business more efficient in the long-term and safer in the short-term for our members.

Atlantic Canada’s economic recovery from COVID-19 will not be led by government or massive financial institutions. It will be led by entrepreneurs and small business owners and workers, the same people who have been battered but not broken and are ready to lead the way forward.

At Atlantic Credit Unions, our job will be to give these people the support and tools they need to be successful. With a focus on people and a track record of supporting those who need it most, I’m confident we will achieve our goal.