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Q&A with the CEO of Gulf and Fraser Credit Union

On Jan. 1, Grand Forks Credit Union became part of Burnaby-based Gulf & Fraser after 80 per cent of members who cast ballots voted in favor of the merger. We spoke to G&F co-CEO Bill Shewfelt to find out what it will mean for local members. 

What did you make of the results of the vote?
We’re certainly excited to see the members supported Gulf and Fraser and Grand Forks Credit Union coming together. It was probably the most engaged membership I’ve come across. I don’t know we’ve seen a credit union where 25 per cent of the members actually participated in such an important question.

That doesn’t sound like a lot, but in this context it is?
Quite often you’ll see it more in the five to 10 or 12 per cent range. I’m not sure we’ve ever had one with this many members participating. It’s actually quite a high number.

In the lead-up to the vote, did you have an idea what the outcome might be?
Grand Forks Credit Union had been involved in dialogue with the Kootenay region credit unions for a number of years, so I know the management and board was looking for more options to serve their members. They spent a couple of years on that. We believed going in the members had been involved in dialogue for a number of years. They saw why it was important for their credit union to partner with another credit union. So that wasn’t a surprise. But you never know when it comes down to actually asking the membership because members are really connected to their credit union and there’s certainly an emotional aspect, particularly in small towns.

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Did G&F members also have to vote on the merger?
In this case, G&F didn’t. Technically, the way the merger takes places, Grand Forks is joining Gulf and Fraser. But it’s important to note that G&F has about 40 credit unions in its DNA, so we have employees from all around the province. People that worked for CN Rail, BC Hydro. We’ve served members for decades.

Now that’s it’s been approved, what happens next?
There’s a technical, legal transaction that happens on the first second of Jan. 1. But the reality is it takes months to start to bring things together. We do, and have done a lot of things on the same systems. In banking, your systems are what help members do their transactions. It actually takes a while for that to come together. Then we can hopefully bring new products, services, and pricing to the members of Grand Forks Credit Union. That will probably happen in June 2023.

What’s the first thing people will notice?
It depends. One interesting thing about Grand Forks Credit Union is it has a large membership: almost 8,000 and we know there aren’t 8,000 people in Grand Forks. So the membership is up through the Okanagan and some in the Lower Mainland. Some of those members take advantage of phone banking. We’ll be able to extend those hours for members Jan. 1, but there may be members of Grand Forks who are in the Lower Mainland and the first day could walk into one of our 27 branches. Or there could be a Gulf and Fraser member in Grand Forks. It won’t be as smooth as it will be one day but we certainly have set up so we can serve members from Day One.

Is it just coincidence that G and F are in the names of both credit unions?
That is rather funny because years ago when Gulf and Fraser was looking for an [internet] domain, of course Grand Forks had gfcu. But that is purely a coincidence.

Anything else you’d like to add?
One of the biggest things people were worried about is local support for the community. That’s something the board asked a lot of questions about, and as I visited the credit union, a lot of people wanted to make sure that there would be local support and local decision making. I think our track records shows that we do. I realize that people don’t know all the history of Gulf and Fraser but can certainly can assure people that we’re very aligned on our support of community both in terms of the time our employees spend supporting community but also financially. That’s a big part of what credit unions are, so we’re excited for that opportunity.

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