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Merger will provide better 'access' to financial services

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Sanford Credit Union’s upcoming amalgamation with Access Credit Union is part of a growing, province-wide trend, says the head of Credit Union Central of Manitoba.


Sanford Credit Union branches in Sanford and Oak Bluff will merge their operations with Access Credit Union beginning Jan. 1. Access currently has 12 locations and approximately 35,000 members throughout southern Manitoba.


Credit Union Central CEO Garth Manness said the number of credit union branches has increased to nearly 200 during the past 10 years. However, the number of credit unions decreased during the same time as smaller companies joined larger ones.


"We’ve seen a gradual amalgamation in credit unions," he said, adding "However, the services are still provided within the communities."


Manness said the main factor motivating smaller credit unions to merge with larger operations is the need to have the financial resources and technology available to provide their customers with a full range of services comparable to what the major banks offer.


Sanford Credit Union president and CEO David Domes said that was the case when the credit union’s board realized a few years ago it would fall behind on member services if it didn’t join forces with a "large, strong partner."


After considering all possible options, Access seemed to be the best partner, he said.


Domes said several conditions had to be met before Sanford’s board would agree to the merger. One was that Access had to agree to keep both Sanford Credit Union branches open for at least 10 years, with the same staff members employed. Another was a guarantee that Access continue to offer the same community support that Sanford Credit Union has provided to local non-profit organizations and schools.


In addition, Sanford’s approximately 2,000 members had the opportunity to vote on the amalgamation at the credit union’s annual general meeting held this past April. Domes said 250 members attended, with 98% voting in favour.


Becoming part of a larger institution could mean more money for Sanford Credit Union members as they will be in line to receive annual patronage dividends based on Access Credit Union’s financial performance beginning next year.


Domes believes the future is particularly bright for the Oak Bluff branch as Access members are already coming into the branch to conduct business. The location is close to the junctions of Highways 2, 3 and 101 is convenient for Access Credit Union members from Carman, Morden and Winkler on their way into Winnipeg.


"We really expect to have a significantly higher volume of business," he said.


Access Credit Union president and CEO Larry Davey also foresees major benefits for current and future Access members.


"It expands our service area for all our members," he said.


The major banks’ gradual withdrawal of services in rural Manitoba communities has fostered the expansion of credit unions, Manness said. He said there are 65 communities in which the only financial institution is a credit union.


"They are an important component of the economic health of rural communities," he said.


Access Credit Union will continue to grow as it recently announced a letter of intent has been signed to start the process of amalgamation with Community Credit Union next year. Community has branches in Sprague, Vita and Grunthal.

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