Knack for numbers, passion for people
When Paulette Rennie, President of Valley First, took her first banking job as DDA clerk 35 years ago, she was fresh out of grade 12 and thought it was a short term gig. Paulette intended to pursue nursing, but when she discovered she had a knack for numbers and an inspirational mentor as manager, she stuck with the financial industry.
“When you’re a kid and you’re excelling at something you really enjoy, why not make a career of it? I absolutely loved working at the bank,” says Paulette.
In addition to her role as the leader of Valley First’s 16 local branches, Paulette is also responsible for generating new business, garnering partnerships with neighbouring communities and representing the voice of Valley First at the First West Credit Union executive table. She is also available to her family of 450 staff members around the clock, something she takes great pride in.
“I make myself available remotely all the time. My Crackberry, as they call them, is always on,” she says chuckling. “And that’s a good thing.”
Her 24/7 commitment echoes her early days as a clerk at Toronto Dominion Bank’s Chilliwack branch. Paulette recalls long hours in the pre-electronic banking days—especially at month-end when the entire team left the office for supper after a full work day, then returned to continue - sometimes until ten in the evening. Their tasks consisted of manually calculating savings and loan interest, individually counting large cash parcels by hand, and stamping term deposits “paid” when they matured.
Paulette found her inspiration in her first branch manager, Steve Cavaghan. “He was an old fashioned banker and did everything by hand. He added up columns of figures manually and faster than you could do on a calculator.” explains Paulette. “His expectations of you were very high. No matter how tired you were, you wanted to get the job done for him.”
Paulette’s penchant for banking, in combination with her robust people skills, soon resulted in a series of promotions up the branch ladder. She was named branch manager in 1985, becoming one of the youngest female branch managers in TD’s Pacific division.
“My greatest challenge at that time was not only being the youngest, but moving up to the point where I was supervising and mentoring people my mother’s age.”
Paulette handled it with a level of professionalism that set a precedent for her future roles at TD, and later at Valley First. She used her natural business instincts for open and honest communication.
“I always had those frank discussions. I was always willing and able to connect with people and make them feel important in their roles. That’s always been my style.”
Paulette’s game-changing moment took place when she met her husband, who was a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which resulted in a series of relocations throughout B.C. She strove to maintain her career despite unpredictable geographic shifts that often meant starting over.
This constant movement did however have a silver lining; it brought Paulette to the Okanagan, where she discovered the unique communities that comprised the Valley First credit union network. It was a perfect fit.
“Valley First was very closely connected with its communities. After working for a large national bank, it was special to work for an organization where the CEO would come walking into the branch and have coffee with you.”
She has particularly fond memories of launching Valley First’s Cherry Lane branch in 1995. When the doors first opened, Paulette and her team had no customers; three years later they had attracted 2,000 members and put Cherry Lane on the map.
Within the Valley First organization, Paulette’s greatest accomplishment is becoming President of Valley First when it joined Envision Financial under the First West Credit Union umbrella.
“I feel very proud to be part of the management team that brought the merger together. We’re staying true to the localness of our communities and maintaining those personal relationships with our members,” she explains. “In a traditional merger it’s easy to take two entities and meld them into one, but that’s not the way this multi brand model is built. We are proud to be able to act big with a larger balance sheet while remaining local to our members and communities and making sure we are maintaining the heritage of each credit union.”
For Valley First, heritage means a substantial commitment to sponsorship, including the award-winning Feed the Valley program. It also involves helping grow the local businesses and economies of Valley First communities.
“Over the years, communities across the Okanagan , Similkameen and Thompson have come to know us as a partner and a good neighbour that provides an exceptional level of service and making a meaningful difference in the lives of our members’,” says Rennie.
Paulette hopes the day will come when one of her members can visit any region in B.C., and find a First West Credit Union partner to service their financial needs.