Navigating challenging times through purpose

Periods of prolonged uncertainty, such as what we’ve encountered in recent years, have a way of pushing us to prioritize and focus on what’s truly important under the circumstances. For the team at First West Credit Union, the things that matter are ultimately driven by our purpose, by the reason we exist: to help members and communities thrive. This is the beacon that always cuts through the fog of uncertain times, the North Star that enables us to know in which direction to head.

We’re grateful that life in B.C. returned to mostly normal patterns in 2022, following a year of heightened unpredictability. Still, some economic impacts stemming from measures against COVID-19 lingered and were intensified by the outbreak of war in Ukraine, while inflation steadily gathered steam. The persistence of volatile conditions continued to affirm the Executive Team’s and Board of Directors’ focus on First West’s sustainability.

So, with the impact of economic slowdown, inflation and related concerns being felt acutely by British Columbians throughout 2022, First West locked on to activities driven by our purpose. We not only dialed in to producing tangible value for members and communities, but also to the groundwork for generating future benefits.

In looking to the future of First West in a dynamic, interconnected world, sustainability looms large. The continued relevance, growth and financial strength of the credit union is paramount—and fulfilling our purpose depends on them. To that end, 2022 was a year of prioritizing sustainability-centred work like environmental, social and governance (ESG) advancements and work related to becoming a federal credit union.

Since the member vote approving First West to apply to become a federal credit union in November 2021, we’ve been working intently to fulfill remaining requirements. A significant part of our focus in 2022 involved planning for alignment to Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC) requirements and Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) guidelines, with the work slated throughout 2023. Both are key aspects of becoming a federal credit union that will bring more value to members, particularly in terms of financial wellbeing.

Progress in sustainability included achieving our second ESG Risk Rating, which was assessed by leading independent ESG and corporate governance research, ratings and analytics firm Sustainalytics as 16.7 low risk. The rating marked a small but notable improvement over our 2021 rating. Members can be proud of our low rating, which indicates that we’re equipped to anticipate future risks and opportunities, inclined to longer-term strategic thinking and focused on prioritizing long-term value creation over short term gain. Further ESG advancement included signing the United Nations UN Principles for Responsible Banking (UN PRB), a single framework for a sustainable banking industry developed through a partnership between banks worldwide and the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI). As a values-based financial cooperative that strives to make positive change for all our stakeholders, this commitment stoked tremendous pride at First West in 2022.

On purpose for healthier community

When it comes to these commitments and other social aspects of sustainability, First West’s long history of community investment comes to the fore. We’ve been living our purpose to help build thriving communities for decades—and well before ESG was ever a thing. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than with our signature cause, The Full Cupboard and Feed the Valley, focused on the issue of food security. After more than 13 years, they continue to be a welcome resource for local food banks. In 2022, the programs contributed $393,039 the equivalent of 786,078 meals for those in need. In total, we invested $3,220,087 back in the communities we serve in 2022. But our approach goes beyond providing much needed funds. As a cooperative, it’s in our nature to inspire and empower our employees to create various types of capacity for organizations that make a difference in people’s lives and contributes to change in our communities. We’re tremendously proud of the 6,268 hours our employees volunteered in 2022.

Healthier communities are more diverse and inclusive communities. Working toward that vision, we rolled out the Indigenous Student Mentorship program to complement the Indigenous scholarship and bursary we launched in 2021. We also signed the Charter for Innovation in Indigenous Employment and Workplace Inclusion Strategies in the Canadian Banking and Financial Sector. The Charter, created by Indigenous Works and the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), aims to design a new generation of Indigenous employment and workplace strategies, practices, and systems based on a strong foundation of research and innovation. First West celebrates Pride Month annually and in 2022, we hosted Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Terminology workshops for employees, helping further advance inclusion of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Also new in 2022, Indigenous Advocacy & Allyship workshops helped our employees to learn about Indigenous culture and history.

Celebrating purpose-driven leadership

In 2022 we celebrated the retirements of Director Ken Voth and Chief Financial Officer Tom Webster. Ken served an incredible 42 years as a director on First West’s Board and Tom’s career in senior leadership with First West was an equally impressive 30 years. These veteran leaders possess deep business and life experience, reflected in their prolific track records of contributions that have advanced First West and strengthened B.C.’s credit union system—not to mention their advocacy for the credit union system across Canada. Beyond business, borne out of a firmly rooted belief in being a good neighbour giving a hand up, both men have passionately supported charitable causes for many years.

More important is the impact these men have had on those they worked closely with over the years and the countless others they’ve encountered throughout their long careers. The continuity of forward-thinking, courageous and compassionate leadership at First West is a result of how Ken and Tom mentored and poured into others at First West over the years. We are grateful for their decades of dedication to helping members and communities thrive.

In closing, to our members—who make it possible for the Board of Directors, Leadership Team and employees to build a more sustainable First West Credit Union for today and for future generations—thank you. In every season and circumstance, we’re dedicated to helping you thrive.

Shawn Neumann, Board Chair  |  Launi Skinner, CEO