Handling today’s challenges while building for tomorrow’s

It’s been said that culture eats strategy for breakfast. It’s a provocative statement and though it’s not downplaying strategic planning, it highlights a vital truth that great organizations and leaders know: success ultimately comes down to how your team members work together—what’s often called “corporate culture.”

We begin our message on this point because late in 2023, First West Credit Union received its first-ever award recognizing the excellence of our culture. We were counted among the few winners of Waterstone Human Capital’s Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures™ for 2023. This award recognizes Canadian organizations that strive to build and enhance healthy cultures that drive high performance, especially during times of great economic challenge.

We’re tremendously proud of this honour because it shines the spotlight on First West’s team members, who are without a doubt, our most valuable asset in good times and bad. They are the ones that breathe life into our culture—the things we believe and value and expect from ourselves in showing up for members and our communities. Without our team living it out, our culture and strategy remain only ideas pondered or words on a page.

Without a shadow of doubt, consistent year-over-year performance in a number of key financial measures in spite of 2023’s challenging economic conditions is due to nothing other than our team members’ commitment to our purpose and how we work together to achieve it. Of particular note is how our advisors took special care and attention in coming alongside members experiencing new pressures due to central bank rate increases in 2023. Rate increases had immediate impact on members with variable rate products and loomed on the horizon for those with fixed rate products approaching renewal. Advisors reached out to these members to learn more about their situations and offer advice to help build their financial confidence. Showing up for members like this is truly second nature to us and it’s a big part of what makes First West different from any other financial institution.

Our team members’ expertise in managing the business through turbulence ensured that our financial fundamentals remained solid in 2023. Our stability was affirmed by our annual, independent credit rating from Morningstar DBRS, which maintained the same stable credit rating and trend we’ve had since our initial rating in 2017. Another financial high point worth mentioning was the successful close of our second capital markets deal of $150 million in subordinated debt. This deal helps further strengthen our capital capacity to support the growth and sustainability of the credit union.

We also made progress against our commitment to improve members’ digital banking and advice experiences. Those improvements include making it easier to open our flagship Simply Free Account® online, expanded online account opening offerings and new digital banking money management tools, such as balance alerts.

Advancing our reputation as a best employer

In addition to earning a reputation as one of Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures™, we were named as a winner of Canadian Occupational Safety’s 5-Star Psychological Safety Award in the over 500 employee category. This award recognizes organizations that are on the forefront of addressing mental health issues in the workplace and have leading mental health benefits. We’re thrilled with this award, as it demonstrates the insight, hard work and consistency that’s gone into supporting our team members in developing a holistic approach to health and wellness. If these two awards weren’t enough, we added yet another award, being named one of BC’s Top 100 Employers by MediaCorp Canada Inc. Recipients of this award are some of the best in B.C. for working environments, benefits, communication practices and more—and we’re honoured to join them. Altogether, these awards affirm our future-focused mindset that connects talent retention and attraction strategies to high organizational performance. They back our reputation as a leader in cultivating workplaces where everyone can grow their career, be their authentic selves and find a fulfilling sense of purpose.

(Photo: A Business Banking Advisor at our Valley First division connects with one our business members on site)

Speaking about purpose and meaningful work—we hope that our members continue to feel extremely proud of First West’s reputation as a forerunner in the B.C. financial sector’s support for food banks. The rising cost of living has meant that B.C. food banks are struggling with an incredible jump in demand. That’s why it means a lot to us at First West that we’re regarded as a counted-on partner in the fight against food insecurity. In 2023, our signature causes—Feed the Valley and The Full Cupboard—raised $354,472, putting the 13-year total at almost $5,175,000 with 203,361 pounds of food collected for local food banks. 2023 was also the second year of a three-year, $300,000 partnership with the BC Cancer Foundation (BCCF). As part of our support, First West team members completed 7,951 hours of physical movement to support BCCF’s “Workout to Conquer Cancer” campaign and raised $6,860 to support cancer research and patient care across British Columbia.

And while the housing crisis in our province and across Canada is a complex situation with multiple factors at play, we are still pleased to help advance much-needed housing starts in our communities. In 2023, we authorized a total of 46 construction loans providing a little more than 1,800 new units of for-purchase and rental housing in our communities.

Federal finish line in sight

First West made significant progress in its journey to become a federal credit union in 2023. However, late in the year, we learned that the process would extend beyond the originally anticipated date of Dec. 19, 2023. We’ve always held that continuing as a federal credit union was not an end in itself, but rather a thoughtful, future-focused strategic objective that’s geared for long-term member benefit and First West’s sustainability, and so we eagerly anticipate completing our federal continuance journey in the first part of 2024.

Our most heartfelt thanks to our members, for their continued loyalty to First West as their trusted financial advisors. Your financial success and flourishing matters to us—we’re here to help make it happen.

Shawn Neumann, Board Chair  |  Launi Skinner, CEO