Canadian Banking

Why A Credit Union Is A Popular Banking Option

Have you ever browsed a website and felt like you were part of the family?

That’s how I felt when reading the website about Canada’s credit unions.

Did you know that Canada’s credit unions serve over 5.9 million Canadians and employ over 58,000 Canadians?

While credit unions are just about everywhere, there are also 394 communities across the country where a credit union is the only financial institution with a physical presence. 

If you’re in the market to purchase a home and need a mortgage, require a loan for your small business, or are seeking support for any other financial needs, you may find a local credit union an excellent option. 

Today let’s explore Canada’s Credit Unions for educational purposes, and perhaps you might be interested in banking with them. 

Learn what a credit union is all about in Canada.

I asked five people from various generations if they knew about credit unions, and surprisingly only a baby boomer had the answer.

Why do credit unions seem to be the “hidden gem” of financial institutions in many parts of Canada? 

Perhaps this is because their parents used a ‘big 5’ bank where their children subsequently opened a bank account when they grew up.

On a personal note, when I first moved to Canada from the UK in 2007, I went straight to the big ‘5’ banks because I didn’t know what a credit union was. 

Recently, I spoke with a representative from the Canadian Credit Union Association who answered all of our questions.

To learn more about how they operate and serve their communities, keep reading below! 

Related: Is my money safe in the bank?

Benefits Of A Canadian Credit Union

Canadian Credit Union logo
Canada’s Credit Unions

Credit Unions Keep Money In Canadian’ Pockets

Credit unions’ commitment to members’ financial well-being and cooperative model helps Canadians hold on to more of their money.

Often this is from returning profits to members through profit sharing and low/no fees, through community investments in the form of donations, scholarships and other initiatives and a national network of surcharge-free ATMs.

You’re An Owner, Not Just A Customer

Credit unions are owned by their members – the people who bank with them.

All members have an equal say in how their credit union operates, no matter how much or little you have in your account.

Members can voice their concerns and vote on the issues that matter to them.

Credit unions support their communities, strengthen our national economy, and contribute to our economic, social, and environmental well-being.

In 2020, Canada’s credit unions gave back an estimated 4.3% of their pre-tax profits to community donations and sponsorships and $191.2 million to their members through dividends and patronage.

Increased Flexibility

Credit unions tend to have local expertise, which can mean quicker and more personalized decision-making and greater flexibility than banks with a centralized loan department.

More Opportunities For Entrepenueurs

For credit unions, credit underwriting has always – in good times and downturns – focused on looking at a person’s or a company’s entire picture, not just a current snapshot.

Because of their local nature and the fact that many credit unions take the time to get to know their members, the lending process can be much more personalized with a credit union. 

Support With Financial Literacy

Another great value-add is how they help increase financial literacy with their members and in their communities by providing several great programs, such as the Each One Teach One initiative.

Customer Service Excellence

Canada’s credit unions continue to set a longstanding record with five 2021 Ipsos Financial Service Excellence Awards wins this year, including the award for best customer service, which they have won for 17 consecutive years.

Credit Unions are Highly Regulated and Your Deposits are Insured

Canada’s credit unions are insured, highly-regulated financial institutions with a 100+ year track record of strength and stability.

Most credit unions are provincially regulated (there are currently two federally regulated credit unions).

Whether provincially or federally regulated, deposit insurance protects members’ deposits like big banks. In some provinces, that coverage exceeds that of the big banks.

More than 5.9 Million Canadians Trus Their Local Credit Union As Their Partner for day to day banking.
Canada’s Credit Union For Day-To-Day Banking

Q1. What Is A Credit Union?

CCUA: Credit unions are full-service financial cooperatives that serve over 5.9 million Canadians.

Like other financial institutions, they provide chequing and savings accounts, mortgages, business loans, and investment advice and are either federally or provincially regulated.

Remarkably, this is only a fraction of what Canada’s credit unions offer their members.

Q2. Is There A Type Of Clientele That You Are Seeking?


Canadians from all walks of life are credit union members. Still, members tend to skew a bit towards the older generations.

We want to spread awareness and educate the younger generations (particularly millennials) about the fantastic benefits of choosing a credit union.

Q3. What Services Do Unions Provide Their Members?

Credit unions are well-regulated, full-service financial cooperatives.

Like other financial institutions, we provide chequing and savings accounts, mortgages, business loans, and investment advice.

Are you looking to start a registered savings plan? Invest in mutual funds? Bank online?

Credit unions offer that too.

A bank vault where money, jewellery documents, gold, silver or anything of value is kept.
Bank Vault

Q4. How Can Credit Unions Help Get Prospective Homeowners Get Into The Market?

While it is common for people to seek mortgage loans from traditional lenders such as the ‘big 5’ banks, credit unions are another excellent way for Canadians to get into the housing market.

Credit unions offer their members hands-on services to help them succeed and come out of the process feeling satisfied and successful.

Most people don’t know that credit unions are actually among the largest lenders to homeowners in Canada!

Credit unions have currently given $131 billion in residential mortgages and recorded the lowest rate of mortgages in arrears at 0.13 percent.

Q5. Where Are Credit Unions Located?

Where are credit unions located around Canada?
Where are credit unions located around Canada?

There are 225 credit unions in Canada (outside of Quebec), operating from 1,697 locations and providing banking services to 5.9 million Canadians (Q2 2021).

All credit unions are autonomous organizations. Most credit unions are provincially regulated – meaning you have to live in the province in which they operate to become a member.

If you move out of the province, however, you can still keep your membership. 

Q5. Do Credit Unions Have Drive-Thru Banking?

Some do, but not all. It’s important to note that there is no “one size fits all” credit union.

They are all different and provide services to suit the needs of their members within each community.

Q6. Can Members Access Online Banking 24/7

Yes, members have full access to online banking. Credit unions have received multiple IPSOS Financial Excellence Awards for Online Banking Excellence.

Credit unions provide access to thousands of DING-FREE® ATMs across Canada through THE EXCHANGE® and ACCULINK® networks.

It’s an ATM network more extensive than most banks.

Q7. Do Your Members Need X Amount Of Dollars To Join?

When you join a credit union, you are required to purchase a membership share.

The amount varies from credit union to credit union but is typically a nominal fee, often as low as $1.

The member fee is a one-time transaction and will be returned to you if you decide to leave the credit union.

When you purchase a membership share, you become an owner of the credit union.

As an owner, you have a say in how the credit union is run by voting for the board of directors.

All members have an equal voice — it doesn’t matter how much money you have deposited with the credit union.

All credit unions operate under the model of “one member, one vote.”

Q8. How Could We Encourage More Canadians To Join A Credit Union?

Our goal is to motivate Canadians to join credit unions by educating them about how they work.

There are so many Canadians who are unaware of credit unions and their benefits.

One of the most significant value propositions is that Canada’s credit unions put their members first and support local communities.

Credit unions are owned by their members — the people who bank with them – which means your bottom line is their bottom line.

All members have an equal say in how their credit union operates and can democratically vote for its board of directors.

Q9. What Services Do Your Members Have To Pay For?

A lot of credit unions have no or low-fee accounts. Banking packages vary among credit unions.

Q10. Do You Offer Financial Advice For Members Who Are Struggling Financially?

Many credit unions offer financial advice and wealth management services through partners such as AVISO Wealth.

Credit unions also help increase members’ and their communities’ financial literacy by providing several great programs, such as the Each One Teach One initiative.

There is also hands-on member support and financial advice for members when they need it.

All credit unions are different and provide services to suit the needs of their members and the communities they serve.

Joining A Canadian Credit Union

For additional information on Canada’s credit unions, visit canadascreditunions.ca.

If you wish to join a credit union, a credit union locator app is available at  https://ccua.netlify.app/#find.

Both Mrs. CBB and I discussed joining a credit union because of the system’s commitment, dedication, community involvement and giving back to their members.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to the representative for explaining how a credit union works.

I highly suggest reading this Community & Economic Impact Report to learn even more about Canada’s Credit Unions.   

Discussion Question For CBB Readers

Do you belong to a Canadian Credit Union?

If yes, please share your experiences below.

Why A Credit Union Is A Popular Banking Option

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One Comment

  1. Credit unions are people oriented and banks are profit oriented. If you’re with a credit union and having some kind of financial difficulty, you are more likely to reach a real person who can assist you. If you overdraw your account at a bank, they’ll reverse the charge and hit you up with a service fee. If you get overdrawn at a credit union, a real person is looking at the report, and will look at your account and see if there is a regular payroll deposit coming up soon, and will likely just leave it as is knowing some cash will come in soon to cover. People versus profit. Credit unions do not accept all potential customers (members). They do a credit check, and if your credit sucks, they don’t want you. Unless you go on a joint account with someone with good credit, you won’t be able to open an account. I worked at the head office of a credit union for 10 years. My former manager managed to embezzle a million dollars out of operating accounts and it took two years for the geniuses in the finance department to realize there were a few bucks missing. Forensic audits were definitely lacking!

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