Loss of Credit Union in Hazlet another step towards urbanization

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My name is Joselyn Hughes and I moved back to Hazlet over six years ago.

Previously I was dealing with the Gull Lake Innovation Credit Union branch for my personal accounts and the Swift Current Innovation branch for our business accounts. When I asked our business account manager if I needed to switch my branch status now that I had moved she told me it didn’t matter and that I could get any Innovation services at any Innovation branch. We have since found out, with the closure of the Hazlet branch, that it does indeed matter as branch profitability is based on accounts and loans at each branch.

When we brought cases forward of such accounts like ours that would have been missed in the original profitability numbers they assured us they ran four scenarios trying to capture all accounts through gathering phone number and mailing address data, etc. but that is just a recipe for errors. You can’t guarantee you have all the accounts associated with Hazlet or any other branch, under that kind of system. Dan Johnson, the CEO of Innovation Credit Union told us at the Community Hall meeting June 10 that it is only fair to allocate loans to the branch where the application is taken and give credit to the staff that did the work. When asked how Hazlet can get credit for its loans when we have not had a loans officer for years, he again said they tried to capture that data in the four scenarios.

Since Hazlet members are forced to go elsewhere to apply for loans, Innovation charged $328,000 in overhead and administration fees to Hazlet, in part, to help offset the other branch staff’s time and effort in processing our loan applications. It will be very difficult for any branch to be profitable if their loans are credited elsewhere yet applicable fees are charged, so I would caution all other rural credit union members to use your local loans officers to ensure your local branch retains a lender and they get credit.   

When three members of the community of Hazlet met with Dan and another staff member to discuss our concerns, he told us Innovation would be able to continue to serve Hazlet as he had mobile lenders who would come out from Swift Current to our farms for loan applications. When told a member that ranches another 20 minutes west of Hazlet would be over an hour drive out of Swift Current, Dan said they would make the trip if the loan application was significant. When asked what amount was significant, Dan replied a loan application of over $1 million. (I don’t think there will be too many trips out to Hazlet based on that reply.)

We asked then, if Dan was encouraging this mobile lending, why the need for the big, new building in Swift Current and Dan said he had a plan for renting out retail space. So if you are a staff member at the Swift Current branch you may wonder if it’s your office that is slated to be rented out.

We appreciated that staff and board members met with us representatives from Hazlet that were requesting a two year respite in order to prove our worthiness. But what we didn’t appreciate was the recent excuse we were just given last Friday, Sept. 27, which is that Innovation has a plan for delivering services from regional hubs and Hazlet doesn’t qualify. Why are we just hearing this plan now, four months after the initial closure was announced?

First it was staff safety, then branch profitability, then community viability and now our location doesn’t qualify us to be a regional hub? What are we supposed to believe?

Shaunavon members, I would be very concerned if you are considering merging with Innovation after our dealings with them.

The President of the Board, Gord Lightfoot clearly does not support rural roots. When told we had 10 new homes in Hazlet he said yes, he saw the trailers as he drove into town. Is that the kind of person you want controlling the future of your Credit Union?

Dan says that “urbanization” is the way of the future and we need to accept we will eventually get all our services from the urban centers.

I say it is up to us to make sure that does not happen.

Yes, in the past we have been complacent and accommodating and willing to travel to the larger centers since we have a dentist appointment anyways, why not?

I say no longer. We need to support our local banking institutions, fuel stations, bakers, grocers, etc. or they will no longer exist. We need to support them ALL the time and not just when it is convenient because we don’t have a trip to the urban centers planned.

Only we can decide our own fates and the fates of our communities. Are we going to support our local businesses or are we willing to become just bedroom communities to the urban centers?            

Joselyn Hughes - Hazlet

Geographic location: Hazlet, Swift Current

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