CU's 'Accountability Report' Offers Look At Performance

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TORONTO, Canada-With all the scrutiny being focused on American financial institutions and calls for increased government oversight, a Canadian credit union continued its commitment to public transparency.

Alterna Savings recently released its second "accountability report," which covered the two-year period of 2008-2009. A previous edition covered 2006-07.

The stated goal of an accountability report is to give a "thorough review" of the credit union's activities during the time period. It measured Alterna's performance in six areas: member service, community activities, its role as an employer and its governance, environmental responsibility, and financial sustainability. In addition, Alterna measured its ecological footprint for the first time, which it said sets a benchmark for improvement going forward.

In the most recent report Alterna said it achieved 82% overall member satisfaction, made nearly $70,000 in community donations, and 55% of its management is comprised of females.

According to Kimberley Ney, SVP of marketing, communications and corporate social responsibility, the tradition of the Alterna accountability report began with one of its predecessors, Unicoll Credit Union. Seventeen years ago, Unicoll-which later changed its name to Metro Credit Union and then Alterna Savings-was the first CU in Canada to perform what is sometimes referred to as a "social audit."

While many Canadian firms now release accountability reports, Alterna said it is one of roughly one-third of Canadian companies engaged in accountability reporting that take the extra step of obtaining external assurance on selected indicators. It is all in the name of letting members and potential members know as much about the CU as possible, Ney noted.

"Transparency was the catalyst for our starting this type of reporting some 17 years ago," she told Credit Union Journal. "We felt that all consumers should have the information available to them so they can make informed choices about where they invest or spend their money. This is something that goes beyond the marketing spin and gives them the good with the not so good."

The full report, titled "Healthy Financial Futures," is lengthy and not always read cover to cover, she reported. In light of this, the 2008-09 version included a summary that Ney said is "reader friendly and can be used in a variety of communication channels."

Advantages Abound
There have been many advantages to releasing accountability reports that go beyond simple transparency, Ney continued. For example, Alterna was able to engage a number of members in the process for establishing the indicators for measurement, which she said deepened their feeling of ownership. Also, the credit union's employees are "more aware and informed" and "take comfort in what we monitor," which creates greater pride.

"As a non-unionized environment the accountability report has assisted us in obtaining union accounts as they have an opportunity to view Alterna as an employer and know we take that responsibility seriously," she said. "We have also used it when pitching the credit union to non-profit groups who have ethical considerations in their purchasing. It has assisted our board and management on focusing on a few measures deemed important and establishing future goals."

Local university classes use Alterna's accountability report as part of their curriculum, which Ney said helps it position its brand as a "caring, community-based financial institution."

Alterna serves nearly 120,000 members through 22 branches in the Toronto and Ottawa regions.

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