Complex issues face members in credit union vote

Voting information sent to Coast Capital Savings Credit Union members is confusing and could have been clearer, says a Royal Roads University associate professor.

Coast Capital’s 512,000 members are being asked to elect three new board members and vote on eight special resolutions, outlined in material sent by mail and posted on the institution’s website.

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Half the resolutions come from members dissatisfied with issues such as how much board members are paid, whether they should be allowed to campaign for a board seat, and term limits for board members. The credit union, in turn, has put forward four resolutions on its own addressing the same issues. Voting runs until Monday.

It’s evident the credit union and some members are at odds. The credit union points to Coast Capital Compensation Watch, a critic of how the organization is managed, and says dissatisfied members represent only a small group.

“This year is a historic vote. We need you to help stop special interests from changing the credit union you love,” Coast Capital’s material states. “Our success is under threat.”

Coast Capital is Canada’s second-largest credit union after VanCity. It manages $14.8 billion in assets.

Former banker Mike Thompson, who teaches in the Royal Roads masters of business administration program, said members are being asked to examine “very, very complex” governance matters.

Issues raised by members appear reasonable to Thompson, who noted he is not an expert in credit union governance. He also sympathizes with Coast Capital and said it appears to be addressing issues raised by members.

“It’s complex stuff. I’m not sure that the average Coast Capital member is going to have the time to … drill down … and try to figure out what the differentiating factors are.”

To Thompson, Coast Capital seems defensive and prickly, saying it could have used a more collaborative approach and materials could have been clearer.

Board chairman Bill Wellburn said Coast Capital aimed to be as clear and concise as possible. Some members have said they appreciate the analysis and recommendations.

Coast Capital said its resolutions will keep it on track with the professional governance that has made the organization successful and will ensure products and services remain.

The credit union has spent about $200,000 to distribute the resolutions, Wellburn said. “It’s too bad that we are going through all the time and money for the resolutions because, quite frankly, I don’t think the ones that came forward are necessary at all.”

Board compensation was addressed in a vote last year, he said. As a result, a member-driven task force recommended revising the existing director-compensation philosophy and adopting a new compensation formula. Now, a further compensation resolution has come from members to set specific rates.

Another resolution proposes board candidates be allowed to campaign for election, which is not now permitted. Credit union materials provide detailed information about candidates and makes recommendations. Wellburn favours the current system, fearing that people with enough money or social media power could sway voting.

Phil Embley, of Coast Capital Compensation Watch, said the credit union material was a “little heavy-handed in that we are members and they have portrayed us as a small disgruntled group that is trying to destroy Coast Capital and it’s exactly the opposite.”

Each of the members’ resolutions was signed by more than 400 members. A credit union principle is member participation, which is what the group is trying to do, Embley said.

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