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Banking on a sense of character

Coast Capital Savings celebrated its 75th birthday on Friday and part of that successful longevity can be traced to a Richmond credit union which once allowed cows as collateral for a home loan.
Coast Captial 75th anniversary
Staff from Coast Capital Savings celebrated the credit union’s 75th birthday by handing out cake and cookies last Friday. Photo by Christopher Sun/Special to the News
Coast Capital Savings celebrated its 75th birthday on Friday and part of that successful longevity can be traced to a Richmond credit union which once allowed cows as collateral for a home loan.

“That’s probably why credit unions started,” said CEO Don Coulter, when asked to explain why a financial institution would give out loans to people who owned farm animals, a fridge or just a stove. “The more conventional institutions wouldn’t lend to them (those with low paying jobs). A lot of the decision making in banking and loans used to be based on a person’s character and I think owning a cow was an indication of a person’s success overall.”

Richmond Savings was started in 1948 by Lewis van der Gracht, along with his wife and 11 other local residents.

The credit union operated out of the van der Gracht’s kitchen for the first eight years, with a membership made up of mostly low-paid, Fraser River sawmill workers. Customers, referred to as members, had to walk pass a gaggle of geese to reach the home based credit union which was located on a farm.

The credit union grew and by the 1980s, Richmond Savings became a leader in embracing technological changes. It is the first credit union to introduce automated teller machines, the first financial institution in the world to run its entire business on personal computers, and the first financial institution in Western Canada to offer telephone banking.

Van der Gracht retired as CEO in 1982 and passed away in May 2015.

In 2000, Richmond Savings merged with Pacific Coast Savings, which was created in 1940 by B.C. Government employees.

The merger created Coast Capital Savings and in 2002, Surrey Metro Savings joined, creating the largest credit union in Canada in terms of membership with more than 500,000 members.

Coast Capital Savings has more than $15 billion in assets, a staff of 1,600 and 50 branches throughout Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

“Our customer service is excellent, we really do care about you and you can trust us,” Coulter said, explaining the large client base and difference between the credit union and the regular banks. “We are not here to make shareholders rich by charging you all sorts of fees. We’re here to help the community become better and stronger.”

Leading up to the birthday celebration, Coast Capital employees committed themselves to providing 75 acts of help within the community such as volunteering to drive seniors to appointments and providing hot breakfasts for children in need.

Coast Capital members also received acts of help.

For example, a financially struggling couple wanting to get married for the last six years was given $5,000 towards their nuptial, and a Richmond man whose wife passed away before he could take her on a trip, was provided with a free cruise to Alaska.

“We know our members well, especially the ones who come into the branches,” Coulter said. “We have lots of members who’ve been dealing with the credit union for 40 years or longer, so we’ve developed tight bonds and awareness.”

Coast Capital has always been community oriented, donating $5.7 million back into the community last year, and almost $60 million in the last decade.

Cake and cookies were served at all Coast Capital Savings branches on July 24 and there was also a singing of Happy Birthday.

“It was a really exciting and huge day for us,” Coulter said. “Richmond is a huge part of Coast Capital’s history and I want to thank our members in Richmond for their support."

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