Co-op federation pushing plan with big Quebec credit union

Nunavik could get financial services centre


KANGIQSUALUJJUAQ – It's a madhouse around the co-op manager's window at the end of the month, as Kangiqsualujjuaq members line up to cash cheques, pay balances on outstanding accounts and head home with a pocketful of bills.

But there's a problem.

The co-op store's supply of cash quickly runs out. The cashier struggles to explain to an elder why she can't cash his old age pension cheque. She manages to convince other clients to deposit cheques against their co-op accounts, and then she sticks up a sign saying "No more cash" to discourage clients.

Cash often runs out in Nunavik communities where there's no bank, little use of credit or bank cards and cash is used to pay for everything from food to less essential purchases such as drugs, booze and bingo cards.

But Kangiqsualujjuaq's cash-strapped days may be over this November when a credit union branch opens at the co-op store.

Credit union branches will also open later this year at co-op stores in Puvirnituq, Akulivik, Salluit and Kangiqsualujjuaq. Right now, the only full-service bank in Nunavik is the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce branch in Kuujjuaq.

The Fédération des cooperatives du Nouveau-Québec is spearheading the drive to bring credit unions to Nunavik, working with the sixth largest bank in Canada, Quebec's powerful Desjardins credit union.

To offer similar banking services in every Nunavik community, the FCNQ is seeking the support of Nunavik's other major organizations.

The FCNQ generates enough financial activity on its own to open credit union branches in some Nunavik communities.

But to build a Nunavik financial services centre, with branches in every Nunavik community, requires at least $50 million in guaranteed assets.

"We can do it if we have all your support through the co-ops, it's up to you if you join us," Rita Novalinga told the Kativik Regional Government's council meeting earlier this month.

Nunavut's Arctic Cooperatives Ltd. has also shown interest in the FCNQ-Desjardins credit union plan.

The FCNQ and Desjardins hope to recruit the business of the KRG and Makivik Corporation, which carry out millions of dollars in transactions every month and maintain huge bank accounts.

Initially, the credit unions would be linked to the FCNQ, but eventually, the Nunavik financial services centres could split off to form the first Inuit-run bank in Canada.

The credit union branches, located in the community co-op store, would feature bilingual agents, who would issue a Desjardins bank card, explain services and provide hands-on assistance to clients.

The credit unions also hope to cater to Nunavik businesses in Inuttitut, French or English.

Nunavimmiut would be able to deposit money, make cash transfers and pay their bills, as well as open savings and chequing accounts, credit cards, interest-bearing accounts, RRSPs, personal lines of credit and home-ownership loans.

However, KRG councillors aren't ready to embrace the credit union plan just yet, although executive member Peter Inukpuk of Inukjuak admitted "we are in dire need of a banking system."

Umiujaq regional councillor Davidee Niviaxie said he was worried a credit union might be able to seize his money. He said "they took all my money in the bank" to pay unpaid taxes.

The KRG's executive said they wanted to receive more information about the credit union plan.

"After that we would answer you, yes or no," Inukpuk said.

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