Recognized as one of Alberta's Top Employers (2016)
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Feb 3, 2016)
Here are some of the reasons why Connect First Credit Union Ltd. was selected as one of Alberta's Top Employers (2016):
- Connect First Credit Union maintains a flexible health benefits plan, allowing employees to customize levels of coverage to suit their personal needs and transfer unused credits to additional salary or savings -- credits can also be used to top-up coverage offered through health spending or "living well" accounts, which include subsidies for gym membership and personal activities such as movies and concerts
- Connect First Credit Union helps young talent gain relevant work experience through summer student, co-op opportunities and paid internships -- and participates in the Alberta Financial Industry Internship Program, which aims to support students through the transition from their academic studies to career-level employment
- Connect First Credit Union supports a number of local charitable initiatives each year, focusing on programs that support financial literacy and community economic development, civic engagement and volunteerism, mentoring and learning, and the environment -- the organization also encourages employee volunteerism, matching volunteer hours with company donations ($1,000 for every 15 hours)
Connect First Credit Union offers careers with interest
When Peter Gwozdecki explains what he does at southern Alberta-based Connect First Credit Union, the job description is short but decidedly sweet: "I get to see a lot of friendly faces every day," says the 24-year-old Personal Banking Associate, who helps members make savvy decisions about loans, investments and other financial matters.
Connect First Credit Union was created in November 2015 with the amalgamation of First Calgary Financial and Chinook Financial. The expanded company now employs about 600 people, making it the second largest credit union in Alberta. But to maintain their neighbourhood identity, individual branches have retained their original branding.
It's a sign of Connect First Credit Union's enduring commitment to the community. And for Gwozdecki, sharing that community spirit is one of the most rewarding aspects of working there. "I was looking for a company that helps look after the city we live in," he says.
"Community involvement was a big reason I came here, and it's the reason that I've stayed."
As part of his job, Gwozdecki has given presentations on personal finance and home buying for local organizations that assist lower-income Calgarians, like Attainable Homes Calgary. In his work with another agency, Momentum, which gives people the tools to get out of poverty, he has provided information that helps people avoid high-interest payday loan companies. "We give them a better option and we educate them," he says. "We've seen a lot of good outcomes from that program."
As a Connect First Credit Union employee, he also appreciates the support it provides for employee education and training. He recently completed part-time classes for the Canadian Investment Funds Course, and the cost was covered by the company.
The credit union pays up to $1,200 a year for career-related courses and programs, says Jackie Barber, Senior Vice-President for Shared Services, who oversees the company's Human Resources and Talent Management teams. But through an additional $250 annual subsidy, Connect First Credit Union also encourages its people to expand their horizons through education in other areas.
It's part of an overall effort to create a corporate culture that engages and inspires employees - and adds a good dose of fun. In the wake of the amalgamation, an employee-led culture committee is playing a key role in making that a reality. "It's very important to us," says Barber, "that we're creating programs and policies that our employees value."
The corporate culture is built on four fundamental values, she adds: "Make it easy" challenges employees to simplify things and collaborate to make procedures more effective. "Take charge" encourages them to take ownership and offer opinions. "Think big" speaks to a spirit of innovation. And "Act local" underlines the credit union's ties to the community and its celebration of diversity.
Barber says Connect First Credit Union is also committed to making money make a difference for its members and its employees. It's one of the few companies in the province with a "living wage policy" that pegs entry-level pay at $15.08 an hour plus a comprehensive and competitive benefits package. The amount is well above Alberta's $11.20 per hour minimum and is calculated by an independent body. The employee benefits package also includes a mortgage rate discount. "Most financial institutions have taken that away," says Barber. "But we deliberately discerned that that's important to our people."
In a slow economy still struggling with depressed oil prices, Connect First Credit Union went against the grain in 2015 by posting the best financial results in its history. It's also attracting talented candidates who may not have considered a banking career before. Barber says the credit union looks for employees who reflect its four fundamental values. They should be curious, not afraid to experiment, and, as leaders, should tolerate both failure and success. "We definitely hire for cultural fit as much as we do around skills and experience," she adds. "We want to energize people behind one single culture."