British Columbia is a hub when it comes to cooperative banking. There are nearly 40 authorized credit unions operating in the province today, with some of them being the largest in the country.
BC credit unions are an incredibly safe and reliable way to bank, as 100% of your deposits are guaranteed through Credit Union Deposit Insurance Corporation (CUDIC).
Not only that, but credit unions are focused on the local, as opposed to national, meaning they have a vested interest in seeing their members and communities prosper financially.
I used to work at a credit union in Canada, so I know a lot about how they operate.
So when you bank with a credit union, you’re using the power of your finances to do good in your community while getting excellent financial services.
Today’s post will go through some of the best credit unions in BC, so you can make an educated decision if you want to join cooperative banking where you live.
Let’s get started!
Pros and Cons of Credit Unions
Credit unions differ from banks in their governing structure and business model.
Banks are for-profit organizations, usually operating on a national scale, whereas credit unions are not-for-profit cooperative organizations serving certain specific geographic areas (such as a single Canadian province) or a certain set of people (such as a group who share a vocation, like police officers.)
But what are the key differences when comparing credit unions to banks from a consumer standpoint? What are the pros and cons of banking with a credit union instead of a bank?
- Excellent and specialized customer service
- Relatively lower rates for mortgages and loans
- Relatively higher rates for term deposits/guaranteed investment certificates (GICs)
- People-centred operations
- Deposits are even safer than in banks (a higher amount is usually guaranteed compared to banks)
- You are more than just a customer as a member-owner
- Annual or periodic dividends paid out based on the number of shares you own and the company’s performance
- Fewer branches across the country (but do note that as a credit union member, you have access to thousands of free ATMs across Canada, even more than what is offered by many big banks)
- Potential technology deficiencies due to smaller size/less capital
Best Credit Unions in BC
Here are the best credit unions in British Columbia based on products, services, and values.
1. Vancity: Best Overall
Service Area: Lower Mainland, Squamish, Victoria, Chilliwack, Alert Bay
Number of Branches: 55
Banking: Personal and Business
Vancity is Canada’s largest community-based credit union with more than $30 billion in assets and assets under administration and nearly 550,000 member-owners.
With a commitment to a clean and fair world, they develop innovative financial products and build partnerships with communities to address their members’ needs.
We’re ranking Vancity as the best overall credit union in BC because they serve a large proportion of the province with a combination of basic financial products done well and value-driven and innovative financial products.
At Vancity, you have access to various financial products that have been intricately thought out to increase financial inclusion in BC, incentivize environmentally-friendly behaviours, and support communities.
These include products such as the:
- Fair and Fast (micro) Loan that lend without credit checks, so everyone has access to capital,
- an interest-free Ready to Rent Loan for those updating their rooms/suites to host new refugees to Canada,
- a Planet-Wise Transportation Loan that comes with a preferred interest rate so you can purchase a vehicle that emits less carbon into the atmosphere.
Vancity is also known for being good at the basics, such as its good customer service, relatively low fees for things such as wire transfers, cheques, foreign exchange, and business banking, and good rates for mortgages, loans, and term deposits.
Apart from its financial products, what differentiates Vancity from other credit unions in BC and Canada is its community investment and support of small businesses and other organizations that are working towards a clean and fair world.
For instance, they:
- reinvest 30% of their net income to members and communities each year,
- are the largest private-sector organization to pay a Living Wage in Canada,
- have been carbon neutral since 2008,
- are a part of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values,
- and are committed to becoming a net-zero financial institution by 2040.
All of this, and they don’t forgo great financial performance, growth, and excellent service in the meantime.
You can become a member of Vancity by being a BC resident and buying at least one share, which costs $5.
2. Coast Capital Savings: Runner-Up for Best Overall
Service Area: Lower Mainland, Chilliwack, Kelowna, Nanaimo, Courtenay
Number of Branches: 53
Banking: Personal and Business
Coast Capital Savings is one of the biggest credit unions in Canada and is quite comparable to Vancity when it comes to its financial products, number of branches, and assets under administration.
If you are in Nanaimo, Kelowna, or Courtenay, or split your time between the Lower Mainland and these areas, we would recommend Coast Capital to you, as Vancity does not have branches in these areas.
Coast Capital has good products for both personal and business banking. They offer no or low fee chequing and savings accounts and a good variety of credit cards that range from low-interest to rewards and travel points.
Their student credit card, which has no monthly fees and mobile device insurance, is also really innovative and good as a first credit card for youth.
Like most cooperative financial institutions, Coast Capital has a vested interest in the wellbeing of the community that they serve.
As such, they reinvest 10% of their net profits back into the communities they serve and have various initiatives that focus on financial wellbeing.
Coast Capital is also a Certified B Corporation, which means that their social and environmental impact has been vetted by a designated team and exceeded a certain standard.
3. FirstWest Credit Union: Best for No-Fee Banking
Service Area: Langley, Delta, Surrey, Abbotsford, Coquitlam (Envision Financial), Pentiction (Valley First), Duncan (Island Savings), and Enderby (Enderby & District Financial)
Number of Branches: 46
Banking: Personal and Business
FirstWest Credit Union is BC’s third-largest credit union headquartered in Langley, BC.
FirstWest is a bit different than any other credit union in Canada in that it is actually made up of 4 separate local credit unions or “divisions” (Envision Financial, IslandSavings, Enderby & District Financial, and Valley First) that reflect the former names of four acquired credit unions.
According to FirstWest, this was done to continue drawing on local knowledge and relationships that had been in place before these organizations merged with others.
In total, the four divisions of FirstWest Credit Union represent over 250,000 member-owners, while each division provides incredibly localized and specialized service to its members. All divisions offer the same products and services.
One of the best features of FirstWest is their Simply Free chequing Account, which, obviously, is free.
It comes with $0 monthly fees, no ATM fees, free unlimited transactions, including Interac e-Transfers, free bill payments and pre-authorized payments, and free monthly eStatements.
An account like this is seriously hard to come by from a non-digital bank, so if the service area coincides with where you live, we recommend contacting one of the four divisions regarding buying a share, becoming a member-owner, and taking advantage of this free bank account!
4. Prospera: Best for Boat and RV Loans
Service Area: Lower Mainland (except Richmond), Chilliwack, Agassiz, and Kelowna
Number of Branches: 27
Banking: Personal and Business
As a BC resident, you likely have an interest in the outdoors. We couldn’t help but notice that Prospera Credit Union has an innovative loan product that may help you take advantage of BC’s natural resources even more with a boat/RV loan.
With this product, you can get up to 75% financing on the purchase of a new or used boat or up to 100% financing on the purchase of a new or used RV.
If you’re on the market for a new outdoor vehicle, we definitely recommend checking them out and comparing their product to other personal loan options out there.
5. Interior Savings: Best for Interior BC Residents
Service Area: Okanagan, Thompson and Prince George
Number of Branches: 23 branches, 16 insurance offices
Banking: Personal and Business
We know it’s hard to find as many branches for popular banks and credit unions outside of the Lower Mainland, so we had to include Interior Savings on this list for giving Interior BC residents the option to bank cooperatively.
Interior Savings offers banking, borrowing, investing, insurance and credit cards to their member-owners.
They are one of the most established credit unions in the Okanagan and Thompson area and can give you the convenience of banking with them across 23 branches in the interior.
An honourable mention also goes out to Kootenay Savings, which is a credit union serving residents with 11 branches throughout the Kootenays (even more interior than Interior Savings!)
6. Coastal Community Credit Union: Best for Vancouver Island Residents
Service Area: Vancouver Island (Victoria to Port Hardy)
Number of Branches: 30+
Banking: Personal and Business
Coastal Community Credit Union is a Vancouver Island-based cooperative financial institution with more than 500 employees and 30 branches across all coasts of the Island.
Their location allows them to be hyper-specialized and knowledgeable in the needs of Vancouver Island residents, and their initiatives are focused on keeping money within the local Island community.
As a member-owner of Coastal Community, you will have access to more than eight chequing account options (including a US dollar account), borrowing, investing, and credit cards (through their partner Collabria Financial, which includes a US dollar credit card.)
The credit union also has local initiatives to support their members and communities, such as a scholarship program, a relief & resiliency fund to support organizations weather economic difficulties through events such as COVID-19, and free community workshops to improve financial literacy and strengthen local economies.
If you’re an Island resident interested in joining the cooperative banking movement, we would highly recommend Coastal Community to you!
7. Envision Financial
Envision Financial is like a close-knit community within the family of the First West Credit Union. As a member-owned co-op, they’ve got banking, borrowing, and investment covered for folks and businesses all across Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley, and North Coast in B.C.
Think of it this way, being a part of First West Credit Union – which is, by the way, the third-largest credit union in B.C., with a whopping $15.5 billion in assets and assets they’re managing, isn’t a small feat.
They’ve got more than 250,000 members and a network of 46 branches all around the province. Envision Financial brings its own flavour to the mix – they’re all about offering fresh, innovative products, and they’ve got a bunch of branches making banking decisions that really know and understand the local scene. So, all in all, it’s about bringing a personal touch to your banking experience.
Benefits and Features:
- Select accounts have no monthly charges.
- Members enjoy free Interac e-Transfers within Canadian borders.
- Unlimited debit card transactions at no extra cost.
- Specific business accounts allow for free deposits.
- Complimentary monthly eStatements with images of cheques.
- Overdraft protection is accessible, subject to approval.
- Profits are cycled back into the membership via free everyday banking and business accounts with minimal fees
Considerations When Choosing a Credit Union in BC
When choosing a credit union, there are several factors you should consider. Here are some key considerations to keep in mind:
One of the primary distinctions between credit unions and banks is membership eligibility. Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions owned by their members, so you’ll need to meet certain eligibility criteria to become a member.
Some credit unions may have specific requirements based on where you live, work, or attend school. Others may require you to be a member of a particular organization or profession.
Profit-Driven vs. Customer-Focused
One of the key differences between credit unions and banks is their focus. Banks are for-profit institutions that prioritize shareholder returns, while credit unions are not-for-profit organizations that prioritize their members’ financial well-being.
This means that credit unions may be more customer-focused and willing to work with members who are experiencing financial difficulties. However, it also means that credit unions may have less capital to invest in new technology or other initiatives that could benefit their members.
Yes, British Columbia credit unions are an incredibly safe place to deposit. 100% of deposits and non-equity shares in credit unions authorized by the BC Financial Services Authority (BCFSA) are protected by the Credit Union Deposit Insurance Corporation (CUDIC).
All BC credit unions mentioned in the list above are authorized by the BCFSA and thus have 100% protection on all deposits by CUDIC, so you can rest assured that your money is safe.
CUDIC is administered by the BC Financial Services Authority (BCFSA), which is a crown agency of the Government of BC. The BCFSA is also responsible for regulating all financial institutions operating in the province per the Financial Institutions Act.
Vancity is the biggest credit union in BC, and in Canada, with more than $30 billion in assets and assets under administration.
They have nearly 550,000 member-owners, 55 branches, 2,700 staff members and have given more than $370 million back to their community through their net profit-sharing program, Shared Success.
Vancity was founded in 1946 and is headquartered in Vancouver, BC.
Their creative approach to serving the financial needs of its members and community has led them to a number of firsts among financial institutions in Canada, including being the first to offer mortgages to women without a male co-signor, the first to become carbon neutral, and the first to offer a socially responsible mutual fund.
If successful in reaching their target by 2040, Vancity may also be one of the first financial institutions in the world to become net zero.
Are credit unions superior to banks in Canada?
Credit unions and banks are different types of financial institutions. Credit unions are member-owned cooperatives, while banks are for-profit corporations. Credit unions focus on serving their members and their communities, while banks focus on generating profits for their shareholders.
Credit unions often offer lower fees, better interest rates, and more personalized service than banks. However, banks may offer more extensive product lines and have larger networks of ATMs and branches. Ultimately, the choice between a credit union and a bank depends on your financial needs and preferences.
How many credit unions are there in British Columbia?
As of 2023, there are over 40 credit unions serving members and their communities in British Columbia. Some of the most popular credit unions in BC include Vancity, Coast Capital Savings, and Prospera Credit Union.
BC is a hub for strong credit unions with deep roots in local communities. Today’s list went over the top picks, although there are more than 40 in the province in total! For an extensive list of credit unions in BC, you can go to Central 1’s page.
Strengthening communities and small businesses are integral to keeping and building wealth and increasing financial resiliency.
They also connect and support us socially while reducing our ecological and carbon footprints. That’s what you support when you become a member of a local credit union; you help your money do good where you live.
Not located in BC? Check out the Best Credit Unions In Ontario.