The Town of Canmore from Grassi Lakes in Kananaskis Country.File Photo/Rocky Mountain Outlook

A Bow Valley based credit union is coming under fire for a so-called marketing strategy to expand its membership – and working – in socially conservative circles.

Bow Valley Credit Union (BVCU) CEO Brett Oland told account holders demanding answers from the company at its Tuesday (Feb. 13) annual general meeting the decision to sponsor an event with former Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson in Calgary last month was a tactic to grow its new target demographic.

The Outlook obtained a recording of the AGM, which was held virtually and closed to non-account holders.

“This was a direct marketing tool that was directed towards Tucker Carlson and it did touch on a number of criteria we’re looking for in our new key growth demographics,” said Oland in response to questions fired at the CEO and BVCU board of directors via a chat box.

The credit union is trying to appeal to those who “want more control over their lives” and finances, including people with “different” perspectives and values who have felt excluded by mainstream banks.

During its AGM, Oland acknowledged the chat was getting “feisty” as many BVCU clients took issue with the company’s strategy to grow membership and questioned its values, refusing to vote on proposed bylaw changes until the CEO and board explained itself for sponsoring an event hosting Carlson, who is often criticized for disseminating harmful rhetoric and misinformation.

During a 20-minute speech in Calgary, Carlson claimed immigration was diluting “the voting power of people who are vested in [Canada], people who were born there, who have lived there long-term.”

He also chided progressive gender ideologies in the country, called Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a cross-dresser and took aim at B.C. policy around safe drug supply. Afterward, he sat down in conversation with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith. The event was promoted by the political lobbying group Take Back Alberta.

In response to a question at the AGM from a BVCU account holder about the company getting involved in politics, board chair Kevin Karpovich maintained the credit union is non-partisan, but the company hasn’t shied away from rejecting policy it disagrees with.  

BVCU has made its distrust of the federal government known on issues of public health, resonating with Albertans who protested against public health mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The credit union and its CEO have also been vocal on matters of privacy and freezing accounts during the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act during freedom convoy protests.

From 2010-20, BVCU reported a steady drop of around 9,600 members to 7,600. Beginning in 2022, the company’s membership started rocketing back up to the roughly 10,000 members it has now.

Last month, Oland told the Globe and Mail that BVCU experienced a two per cent annual growth in membership before adopting its gold- and silver-backed approach – a strategy aimed at combating inflation without competing on interest rates or physical locations with other financial institutions. 

He also said he hopes to see membership expand to 22 per cent by the end of the company’s 2024 fiscal year.

In 2023, BVCU reported a 17.7 per cent membership growth rate. During its AGM, it was noted the Alberta Credit Union system’s average increase last year was about three per cent.

While many criticized BVCU’s marketing tactics during the meeting, several others commended and came to the defence of the CEO and board of directors, which now has three new members as per a vote at the AGM – Brad LaForge, Laurel Pedersen and Marty Yucytus.

It was noted before the vote the AGM was the most-attended in the credit union’s 70-year history. There were about 210 attendees, including BVCU staff.

The credit union has six branches across the province, with one in Canmore and one in Banff. It has plans and sees an opportunity to expand in locations like Red Deer, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and south Calgary, where it has reportedly seen the most membership growth.

“We’ve seen incredible membership growth in these areas and we want to be able to cater to these areas by putting physical locations,” said Oland at the AGM.

Individuals purporting to be longstanding clients of the credit union during the meeting, along with Bow Valley residents who have penned letters to the editor of the Outlook since the Carlson event, criticized BVCU’s expansion strategy as being morally questionable or wrong.

“The Bow Valley Credit Union website claims values of ‘cooperation … integrity … inclusion … citizenship’ and would have us believe the institution is ‘deeply committed to our communities,’” wrote Canmore resident Jim Pissot in a letter to the editor.

“These are noble goals. Unfortunately, they are completely at odds with Oland’s embrace, sponsorship and stage-sharing with a high-profile U.S. conspiracy theorist who mocks Canadian diversity, opposes immigration, and preaches divisiveness, fear and hatred.”

By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Feb 15, 2024 at 16:56

This item reprinted with permission from   Rocky Mountain Outlook   Canmore, Alberta

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