‘Cooperation Among Cooperatives’: A look at Desjardins (Pt. I)

In Missouri, USA, if an ice storm knocks out electricity, the MoElectric Co-operation drops everything in attempt to get the electricity back up and running. This is their modus operandi for they know it is an absolutely essential product that their members need. They essentially reach out to every Electric co-op in Missouri and its surrounding states with an aim to embark on a coordinated effort to bring equipment and man power to assist the local cooperatives impacted by the disaster, with the objective of restoring electricity.

Such a vivid example of ‘Cooperation among Cooperatives’ can not only be found among electric co-operatives of the US, but many examples can be sighted globally, as well as right here in Trinidad & Tobago. This is a principle which is seen as paramount by the Central Finance Facility (CFF).

A United Approach

The CFF is not the first organization of its kind which employs this united approach. We not only see this as important, but necessary and highly rewarding for every member involved. This is an attitude which must be adopted, especially for the present and future survival and growth of the cooperative movement in T & T.

In this 2-part series article, we will initially take a look at one of the first organizations to have a local and international impact, all attributable to their firm belief in the principle of cooperation!

Alphonse Desjardin

During 1900, in Levis Quebec, Canada, the largest federation of credit unions in North America was founded by visionary Alphonse Desjardins. He was a militia, journalist, editor of Legislative Assembly of Quebec proceedings and a French stenographer at the House of Commons in Ottawa. Monsieur Desjardins was fully supported by his wife Dorimene Desjardins. Based on a study of European credit institutions, Alphonse Desjardins was seen to have maximized his experience in the area of association and local development. He commenced exploring financial solutions to the socio-economic problems experienced by his fellow citizens. After much research, he founded the first caisse populaire (financial service cooperative). Eventually he played a critical role in founding 163 caisses populaires in Quebec, 18 in Ontario and at least 9 in the US; this was in addition to a few credit unions.He championed the idea of cooperation to curb usury; improve conditions for the working class and contribute to the economic development of French Canadians.

Desjardins Today

To date, Desjardins is a major cooperative financial with strong community values.  They strive to be people-focused; modern; high performing while fostering business simplicity. The institution offers products and services such as:

  • Accounts & Cash Management
  • Financing and Credit
  • Investments
  • Insurance services and Expertise

From its inception, Desjardins has been people focused. They have been tailoring products and services for its members, to ensure that that each member does not only receive a conventional product (as other financial institutions provide). Rather, members receive an experience which impacts their entire community. Desjardins is Canada’s largest financial institution, where money works for people.  They operate with 48,000 employees at the service of approximately 7 million members. The question which beckons to be asked is: How has Desjardins had such an effect?

The answer lies on the premise that the Desjardins group vows to be there for their members at every stage of their lives. They are committed to continually innovating and adapting to their needs with the objective of offering the best products and services in 1500 locations across Canada, United States and Europe. Superior service is at the heart of Desjardins operations. Their name is synonymous with trust, sustainability and prosperity, with members and clients at the heart of their values and actions… close and committed.

How Member Needs are Met

The Desjardins Group has been creative in meeting member needs. Instrumental in achieving this objective is placing additional tools and resources at the fingertips of their front line employees in order to provide members with prompt, personalized assistance.

This type of service is also extended to the larger financial goals such as life insurance, annuities, etc. It also extends to life events such as marriage, educational/career development and retirement. An example of such an initiative is the Desjardins Bank in Florida opening in 1992. This branch caters to southbound Quebecers, particularly ‘snowbirds’ and retirees. In December 2010, they acquired the 121 offices and 500, 000 customers of Western Financial for $443 million. This effectively gave it a presence in British Colombia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. They continue to expand as the need arises.