Emotions ran high during a pair of community meetings addressing the demise of Affinity Credit Union service centres in Lake Lenore and Muenster. Those in Muenster gathered at the Community Centre on May 3, while Lake Lenore residents mustered on May 4 at the Recreation Centre. 

Numerous representatives from Affinity Credit Union were on hand to present the case for a new regional hub in Humboldt. Affinity CEO Mark Lane prefaced the Q and A session with a brief presentation outlining the company’s position. Lane maintained that the decision to have the two rural centres cease operations and migrate to a new location under construction in Humboldt was largely about consolidating staff and services. However, he acknowledged there were cost elements at play. One of them is the cost of doing business in a modern and increasingly self-serve age. 

“The reality is that it’s about technology that access certainly requires and the investment, and it’s the cost of that investment that sometimes forces us to make hard decisions about our existing footprint.”

Lane went on to outline the migration of client traffic to online from in-person, particularly in the last 5 to 10 years. The remaining advice centres had become less about day to day transactions and more about dispensing financial and investment options for clients. 

The explanation did not quell the concerns in Muenster as many of the several dozen individuals in attendance stepped to the mike. For Marvin Renneberg, former board member of the legacy Muenster Credit Union, it was about the importance of access for all. 

“I can get in there (the centre in Humboldt), but I know there are some people where it’s not going to be as easy for them. I immediately felt sorry for our Co-op. It’s another nail for them and perhaps for some other businesses.”

Glen Korte, a tireless supporter of the Muenster Co-op and other local businesses, acknowledged the financial side of the decision, but focused on the human element for members. 

“It’s disheartening. I can crunch numbers; you can crunch numbers. But sometimes the number thing, I think, needs to get thrown in the bush.”

Korte and many others at both meetings, including Lake Lenore business owner Lynette Briens, took exception to a letter to members communicating the closures. The passage in question suggested that because Lake Lenore and Muenster members bought groceries, dined out, and did business in Humboldt, the migration of their banking services should be no burden. CEO Mark Lane confessed the messaging missed the mark and offered an apology to both audiences for the implication. 

Briens, who attended the Muenster meeting, went on with a passionate expression of her commitment to her local business community. She said her values led her to be forgiving if prices were a bit higher for goods or credit union services came at a modest premium compared to other locations. Affinity’s Lane countered, saying she was in the vast minority and that Affinity had to remain competitive in their products and pricing or risk losing members. 

Others expressed disappointment with how quickly the closures came following the amalgamation of Muenster Credit Union and Advantage Credit Union in Lake Lenore with Affinity in 2013. Former board member Lloyd Bernhard recalls Affinity’s stated commitment to the Muenster location, at the point of the merger, as being “for a long time.”

The mood was no less heavy in Lake Lenore, where CEO Lane reminded members that in spite of the changes, Affinity Credit Union would continue to contribute to a variety of community organizations. Among those beneficiaries have been the school and library, minor hockey, the arena and the auditorium. Similar donations were made in Muenster. While the crowd appreciated the continued support, it was little solace in the face of the impact on those same organizations who wouldn’t have services provided in the village. 

Lake Lenore Ag Co-op President Beryl Bauer anchored the response by issuing a reminder about the credit union’s foundations as a community cooperative. 

“You and I have a relationship based on my cooperative life. Somebody on the Board seems to have forgotten what a cooperative is. It’s supposed to be a different kind of business when it's run as a cooperative.”

Bauer proceeded to list the characteristics of a cooperative as an autonomous association to meet common economic, social and cultural needs. The crowd echoed the sentiment that large scale credit unions have drifted from that focus and act as corporations due to the competitive environment. Others questioned the consultative process with the members, saying it came too little too late. 

Glen Berscheid pointed out the mainstay businesses that have contributed to Affinity’s growth in Lake Lenore, including the uniquely positioned Co-op retail food store and adjoining commercial greenhouse, the Ag-Co-op and it’s multi-million dollar investment, and small shops such as Tom Ripley’s Butcher Shop, a cash and cheque family enterprise. 

Ripley pointed out that his business is reliant on ready access to cash, and the prospect of no transaction centre, or even an ATM, would damage business and other cash intensive clubs and organizations. 

Questions arose about the continued presence of an ATM and about the disposition of the building. Lane noted that further consultations with groups like the Village Councils and Co-ops would take place to determine the best community use, given that the buildings are member owned. Members of the audience queried Lane about the prospect of using the existing facilities for a competing credit union centre. 

While Affinity promised further consultations, many left reconciled to the notion that change was inevitable. Given that the pilings for the new regional service centre in Humboldt were being poured on the same day, many saw little recourse but to stick with a new Affinity service centre or begin shopping for a new service provider.