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Vancouver City Savings Credit Union is a Canadian credit union that serves residents of British Columbia. Vancity is Canada’s largest community credit union by assets. It has slightly more than $17 billion CAD in assets and more than 490,000 members primarily located in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island. Heather Kaart, director of member and community insights, joined Vancity in 2012 as the credit union’s director of member and community insights. Here, she addresses the ways in which the credit union tracks goals that are difficult to measure using traditional metrics.
Vancity has been working to grow as a cooperative in a number of important areas, such as cooperative principles, environmental sustainability, social justice, and financial inclusion. The credit union has focused on social and environmental efforts since its inception in 1946. Since 1997 we have produced an accountability report that provides a complete view of our social, environmental, and economic performance. More recently,we have been establishing “impact metrics” to measure the impact of this work in our communities.
Vancity was the first Canadian financial institution invited to join the Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV). This is an independent association of banks and credit unions around the world whose members “comply with sustainable banking principles and have a shared commitment to find global solutions to international problems — and to promote a positive, viable alternative to the current financial system.” Members of GABV “use finance to deliver sustainable development for underserved people, communities, and the environment” and are committed to a triple bottom line accounting of advancing people, planet, and community. The Alliance’s members support the real economy of businesses that improve lives and communities.
GABV has six guiding principles. As a member institution, Vancity is working to measure how we are advancing toward them. For example, we measure the percentage of assets we have put into lending to organizations working at social justice or environmental responsibility.
The work of the Global Alliance for Banking on Values and the assessments we’re building represent a small portion of what Vancity tracks and reports. We measure a variety of targets and indicators outside the traditional banking metrics and publish an integrated annual report. Some of Vancity’s non-traditional goals and measures are categorized under the three headings of impact, confidence, and integrity.
“Impact” examines member well-being. We have created a well-being index based on a survey that includes questions about a member’s feelings of connectedness to the community, their financial security, achievement of life goals, and so on. We compare member responses to those of non-members to gauge how Vancity is promoting well-being to its members.
“Confidence” examines public trust in Vancity by quantifying member growth and return on member equity.
"Integrity" examines how well what Vancity does aligns with what it says it does. We measure integrity through feedback from staff, who can identify whether policies and processes are working in the way they’re intended.
Vancity tracks other efforts that are difficult to quantify, such as the cooperative economy. We track the extent to which we purchase locally and how we are doing in funding community-minded organizations. An even more difficult measure is the leverage, influence, or impact Vancity has in kick-starting beneficial programs with a grant or a loan. Attribution can be challenging because it’s not always clear — once other groups are involved — whose contribution was the catalyst for the project to proceed or had the most impact.
We measure how Vancity is helping members meet their long-term financial goals and track financial inclusion and social justice. We use metrics such as reduction in poverty, the number of people who have taken free Vancity financial literacy courses, the number of members who have received credit otherwise denied or who have had their credit rehabilitated, the number of affordable housing units we have funded, and the amount of assets we have invested in socially responsible or environmentally beneficial projects and businesses.
Finally, we have a measure for environmental sustainability. We track how we work with members on climate change issues, the number groups we support that are focused on environmental sustainability, and the amount of our assets committed to areas of positive environmental impact.
These new kinds of metrics and measures are helping us move from a more conventional model of business that helps communities to a business model that is dedicated to bringing about positive changes in areas of community, social justice, and environmental improvement. We are moving from measuring our efforts or outputs to measuring the outcomes produced through the efforts. Many organizations, including the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, have been working to develop impact measures for years. It is a complex and challenging undertaking. But we are making progress and continue to work with our partners and stakeholders to find the best way to measure the impact Vancity has on the lives of our members and their communities.