Credit unions have been a popular alternative to banks in Canada for many decades, and there are many to choose from in Alberta.
The first credit union in Canada was founded in 1900 by Alphonse Desjardins in Quebec. Since then, many more have been established.
While the big five banks in Canada still dominate, credit unions in Alberta offer a popular alternative for personal and business banking needs.
In this guide to the best credit unions in Alberta, we take a closer look at Servus Credit Union, connectFirst Credit Union, Vision Credit Union, Bow Valley Credit Union and 1st Choice Savings and Credit Union.
We’ll also examine the pros and cons of credit unions, what makes them different from banks, and how safe they are.
What is a Credit Union?
Credit unions are financial cooperatives set up to help the community instead of focusing purely on making a profit.
There are over 200 of them in Canada, and their members own them. Each member has a stake in the credit union, and they vote for the Board of Directors and share profits.
According to the Canadian Credit Union Association (CCUA), in the second quarter of 2022, there were 212 credit unions (not including Quebec) with combined consolidated assets valued at $302.6 billion.
One of the main ideas behind credit unions is that they give back to their members and contribute to the local economy. As such, they often help their communities by making donations, providing sponsorship, offering scholarships and providing capital to small businesses.
Best Credit Unions in Alberta
Several credit unions are operating in Alberta. Here are five of the best that you might want to consider using:
1. Servus Credit Union
Servus Credit Union was the 4th largest credit union in Canada in 2022, according to the CCUA report linked above.
Its roots go back to 1938, when it was founded as the first credit union in Alberta. It now has over 100 branches across Alberta and nearly 400,000 members.
It provides a wide range of personal banking services, including bank accounts, mortgages, loans, insurance, etc. In addition, it has several credit cards to choose from and a range of chequing and savings accounts.
It has various investment products, including TFSAs, RRSPs and others. It also offers wealth strategy, estate planning and retirement planning.
In addition, it offers business banking services, including business bank accounts, business credit cards and services like succession planning.
Check out our Servus review to learn more.
2. connectFirst Credit Union
connectFirst Credit Union is the 12th largest credit union in Canada and one of the largest in Alberta.
It was formed by the merger of several credit unions, including First Calgary Financial, which was founded in 1938. It has a long history of serving the community, and it currently has over 40 branches in communities across Alberta.
connectFirst offers a selection of bank accounts, including a free account for kids and several savings accounts. You can also find several mortgages, including fixed-rate and variable-rate mortgages, overdrafts, lines of credit and personal loans.
It offers a range of investment products, including mutual funds, term deposits, RRSPs, TFSAs, and more.
You can also access business banking services like accounts, savings, insurance and investment products, and agriculture services, including farmland mortgages and insurance. It also provides access to wealth advisors for help with financial planning and investing.
Related: connectFirst review.
3. Vision Credit Union
With over 36,000 members and a history going back 70 years, Vision Credit Union is one of the best credit unions in Alberta.
It began by opening its first branch in Camrose, and it is now the third-largest credit union in the province, with over $2 billion in assets and 23 branches.
It offers many everyday banking products, including several chequing accounts and savings accounts, as well as loans, including personal loans, lines of credit, mortgages, overdrafts and several credit cards.
You can invest with mutual funds, tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs), RRIFs, and RESPs.
Vision Credit Union also offers a wide range of business and agriculture banking services, including bank accounts, loans and insurance, commercial mortgages, lines of credit, credit cards and insurance.
4. Bow Valley Credit Union
Bow Valley Credit Union is one of the smaller credit unions in Alberta, with just six branches located in the Bow Valley Corridor.
It was founded in 1953 and offers a range of personal banking services, including eight bank accounts, a savings account with no minimum balance, mortgages, lines of credit, personal loans, overdrafts and five credit cards.
It has a wide range of investment products, including RRSPs, TFSAs, RRIFs and more, and it also offers insurance products, including home and life insurance.
In addition, it has a wide range of business banking products, including chequing and savings accounts, business loans, business credit cards and commercial mortgages.
5. 1st Choice Savings and Credit Union
With 17,000 members and six branches, 1st Choice Savings and Credit Union is another one of the smaller credit unions. But it has over 75 years of history and provides a wide range of banking services.
This includes six personal chequing accounts, three savings accounts, a selection of credit cards and a wide range of investment products, including RRSPs, RDSPs, RRIFs and more.
It also provides several mortgages, lines of credit, and loans, including personal and auto loans.
It has a wide range of products for businesses, including three business credit cards, commercial loans and mortgages, and specialist agriculture products.
Credit Unions vs Banks
Credit unions offer similar products and services to banks, like chequing accounts, savings accounts, and debit and credit cards.
The biggest difference between credit unions and banks is that banks are private corporations aiming to make a profit, while credit unions are owned by their members.
Credit unions focus on providing their members with the best products and services. Profits are often reinvested in the local community or given out as dividends.
There are some other important differences:
- Credit unions often have a strong focus on customer service. They have a good reputation for this and are usually seen as better than banks in this regard.
- They often provide lower interest rates compared to large banks. However, this is not always the case; online banks also offer good rates.
- Fees for products like chequing accounts also tend to be lower, but this is not always the case.
- The electoral structure is different for credit unions. Members of credit unions are also owners, so they have a say in how they are run, which involves electing the board of directors.
- Credit unions strongly focus on financial education, providing information to their members on financial planning and how to manage debt.
- Credit unions have a strong emphasis on supporting the local community.
- Large banks have more branches across Canada than credit unions, which tend to be restricted to smaller areas.
Are Alberta Credit Unions Safe?
One concern you might have about credit unions is whether they are a safe option compared to a bank. The answer is yes; they are safe to use.
The Canadian Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC) covers deposits in Canada in the case of the collapse of a financial institution. This covers banks and federally regulated credit unions.
But all provinces in Canada have a deposit insurer that guarantees the deposits of credit union members and oversees compliance. In Alberta, this is the Alberta Credit Union Deposit Guarantee Corporation.
It provides protection for deposit products like savings and term deposits. However, some things are not covered, including stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs, treasury bills and more.
All credit unions in Alberta are trustworthy and reputable. Many have histories going back decades, and they are covered by the Alberta Credit Union Deposit Guarantee Corporation.
Servus Credit Union is the largest credit union in Alberta, with over 100 branches across the province and just under 400,000 members.
It depends on what you need. Credit unions provide similar products and services to banks, so it’s worth looking at the different options and deciding which is best for your circumstances.
If you get a loan or credit card from a credit union and make your repayments on time, you can improve your credit score.
Related: Best RBC Newcomer Credit Cards.