Magazine article Communication World

Going beyond Economics: An Interview with EXCEL Award Winner, Claude Beland

Magazine article Communication World

Going beyond Economics: An Interview with EXCEL Award Winner, Claude Beland

Article excerpt

Claude Beland graduated magna cum laude from the University of Montreal Law School in 1955. He taught commercial and cooperative law and published numerous articles and three books on the theory of cooperation. While acting as a volunteer or legal advisor in various caisses populaires (credit unions) and other Quebec cooperatives, he co-founded a francophone federation of savings and credit unions in 1962, grouping several caisses based and operating in the province of Quebec; until then they had been affiliated with the Credit Union League. The federation hired him as legal advisor in 1971 and appointed him general manager in 1979. The game year, he succeeded in bringing about the affiliation of the federation with the Mouvement des caisses Desjardins. He was appointed president of the Mouvement in 1987. Since then, assets have gone from Cdn. $20 billion to $75 billion.

Could you tell us a little bit about the Mouvement Desjardins, how it started, how it operates? The foundation of the Mouvement goes back to 1900 when people from a community close to Quebec City decided to gather their savings together to form a credit union. It was a small project at the time and that was the way Alphonse Desjardins, the founder, wanted it. He believed it was important for people to know what they did with their savings, and hoped the next village would do the same. When Desjardins died in 1920, some 220 credit unions had come into being. After his death, some decided to form a federation. Others followed suit, and today 1,479 credit unions, including those in Ontario, Manitoba and New Brunswick, are grouped into 14 federations, which in turn belong to a provincial confederation charged with the orientation, planning and coordination of the Mouvement's activities. This powerful cooperative entity gave itself a central credit union in 1980 as well as a whole network of corporations and subsidiaries (insurance company, trust company, securities company, etc.). Today, two out of three Quebecers -- some five million in all -- belong to a Desjardins credit union. With its 18,500 volunteer directors and 47,000 employees, the Mouvement is not only Quebec's primary financial institution, it is also the largest private employer in the province.

Our corporation's primary responsibility is to offer complementary services to member credit unions. We exist first and foremost to ensure our members are totally satisfied and recognize how important each credit union is to the community. The demand for increased competitive services comes from them. I would say our assets are the result -- not the objective -- of what we are pursuing.

You also have a certain number of joint projects in European countries.

Again, these projects exist to satisfy our members' needs. More and more members are doing business in Europe. In today's global economy, it would not be very wise to invest a great amount of time and money to develop our own internal network, so our strategy has been to create alliances with existing networks, such as Credit mutuel de France, DG Bank in Germany and other financial institutions that have the same intrinsic values, that treat our clients as they do their own.

What about your projects in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Mexico?

Those projects fall under our Societe de developpement international (International Development Corporation) and are tied to our social commitment. We feel privileged to have inherited a cooperative formula such as ours, which came from Europe basically, but which Alphonse Desjardins adapted to Quebec and to our culture. We feel we owe it to other nations to help them. We do not try to impose our model, our mode of operation, but rather export our values. The method and rules of operation to protect those values vary from one country to another. I distinguish three levels of values: fundamental values -- our raison d'etre -- operational values and management values. The only ones we can export are the intrinsic values. …

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